We all know it intuitively. Doing healthy things simply makes us feel better. A day of healthful eating increases our commitment to a weight-management program. An early morning hike with friends lifts our spirits and sets us up for a successful, productive day. A Sunday afternoon of self-care — whatever form that takes — lowers our stress levels and enables us to recharge for the week ahead.
So, if you’re looking for another reason to squeeze in an afternoon workout, make a healthy choice when perusing a restaurant menu or get to bed on time, remind yourself that you’ll be happier now and in the future if you establish healthy habits.
Consider incorporating the following seven habits into your routine to boost your happiness and improve your overall quality of life.
7 Healthy Habits
Physical activity improves mood and enhances happiness in several ways, including increasing serotonin production, decreasing stress hormones and serving as a positive distraction from the many cares of the day. And it doesn’t take much, as 10 minutes of physical activity is enough to provide a quick boost to both your physical and mental health. Interestingly, the type of activity isn’t all that important. Any purposeful movement will work, but add variety to keep yourself interested and avoid boredom.
And don’t be afraid to take it outside. Outdoor physical activity — also called green exercise — may provide an additional happiness boost. Working out outside increases mood and self-esteem and decreases feelings of tension and anger.
Couple all of that with the knowledge that regular physical activity helps you live longer, have a higher quality of life and improve both memory and physical function as you age, and you should have more than enough motivation to get moving.
Good nutrition, which does not mean strict dieting, deprivation or avoiding certain food groups, is vital for just about every aspect of health — including mental health. Forming healthy nutritional habits involves taking small steps, as opposed to a major overhaul all at once. Keep it attainable by making simple healthy choices as often as you can. For example, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods and practicing portion control.
[READ: Healthy Eating for Families.]
Manage Your Stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life. What’s not inevitable is allowing it to be a drag on your happiness. Instead, learn to manage your stress through things like mindful exercise (think yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi), meditation, deep breathing or hobbies that bring you peace and joy.
In addition, try to anticipate and then avoid common stressors. For example, if you know that attending an after-work social event causes you anxiety, either avoid the event or find a way to better manage your approach to attending. Protecting yourself and learning to say “no” is an essential element of maintaining your happiness.
A sense of community is important to spiritual, emotional and mental health. Time with friends, family and loved ones is a great way to recharge your batteries and experience happiness.
Of course, everyone’s needs are different, so socialize as often as you’d like and in ways that boost your overall sense of wellness. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, you likely need authentic, supportive connections to feel like you’re part of a community.
Get Enough Sleep
Recovery is a vital aspect of physical health — any athlete will tell you that downtime is essential to optimize performance — but it’s also essential for your mental health. Sleep is when your body recovers from the previous day’s events and prepares for what’s to come. The average person needs between six and eight hours of sleep per day.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of us are chronically sleep deprived, which can have dire health consequences, including obesity, increased alcohol and tobacco use, hormone imbalances and higher incidences of diabetes and hypertension. Sleep deprivation can also compromise the immune system and result in mood swings and erratic behavior.
If possible, try to establish a bedtime routine that facilitates falling asleep quickly and allows you to get the rest you need. Having a set bedtime and waking time is an important habit and may allow you to achieve more consistent energy levels and more stable moods. And, it’s essential that this be maintained seven days a week, as “catching up” on sleep on the weekends doesn’t really work.
Perhaps the ultimate key to happiness is to count your blessings and appreciate what you do have rather than dwelling on what you may be lacking. Being mindfully grateful — meaning that you take a moment to pause every day or multiple times a day to appreciate the good things — can help cultivate a positive mindset that carries over to every aspect of your life. Research has shown that grateful people are often happier, healthier and less stressed.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s important to note that many of the habits outlined above are interwoven and mutually supportive. For example, getting more exercise may help you sleep better and may inspire you to make healthier food choices. Getting enough sleep may give you the energy you need to get out more and enjoy time with friends and family. And socializing and catching up with friends may give you more to be grateful for at the end of each day.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Very few people do all of these things consistently. So, do your best to incorporate as many of these happiness-inducing habits into your lifestyle as you can. And then release any negative emotions tied to where you feel you may have fallen short and celebrate the small accomplishments along the way.
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