The events of the past two years have left a lot of people feeling devoid of the joys of life. The holiday season of 2021 brought momentary glimpses of cheer for some, but was followed by another surge of a different strain of the novel coronavirus. If you’re feeling as though happiness seems to be just beyond your grasp, you’re certainly not alone. Many are tired and missing the sense of connection they may have felt before this pandemic began. And even before that, studies indicated that the concept of happiness was difficult for a lot of folks living with the life stressors we would consider normal. Since the 1990s, the field of positive psychology has sought to understand this matter of happiness and answer the questions of whether or not there were ways to improve one’s outlook. The answer is yes. Here, we offer some that may help you navigate your life as we continue to make our way to a new normal.
Fresh Air and Exercise
Perhaps one of the things that has made this past few years difficult is that we’ve had to mask-up. Understandably and, for most, willingly. Still, this change in the way we live is significant and should not be underestimated in its effects on mental wellness. To offset the stress of life, research suggests that we get outdoors into the fresh air without a mask when we can. Physical activity as simple as walking, running, or bicycling stimulates the brain to produce mood-boosting hormones that reduce stress and pain, resulting in a greater sense of well-being. Repetitive movements that occur when we walk, hike, bike, or even do yoga are said to increase the production of serotonin in the brain. This chemical is one that is targeted by many antidepressants. According to one study, just 90 minutes a week of physical activity translates into mood improvements comparable to antidepressant use. This is not to say you should stop taking antidepressant medication prescribed to you, but that physical activity could boost efficacy.
Small Daily Pleasures
There is research that has indicated the benefits of having something to look forward to. When we have simple pleasures that we know we can count on, our brain is stimulated to produce more feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Just as we might look forward to a vacation or special occasion, we can create little pleasures such as a special meal, a video chat with a friend, or a new hobby. There are endless options for adding more pleasure into the days, which makes this tip one of the easiest (and fun) to implement. In addition to adding moments of pleasure to the day, it pays to also slow down so you can notice more of what is already there. That old saying “stop and smell the roses” has a lot of meaning, especially when times are tough.
Sometimes, we might think that more is better when it comes to options. It doesn’t matter what the general topic, whether what to have for dinner or what type of exercise to do, too many choices actually leads to greater stress. Of course, we cannot live life without facing choices, some of them very important. However, when possible, we can benefit greatly from taking a break from all the decision-making. We can alleviate stress and increase happiness by exploring fewer options that enable us to make more confident decisions without the urge to second-guess them.
Not having to make numerous decisions all day long can be freeing. A simple exercise can help you ease the choice burden. Decide that if a decision won’t bring major consequences, you’ll limit the amount of time you give yourself to pick, or you’ll give yourself fewer options. Don’t allow yourself to second-guess the decision once it’s made. Save the heavy deliberations for bigger, more consequential issues. However, even when making these choices, try to avoid looking back.
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