In case you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a really weird year. For starters, there’s the pandemic. Economic turmoil and massive job losses. Civil unrest. Systemic racism. Endless political shenanigans. We have run out of regular names for hurricanes, a squirrel in Colorado was diagnosed with the bubonic plaque and yeah, there is a slight chance of an asteroid striking Earth next month. Good times, right? But no matter how grim things feel, you can still find ways to increase your levels of happiness. Here are four ways to get started:
- Find a happiness role model. I was just talking to a friend about actress Drew Barrymore, who has launched a new talk show focused on increasing positivity during these increasingly polarizing times. Despite facing numerous challenges in her life – three divorces, beating addiction after her childhood stardom dipped, career highs and lows – Barrymore has proactively chosen to pursue joy. Embracing her inner goofiness and happiness, her show radiates positivity to the point that it merited a Saturday Night Live parody. Barrymore is real, down-to-earth and authentic; there’s nothing “fake” about her upbeat vibe. Look at people you admire, in the public eye or your personal life, who actively embrace happiness. What can their actions, behaviors and words teach you?
- Put boundaries on your connectivity. When people are anxious, it is even more tempting to scroll through social media feeds or watch the latest news for hours. Especially when your smart phone has literally become part of your body. A 2017 study by Asurion, a global tech protection and support company, found that Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes, adding up to about 80 times each day. Of the 2,000-people surveyed, one in ten checks their phones an average of once every four minutes. Now that study was conducted over three years ago; think about how your smart phone time skyrocketed during COVID-19. Constantly consuming news, posts and updates can be exhausting and addictive. Putting boundaries on your connectivity, especially before bedtime or first thing in the morning, can help you shift into a happier state. “Creating rules for yourself is important around devices,” explains Rachael O’Meara, author of Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break. “People are wired to be connected to their phones; neurotransmitters of dopamine are rushing through your body, and your brain thinks it’s getting a reward when little email chimes go off.” O’Meara recommends stepping away from technology by turning off unnecessary notifications and alerts, avoid sleeping with a smart phone in your bedroom and setting limits on device usage. Personally, I try to avoid checking emails and texts at least an hour or two prior to bedtime.
- Increase your movement. Exercise makes you happier and smarter, in addition to increasing your fitness. Even 20-30 minutes of movement a day activates your endorphins and helps to reduce stress. “Exercise isn’t just about lifting weights to make your biceps bigger or waist look smaller,” notes Dan FitzSimons, Owner of BodyFitz Personal Training studio, and personal trainer, in Atlanta, Georgia. “It involves your mind and body together. Working out relieves stress, releases good growth hormones and endorphins, promotes cognitive development by increasing blood flow to your brain and increases your metabolism.”
- Practice Gratitude. Even the smallest dose of gratitude has been proven to make you happier and healthier. One of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude, Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, found that gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol), a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain and led to a 7-percent reduction in biomarkers of inflammation in patients with congestive heart failure. His research also found that activities like keeping a gratitude journal or writing letters of thanks helped people reduce dietary fat intake by as much as 25 percent and reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over a six-month period. Starting a gratitude journal or recounting three things you are grateful for before going to sleep each night does wonders for your attitude.
How have you increased your happiness during these turbulent times?