Science has confirmed that happier people do indeed live longer. The question is: How does one “get happy”? These shorter, darker days of winter can give way to a darker mood. Despite this, you can be happy right now.
1. Eat folate-rich foods.
Get happy by chowing down on more folate-rich foods, like leafy greens. Folate, also know as folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is necessary for cell division, DNA synthesis, and healthy blood cell production. Research at the University of York and Hull York Medical School has found a link between depression and low levels of folate. To keep you and your heart smiling, try a cup of cooked lentils, which provides 90% of the RDA of folic acid. Plus, the fiber and protein will satisfy you longer, stabilize blood sugar, and also promote a better mood. Find folate in kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, bok choy, legumes, sunflower seeds, oranges, melons, beets, and fortified whole grains.
2. Self-awareness leads to happiness.
My father Hua-Ching Ni has some very wise advice about how to attain happiness. To paraphrase the philosophy he follows: Your thoughts become words, words become acts, acts become habits, habits express your character and your character becomes your destiny. Imagine if your thoughts were positive – you would feel happy most of the time! On the reverse side, negative thoughts release enzymes that attack your immune system and certainly don’t help your mood.
Observe your thoughts and train your mind to hold positive thoughts. How? Use self-awareness to see your thoughts and to observe which ones make you happy or unhappy. Your mind, and by extension, your mood, reflect the activity of your thoughts, which are influenced by your emotions. To change your mood, actively gain control of your thoughts and emotions. Here is a sentence you can repeat to yourself as often as necessary: “From now on, I am the one who decides how I am going to respond.” You might not be able to change your whole attitude overnight, but over time, your self-awareness will develop and your happiness will grow.
3. Wake up with a smile.
Every morning, wake up and hold a big smile on your face, even if you aren’t feeling particularly cheerful. Believe it or not, just moving your muscles into a smile will increase endorphins and decrease the stress hormone cortisol that the adrenal gland releases in times of stress. Repeat a positive affirmation to yourself in the mirror to heighten the happiness. Say to yourself something like, “I can handle the tasks I have ahead of me. I enjoy my responsibilities and fulfill them well.” Does this sound silly to you? Well, it turns out positive affirmations can also help suppress cortisol.
4. Take a stroll outdoors.
What used to be an obvious path to happiness is now moving to the back burner as we all spend more time indoors with our computers. Take a walk in the woods, on the beach, or even in the park – anywhere you are in contact with the natural world. It is hard to feel unhappy when you are surrounded by nature’s abundance of beauty and wonder. The natural sunlight will also give you a natural lift.