Sometimes, advice about being “happy” can seem impractical and ambiguous. You might not know how to apply it to your own life in a practical and meaningful way. For these reasons, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a great read! Not only does reading, in general, add to people’s happiness, but this book is literally about happiness! In this New York Times bestseller, the author tries to achieve happiness in a year.
If books are less your style, but you still want to learn about this project, check out this video of Gretchen Rubin talking about happiness! There’s also a website (based on this book) full of journals, blogs, courses, and even an app! The whole purpose is to get people to better their lives in a way that works for them. They have information that ranges from interpersonal relationships to inner peace. If you want to learn various practical ways to introduce happiness into your life, Gretchen Rubin is a great place to start!
Stress responses are natural and come in different forms for everyone. For some, this response can be a resort to comfort food. In fact,research does suggest that eating comfort food may alleviate hormonal stress responses in the short term with temporary increases in dopamine, your feel good hormone. Yet, what exactly is comfort food? Some will say its chips, or ice cream, or cookies, or a combination of all three, however, research has shown that comfort food may actually just be any type of food! In a series of studies conducted by Traci Mann, a professor at the University of Minnesota, they found that when participants were in a negative mood, there were no differences in mood increases between when their “comfort food” of choice was consumed and when they ate another item they mentioned they liked. Furthermore, they found that there were no differences in mood increases between when their “comfort food” was consumed and when they ate a granola bar, a seemingly neutral snack. So, yes, chips and desserts can be tasty and help with our mood in the short term, however, so can most foods! It may be best to think about our happiness in the long run and focus on practicing beneficial eating habits such as exchanging our comfort food to another healthier one to allow our bodies and mind to feel strong and healthy moving forward!
In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I was intrigued by the importance of a four leaf clover. Never fully understanding why it was considered to be such a prominent symbol for good luck, hope, and love, I did some digging to find out. I learned that for every 10,000 three-leaf clovers, there is one four leaf clover, meaning these are super rare and fascinating! Among other fun facts about four leaf clovers I stumbled upon, one particularly stood out to me. This fact mentioned that if you find one, you should keep looking around because they are more likely to be grouped together. Reflecting on this fact, I sort of related it to how we perceive happiness. I know it sounds cheesy but think about it: whenever we stumble upon something that brings us happiness, we seem to be more prone to finding new happinesses all around us. This could be said about unhappiness too. Whenever we stumble upon something that makes us not so happy, we tend to focus mainly on the negatives around us. No, I am not relating it to good luck or bad luck. I am relating it to the idea that sometimes our mindset can shape how we perceive the world. How happy or unhappy we view life to be could be a result of not practicing healthy mindfulness: taking a step back to breath and recognize the joys around us and the fact that every day is a new day to find our happy four leaf clovers.
Sunday, March 12 was the start of Daylight Savings which means we have all moved our clocks ahead an hour! This also means that we are now experiencing less natural morning light and more natural evening light. According to Dr. Phyllis Zee from the Northwestern Medical Group, this can have effects on our natural circadian rhythm, impacting our sleep schedule in the short and long run. This calls for an emphasis on healthy sleeping habits to prevent our bodies and mind from feeling drowsy and fatigued during this Daylight Savings transition! The first piece of advice is to stick to an as consistent sleep schedule as possible. It is important to gain the necessary hours of sleep we need, and being disciplined in when we should get ready for bed and start to wind down is necessary to maintain a circadian rhythm that is healthy and works for you. Next, avoid excess amounts of caffeine, blue light, and alcohol consumption one to two hours before bed. These substances will only make the consistency of our circadian rhythm a little harder to maintain, especially as we are going to experience more natural light at night that may keep us up. Lastly, because there will be less natural morning light, try to exercise or spend time outside in the morning, to gain necessary activity and wakefulness as we learn to adjust to the now darker wakeups. Sleep promotes happiness, so by taking these steps, prevent the impacts Daylight Savings may have on our sleep schedules and mood!
Plan Your Happiness!
