I’m working on the assumption that most of us are going to survive COVID-19. If that’s the case where might we focus our attention as we step into the future? Dr. Ruut Veenhoven, sociologist, pioneer and world authority on the scientific study of happiness from the Department of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, in the Netherlands wrote, “happiness [our mind state] does not cure illness, but it does protect against becoming ill” (Veenhoven, 2008, p.449).
Mind, body and spirit, have always been important to me, but given COVID-19, revisiting how I approach my mental and physical health seems wise. Let’s fact it, without a sound mind and strong body everything will be more difficult. And if being happy is the thing that supports both mental and physical health, why would I argue?
What exactly are some of the effects of happiness on health?
Happiness decreases chronic fight-flight-freeze response, which can lead to higher blood pressure and a lower immune response over time. It also boosts immune system. And happy people are better able to cope better with threatening information. Veenhoven noted, “The reverse is seen in depression that typically slows down functioning and probably for that reason makes people more susceptible to illness.” So our moods impact our health, for better or worse.
How can we boost our happiness?
Before we can boost our happiness, we need to be clear what it is and is not. And pleasure and happiness are not the same things. For clarity sake “pleasure is gratification and is tied to things like food, shelter, chocolates, good wine or things that generally make us feel safe. Happiness, on the other hand, is peace and contentment” or a kind of contentment that I am talking about here. Happiness is not about jumping up and down on sofas! That’s excitement. So, it is happiness, or peace, calm and ease that protects us from illness and strengthens our immune system.
How might a new normal look?
As it turns out, if you are serious about your mental and physical health, doing something daily to keep your spirits high is the way to go. I looked to Google for a few good ideas. Here are some things you can add to your daily schedule today and continue well into the future:
- Set aside daily you time
- Practice meditation
- Have a relaxing bath
- Call or chat with someone positive
- Learn something new
- Take a nap
- Do a puzzle
- Read a good book
- Do some yoga
- Look at old photos of positive moments
- Go for a walk
- Watch a comedy
- List the things you are grateful for
- Make time for your hobbies
- Create and listen to a playlist of uplifting or relaxing music
- Create and repeat a positive affirmation
- Do some gardening
- Go to bed early
- Listen to an inspiring podcast
- Do some mindfulness coloring
- Cook your favorite meal
- Spend time with pets
- Read or listen to jokes
Pick or add some of your personal favorites and create your own daily ritual! I, for one, am using this quarantine time to create long-term happiness habits by adding and reinforcing activities to my existing daily schedule. I have been hit and miss with my yoga practice, for example, but I’ve found a place for it in my day and I’m already feeling the benefits.
One word of advice, this is all about happiness, but not at the price of suppressing unwanted emotions. If you are feeling grouchy, fed up, annoyed, sad, or any other emotions, that’s fine. First try to determine what exactly you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Explore it. But don’t drown in it, though. If it gets overwhelming, step back, focus your attention elsewhere. Once you have taken steps to shift your attention to something else and have calmed down, maybe then come back to the emotion for a revisit. Paying attention to your emotions selectively overtime increases your ability to process them.
What does it all mean?
Happiness is a life skill that needs to be learnt and practiced. Each of us can increase our baseline happiness levels and take advantage of the health benefits of being happy. But, again, if you really want to be happy, you have to make a conscious effort, forever. This is a lifestyle, not a diet. The link between happiness and health is something real and tangible that we can focus on to help us live life on our terms.
What can you do regularly to increase your happiness baseline?
Veenhoven, Ruut. “Healthy happiness: Effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care.” Journal of happiness studies 9, no. 3 (2008): 449-469.