One of the most basic human impulses is wanting to be happy in life, and yet so many have hard time achieving state of internal bliss. What is the secret? Is there a way we can make ourselves happy internally that would reflect on our external environment, not the other way around? We allow our environment, people around us to influence our feeling of happiness without stopping to think why are we so much dependent on other people and mostly unable to reach state of happiness on our own. There’s old saying that says that healthy body equals healthy mind. Is this correct? Does that mean we can eat and drink our way to happiness by providing our bodies proper fuel for everyday living? By this analogy, if we eat and drink healthy then our state of mind should be clear and focused, motivated and energetic. Yet so many people end up being depressed in some point of their lives whether it was influenced by genetics, chemical imbalance in the brain, external stressors or the environment in general.
Let’s try and explore here what foods and drinks we need to take in order for our body to feel balanced and energized every day. It may appear that some people are basically born happier. Some researchers claim that about half of our happiness is the result of a genetic set point. Approximately 40% of our happiness is determined by positive behaviours and activities that we do on daily basis. Believe it or not, life circumstances such as marital status and income only make up 10% of our happiness.
We were lead to believe from early age that earning happiness in the traditional way is the best way to be happy. This traditional way includes some big event to happen, such as getting married or landing high paying job. In reality, this big event only makes up small percent of our happiness as every novelty wears off even such big novelty that we worked so hard towards earning. We have to do little things on daily basis to keep it fresh and feel that life is worth living.
Even though no one can say that they enjoyed any bad experiences in their life, some of those experiences may actually be the key to appreciate simple and little things in life and to actually look forward to something small like hiking or meeting a friend for a coffee. People that experienced stressful events in their life may actually feel hightenend capacity to feel happiness and savour the moment. Some researchers believe that we can all do little things in life in order to achieve state of relaxation, well-being and happiness.
Researchers have often said that the most important meal of the day is breakfast. People that eat breakfast every morning have improved mood throughout the day, more energy and feeling of calmness. Good breakfast should consist of plenty of nutrients and fibre, some lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates and healthy fats.
In order to eat healthy, we should eat balanced diet of healthy food. Not too much of anything, but eating a little bit from every food group and enjoying a variety on daily basis. One of the healthiest diets in the world is considered to be Mediterranean diet which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and legumes. These foods contain nutrients associated to preventing depression, such as folate, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. We shouldn’t eat low carb diet as healthy carbohydrates are essential to our body and they include whole grains fruits and vegetables, and legumes. Carbohydrates increase our levels of tryptophan in the brain and with the assistance of B vitamins help our brain to produce serotonin which is considered to be mood regulator. Fish and foods containing vitamin D are also linked with increased serotonin levels in the brain.
CHOOSE RIGHT SUPPLEMENTS
We should be able to get all our vitamins, minerals and nutrients from our food, however, in the real world, that is simply not achievable. Sometimes we should consider supplements, if anything only to top up our levels or necessary nutrients that are key to our mental balance. Keep in mind that you should always talk to your doctor if starting any supplements especially if you already take medication to treat a medical condition. Some supplements may interfere with medications so it’s always best to check with your doctor first and confirm what supplement and in what dose should you be using.
That being said, it is well known that vitamin D increases serotonin in the brain and is sometimes called “the happy hormone”. The ideal dose varies on individual factors such as sun exposure, where we live, time of the year and skin type. Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people with depression, especially seasonal affective disorder (SAD), improved as their vitamin D levels increased over a normal year.
In order to improve poorer mood, we should also consider selenium supplements according to some studies. Selenium can be found in seafood, whole grains and beans, nuts and seeds, and lean meat.
B vitamins often called vitamin B-complex for stress relief work together to influence good mood. B vitamins are important for central nervous system maintenance and they help stabilize nerve cell membranes. B-complex vitamin or multivitamin should definitely be considered.
If a person is already having mood problems, it is often recommended to start on some Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish, or in certain oils such as flax-seed, olive and walnut; and as a supplement.
St. John’s wort is a yellow-flowered plant that is widely prescribed in Europe as a mood enhancer. Researchers in North America are divided on this matter due to St. John’s wort having potential serious interactions with some prescription drugs. Research suggests that it is best to be used for mild to moderate depression rather than severe cases. As with all supplements, discuss it with your doctor first before starting to use St. John’s wort.
SAMe (S-adenosylmetionine) is another widely studied mood enhancer commonly used in Europe. As SAMe is not found in food, it can only be taken in the form of supplement. An analysis of 28 studies in Europe showed that SAMe improved depression symptoms significantly when compared to placebo.
EXERCISE AND RELAX
When people regularly exercise, their mood gets improved mostly because feel-good brain chemicals get released. Immune system chemicals that worsen depression are also regulated by exercise. In addition to that, people feel calmer because their body temperature rises during exercise.
People that regularly exercise also have improved confidence as they feel better about their appearance and in turn have more social interaction. If you want to exercise, you don’t need to join the gym or participate in any kind of formal exercise program in order to enjoy the benefits. Any activity that contracts muscles and expends energy can be beneficial. Such activity can be leisure activity, household chores or work.
Most people should get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Otherwise, they are more likely to become angry and irritable, and in turn not deal with stressful situations in a relaxed manner. People that get good night sleep are more likely to look after themselves by exercising and enjoying leisure activities and eating healthy. Impaired mood may affect your mood and put you at risk for depression.
ENJOY MEANINGFUL INTERACTIONS
You should always strive to develop relationships with people that care about you. One Australian study found that people who were over 70 years old and had big network of friends lived longer than those who didn’t.
Unhappy people tend to spend more time alone than happy people, and in turn they also engage in less small talk and more substantial conversations. When people have meaningful conversations, the connection between them increases along with sense of mutual gratification.
When people perform acts of kindness towards each other, their happiness increases as well. Such acts seem to develop into positive cycles as people become more happy when they perform acts of kindness and with that they are more likely to do those acts as well. One study concluded that people’s happiness increased when they counted acts of kindness in a week.
It can happen in our lives that other people hurt or wrong us. When we have a need to forgive the other person, we should forgive by feeling the forgiveness and respond kindly towards person that wronged us. By replacing negative emotions with positive emotions we start soon feeling like the weight has been lifted off our shoulders. That being said when we emotionally feel the forgiveness versus having decisional forgiveness, we tend to produce more beneficial psychological and physiological changes.