It’s 8:03 a.m., a perfect 65 degrees, and not a breath of wind in the air. I am taking my morning walk along the beach in Corona del Mar. There are couples walking their dogs, kids playing in the water, people paddle boarding, a group learning to scuba dive, a serious team playing volleyball, a woman contemplating life while walking in the small wake of the ocean, while others do tai chi or swim laps in the ocean.
It is easy to be distracted by the daily stressors rather than notice and participate in all the good around us. Sometimes it is a natural state to be happy and sometimes we have to work at it.
Science has studied happiness and found many things that contribute to being happy.
For example, only seven minutes of exercise a day helps us release proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier and ward off depression. Anyone can exercise for seven minutes, right?
Studies also show that sleep deprivation tends to make you focus more on the negative events, while getting enough sleep makes your brain focus more on the positive.
Also a given, but an important one: spend time with friends and family. One of the top five regrets when people are dying is not spending enough time with friends and family. Studies actually showed the more you give in relationships the happier you are as well.
I like this next one, and it relates to where I started with this article: go outside. One study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather improved people’s moods, broadened their thinking and improved their memory. Just think, if you exercised when you went outside, and you were with a friend, look at all the happiness you could create in 20 minutes.
Another one close to my heart is helping others. They say 100 hours a year is the magical number, or 8.33 hours a month, or 1.85 hours a week. That is doable for anyone. It does not have to be an organized charity, it could be just listening to a friend, helping someone out, taking extra time with your kids who just at that moment you would prefer to run away from, making your spouse’s favorite meal, or picking up their dry cleaning. All these are ways of giving as well.
What I found fascinating is that Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that doing acts of kindness had the most effect on momentary increases in mood.
Then there is a real simple one: smile. Not only does smiling improve our attention to tasks but also decreases stress along with getting a better response from the people around you.
I’m always ready for this next one: Plan a trip. It is the actual planning of the trip that makes us happier. I would imagine that even planning a social event would improve our level of happiness. So put something on the calendar.
And then there’s meditation. I could write a whole book on the benefits of meditation. As little as 20 minutes a day of meditation can change your brain and improve your level of contentment and happiness. You will have to research this one for more information. Lastly, but not least, practice gratitude. Be thankful. This is not hard to do, but you have to make a conscious effort to do so.
Again, all these 10 ways of improving overall happiness have come from studies. And if you do decide to do them, as you age, you will become happier.
I’m planning to a walk on the beach with a friend in the sunshine, while being grateful, and smiling at all the people I see. I think I have covered at least six of those happiness exercises.
See you on the beach.
Contact Shelly Zavala at [email protected] or DrZavala.com