My last couple articles have dealt with the fundamentals of a healthy life: Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. Today I’m going to talk about mood – why it’s so important, and how it integrates into the mix.
Everyone has a bad day every now and then. Occasionally, we’ll experience a more prolonged period of difficulty and stress, such as long term illness, whether our own or that of a loved one. That’s just life. It’s usually easy to bounce back from a “bad day,” but what about those times of life that come along and challenge us all. That’s where our overall mindset – our attitude towards life and our circumstances – comes into play.
Whether we’re having “one of those days” or something more, our outlook on life plays a large part in how we feel, and how successful we are in meeting life’s challenges. And, increasingly, research shows that health and happiness really do go together – your good health supports your happiness and your happiness supports your health!
Research on happiness by positive psychologists, Martin Seligman and Sonja Lyubomirsky, among others, shows that happier people on the whole enjoy better health, live longer, have closer friendships, are more resourceful and productive and, generally, are more successful than their less contented counterparts. They are better leaders and negotiators, tend to make more money, and are more likely to get and stay married. Overall, happiness tends to lead to accruing more good in our lives in general.
Before you think you have to go around with a fake smile plastered on your face from here on, I want to point out the broader definition of happiness I am speaking about here. In this case, happiness = well-being. Well-being, as defined by Seligman in his book, Flourish, 2011, is comprised of five elements: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships, and accomplishment, or PERMA for short. True well-being, according to Seligman, is achieved when a healthy balance in each of these areas is achieved.
Positive psychology has identified five core character strengths that most correlate to happiness. These are:
- Curiosity and interest in the world;
- Capacity to love and be loved;
- Zest, energy, and enthusiasm; and,
- Hope, enthusiasm, and future-mindedness.
Of these five, gratitude is the most malleable, meaning it can be influenced and increased. That’s why keeping a gratitude journal really does work! It increases your focus on the good things in your life and, by doing so, those things become amplified. As a result, you are naturally going to find yourself feeling more contented overall. And, if you don’t find yourself to be zesty and enthusiastic by nature, not to worry. Studies have shown that roughly 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances, and 40% by our behavior. That’s great news, because it means that much of our happiness is within our control and can be cultivated.
Psychologist and researcher Barbara Frederickson developed the “Broaden and Build Theory,” which states that our positive emotions, such as love and gratitude, are essential to our well-being. Positive emotions, according to Frederickson, promote strong relationships, increase resilience, and stimulate new ideas and possibilities. This has the effect of “broadening” one’s mind while at the same time allowing an individual to build their personal wellness resources – physically, mentally and emotionally.
So what’s the takeaway?
- Happiness and positivity are transforming.
- You have more control over your happiness than you may realize.
- People and relationships are important – nurture those you have with family, friends and community.
- Cultivating meaning and purpose is key to well-being.
- Count your blessings – be grateful for the good!
- Positive accomplishment is vital – have goals that matter to you.