What do you do for fun? What brings you joy? What fills your cup? All three of these questions are incredibly important in assessing your own health status. Of course the biggies like healthy diet and exercise along with stress management and good sleep are essential pillars to optimal health and wellness but we can't overlook the importance of having joy in your life. It's so important that every integrative provider I know includes it as part of their initial assessment of a new patient or client.
Now don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that life doesn't also come with it's hardships and heartaches. Having a joyful life doesn't mean you won't ever have to deal with challenges and dark days but it does mean that despite these difficulties you hold on to aspects of your life that truly make you happy.
During this time of year I find that the balance between joy and heartache or stress can be especially challenging for folks. Of course coming together with those we love can absolutely be a source of great joy. Watching the magic of the season unfold in the lives of my children always makes me happy. But at the same time, the stress of the season, or the remembering of loved ones lost who are no longer there to celebrate with us, or even the reality that not everyone gets to be with their family during this time of year can all be sources of unhappiness.
Health and Happiness
Throughout my blog I continue to bring attention to attributes we can cultivate in our own life that are directly connected to longevity. This is no exception. Another trait of the longest lived people in the world is having a joyful purpose. And there's been plenty of research as well to connect happiness with health.
Certain personality traits have been shown to decrease risk of chronic disease, specifically heart disease. Such traits as:
- Emotional Vitality -- enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life
- Optimism -- gratitude helps to build optimism
- Self-regulation -- ability to bounce back from stressful challenges
- Supportive networks of family and friends
In addition to improved heart health, happiness and optimism have also been linked to the following benefits:
- Stronger Immune System
- Recovery from Stress Quicker
- Less Pain
- Longer Life
- Improved Work Performance and Success (learn more about this benefit in the TED Talk)
The ability to cultivate happiness and joy in your life can prove to not only improve your mood and mental health but as described above your physical health and longevity as well.
How do you assess the joy in your life? Start by assessing the activities that fill your cup. Meaning, what are the things that restore and nourish you; body, mind, and spirit. When so much of our day is abut giving away our energy and when we're exposed to so many negative images and events in the news, we need to create resiliency by making the things that build and nourish us top priority. From there, we can more easily connect the activities, people, and things in our life that are fun and joyful.
Make a list of all the things in your life that fill your cup; here's some of mine:
- Starting my day with yoga and at least 10 minutes of meditation.
- Taking the time to make a nourishing meal, sitting down, and enjoying it three times a day.
- Taking a short break mid-day to get outside and breathe some fresh air.
- Reading books and snuggling with my kids before bed.
- Listing off all the things I'm grateful for before falling asleep.
- Getting at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Getting to swim once or twice a week.
- Spending time with friends.
- Getting out to the beach to walk in the sand and breathe the salty ocean air.
- Having date nights and week-end get-aways with my husband.
After you've made your list, then think of what you do that's just for fun! Not because you have to, but because you truly enjoy doing it.
- Making Art
- Playing a Musical Instrument
- Sewing, Knitting, Crafting
- Going Bowling
- Playing Ultimate Frisbee
You get the idea. If there's not much that you currently do that you would consider fun then think about things you used to like to do. The important thing is to get a list going.
Although genetically being a more optimistic person can certainly help up the happiness factor, we can also add in activities that will help us cultivate more joy and happiness. Here's a list of some activities described in the above TED Talk plus a few more thoughts.
3 Gratitudes: Think of 3 new things you're grateful for every day. This helps your brain start to seek out the positives in your day rather than the negatives.
Journaling: Write about 1 positive thing that happened each day. This allows you to re-live it, which then hard-wires it into your brain.
Exercise: Being active increases endorphins and other feel-good hormones.
Meditation & Mindfulness: Living in the moment helps to reduce stress but also improves our awareness of positive moments.
Random/Conscious Acts of Kindness: Doing nice things for others is a sure-fire way to improve your own level of happiness. Send 1 email at the start of your day thanking or praising someone, donate your time at a charity, or just do something kind for someone else.
Social Connections: Spend less time on social media (unfortunately research has shown a connection with increased depression and anxiety from those who spend the most time on social media) and more time physically with others that make you happy; even better are people who make you laugh.
Now of course social media is not all bad. While perusing all the lovely Facebook quotes people post over Thanksgiving I came across this one and really loved it:
It's not happy people that are thankful, it's thankful people that are happy.
You can consciously create more joy and happiness in your life, right now. When we shift our happiness meter to the present, rather than when we accomplish "X" (fill in the blank -- lose weight, get the great job, find the perfect partner, make more money, etc), we not only create more joy today we also open our brains to live life more fully and experience better health. What's not to love about that!