8 Habits to Boost our Happiness
Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges for most people. During these difficult times, here's a summary of 8 ways we can improve our well-being based on the Yale University course I've taken - The Science of Well-Being by Dr. Laurie Santos which is currently being offered for free (https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being).
(1) GOAL SETTING
Thinking about important goals can help us achieve them to turn our wishes into reality. Pick a goal and think about why the outcome of the goal would really make us happy. Think about the obstacles along the way and make a plan to overcome them. Physically write down goals to track and be reminded about them (another important habit).
Savoring is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it. Savoring intensifies and lengthens the positive emotions that come with doing something you love. These techniques include: sharing the experience with another person, thinking about how lucky you are to enjoy such an amazing moment, keeping a souvenir or photo of that activity, and slowing down to make sure you stay in the present moment the entire time.
(3) DAILY GRATITUDE JOURNAL
Gratitude is a positive emotional state in which one recognizes and appreciates what one has received in life. Gratitude is a killer of envy and entitlement because our attentional bandwidth is limited. You can just write a word or short phrase, but as you write these things down, take a moment to be mindful of the things you’re writing about (ie. imagine the person or thing you’re writing about). Research shows that practising this five minutes daily can make us happier. I highly recommend the Five Minute Journal (https://www.intelligentchange.com/products/the-five-minute-journal).
(4) RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Research shows that happy people are motivated to do kind things for others. You can do one extra act of kindness per day, or you can do a few acts of kindness in a single day. These do not have to be over-the-top or time-intensive acts, but they should be something that really helps or impacts another person. Ie. help your colleague with something, give a few dollars or time to a cause you believe in, say something kind to a stranger, write a thank you note, give blood, etc.
(5) SOCIAL CONNECTION
Research shows that happy people spend more time with others and have a richer set of social connections than unhappy people. Studies even show that the simple act of talking to a stranger on the street can boost our mood more than we expect. The key is that you must take the time needed to genuinely connect with another person. During this time of isolation, we have no excuse to not give our family and friends a video call!
Research suggests that ~30 minutes a day of exercise can boost your mood in addition to making your body healthier. If you aren’t used to exercise, start small with 5 minutes daily and gradually increase your tolerance. If you have injuries, consult with a healthcare professional. Scheduling it into your day can make a big difference too.
One of the reasons we’re so unhappy in our modern lives is that we’re consistently sleep deprived. Research shows that sleep can improve your mood more than we often expect. Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep if possible.
Meditation is a practice of intentionally turning your attention away from distracting thoughts toward a single point of reference (e.g., the breath, bodily sensations, compassion, a specific thought, etc.). Research shows that meditation can produce more positive moods, increased concentration, and more feelings of social connection. Start off small with 1 minute and work your way up. I personally recommended the guided meditation app Waking Up with Sam Harris (https://wakingup.com/). Calm and Headspace are other good options as well.
If you are interested in learning more about these topics, I highly suggest taking the Science of Well-Being course.
Patrick Chiu, Registered Physiotherapist InReach Online Physio