We are all familiar with the mechanics of time; there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day. Yet, something about time tends to both confuse and stress all of us out. We either feel as though there is too much, or feel as though we cannot get enough! One of the ways that have helped me manage my time to make it seem a little less out of my control is through using a daily planner. A daily planner can be a notebook, a sheet of paper, or even a sticky note! They are there for you to document what you want to do, how long it may take, and approximately when you want to work on it in a given day. For these reasons, planners allow individuals to practice healthy time management and focus on productivity that can both make us feel less stressed and more content in our daily schedules. Furthermore, a daily planner does not have to be all business! Write down fun activities to do as well as a reminder to take a break and do something for yourself. You can write down when you plan on exercising, or plan on cooking a nice meal, or anything that you want to take time out of your day to do. Practice using a daily planner if you ever feel overwhelmed or crammed. It may allow stressful times to not seem so stressful and may create a sense of balance and happiness in your daily life!
Coming home to a nice clean area, with a clean workspace, and a clean scent in the air is refreshing… if we are able to get around to cleaning. I am not just writing this because I am looking at piles on my desk, although I do need to get around to fixing that. I am writing this because it seems that something so little like cleaning is sometimes so hard to get around doing because we get caught up in life’s seemingly weird and tricky obstacles it throws our way.
I think the problem that we face sometimes is that we get so caught up in what we can’t control in our daily lives that we forget about the things we can control: namely, cleaning and doing some light organizing to declutter our surroundings. It is so easy to fall into the trap of worrying about external situations such as why the weather “decided” to rain all of a sudden during a picnic, or whether you will be able to have an opportunity to prove you deserve a promotion at work, that it prevents us from realizing the amount of initiative we have in our present lives. Sure, cleaning your desk may seem like a small task, but the bigger picture is that these small tasks are everywhere. I think finding these tasks can make our lives seem a little more controllable and less of a mystery when we focus on them instead of beyond.
Throughout our daily stressors we face and the constant worries of not knowing what is going to occur next in our lives, we often miss out on something we constantly are told to do: enjoy the present moment. It is hard to stop and breathe to soak in what is happening around us, the beauties we pass everyday outside, and the people we are sharing moments with, however, according to recent studies, regardless of how “fun” or “enjoyable” the present may seem, those who focus on their present lives and environments tend to be happier on a daily basis.
Research has focused on mind wandering being a crucial aspect of not living in the moment, and is something that can be extremely hard to control. Yet, through practicing mindfulness and either engaging in activities that allow you to slow down such as yoga or meditation or taking note of what you are currently doing can be a big help in practicing being in the moment. So, next time you are walking outside, driving to work, or even washing dishes, practice being aware of the moment, and appreciate the surroundings that surround you!
Oftentimes, we associate February as the month of love, and although it is important to let those around you know that they are loved and appreciated, it is easy to get away from directing the same shared love to ourselves! Self-love can be different for everyone, but is consistent in the idea of self appreciation. Some tips to indulge in self-love consist of practicing mindfulness by reflecting on your own emotions and feelings, forming positive habits such as exercising or reading, taking good care of yourself and your needs such as maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and focusing on nutritional values, as well as directing your thoughts to more positive and productive ones that incorporate your values and needs. There are many ways to practice self-love and you will find the ones that fit you the best. Just remember to take a break every once in a while to appreciate yourself and all of the wonderful things that make you you!
Sometimes our lives feel so busy and crowded that we tend to focus purely on our own feelings, emotions, and situations. Although this can be done in a healthy self-reflecting manner, we can also let this stray us away from one of life’s greatest gifts: kindness! Random acts of kindness, complimenting someone, or taking time to volunteer for your local community can be beneficial for both those you help and yourself. Research has shown that showing true and genuine kindness can increase your emotional wellbeing, happiness, self-esteem and can help reduce any stress you are experiencing in your everyday life. These acts of kindness can be as simple as calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, telling your family how much you appreciate them, offering some time to a friend that needs to talk about a certain situation, or even giving a compliment to a stranger at your local coffee shop. Regardless of what it may be, notice how these acts of kindness make you feel as you make the world a kinder and more emotionally healthy place!
Mindfulness journaling is a great way to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. Journaling can increase gratitude, increase optimism, and decrease stress. One study even found an association with improvement in working memory! Even a few minutes of mindfulness journaling daily can change how you feel about yourself and your life.
And remember that this writing is for you! It doesn’t have to be perfect or eloquent. Let yourself go on rants or tangents if you feel the urge to. Don’t suppress anything. The act of writing your thoughts is more important than the outcome.
You could start journaling in any notebook, but there are also specialized journals for those that need more of a guided approach. Having a structured notebook (specifically for mindfulness journaling) is an excellent option for beginners, as it helps you stay on track. Amazon has some great options, including this one!