Happiness is making the news. The 2017 UN Happiness Report has found that Norwegians have a clear reason to smile – as they make it to the top of the index. Yes, Norway is now the happiest country in the world1. The Danes, with their secret recipe of “hygge” – or cosiness and happiness, topped the index in 2013, 2014 and 20162.
Awareness about the importance of health and happiness is rising across the Middle East too. Dubai, for instance, has implemented a Happiness Index to gauge how excellence in government service delivery can make people happier3.
So with happiness making waves around the world, what can you do to keep yourself happy in mind and body?
The mind moves the body
It’s a fact – happiness can actually improve health. Harvard University has compiled a vast amount of scientific literature showing that negative emotions can harm the body. In particular, sustained stress or fear can increase physical wear and tear and result in illnesses such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Scientific studies also show a clear link between chronic anger and anxiety, and heart disease. Strong negative emotions can interfere with the electrical signals that regulate the heart4.
So if you want to stay healthy in body, keep careful watch on the mind. Positive thoughts are healthy thoughts!
Exercise does wonders
The mind-body relationship works the other way too. Just as the mind can improve overall health, maintaining a healthy body can actually lift the mood. Exercise releases a potent cocktail of neurochemicals including endorphins, serotonin and norepinephrine to give you a little natural high, and make you feel better about yourself and everyone around you5. Small wonder then that the American Psychological Association encourages exercise as a way of combating depression and anxiety. So welcome a little euphoria into your life by making physical activity part of your daily routine.
You are what you eat
It’s not just a fad propagated by life gurus. Eating right impacts your state of mind. A Penn State psychology professor has found compelling evidence for what we’ve suspected all along: that mayonnaise-laden burger is going to come back and haunt your mood. Interestingly, the research shows that it takes up to three days for unhealthy food to trigger black mood shifts. Specifically, the study noted that consumption of calories, saturated fat and sodium was significantly associated with increased negative mood two days later6.
Money doesn’t hurt
Money can’t buy happiness, goes the old adage. Strictly, that may be true. But better job prospects and increased cash flow can certainly go some way towards alleviating stress7. On the other hand, credit card debt and personal loans can lead to negative emotions. And not having stable job prospects – or being unemployed has been shown to correlate with unhappiness pretty universally8. Sorting out your finances is one of the best ways of improving happiness. And of course, being in a better position financially can mean a better diet and improved healthcare – both important to staying healthy in the long-term.
Set goals and achieve them
We are goal-seeking creatures. Achievements give us a neurochemical boost, and also improve self-esteem. Setting measurable goals – like going running twice a week, or determining to learn a new language – are a good way of improving happiness. The caveat here is that unfulfilled goals can actually backfire and lead to stress and lower self-worth. The trick is to set achievable goals – and then meet them.
Walk into any bookstore, and you’ll find reams and reams written about the path to happiness. The first step towards happiness is to decide that you want to be happy, and then find a path that works for you. Some people choose solitary ways towards happiness, while others find fulfillment in social causes. At the end of the day, happiness is a deeply personal thing. However, our selection of tips will give you a head start as you plot your own journey towards fulfillment.