People who consider themselves to be happy have lower heart rates, are less stressed, have a lower risk of heart disease, are less likely to catch colds and flu and if they do get ill they recover faster than those who are less optimistic. If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of soul it’s never too late to put a positive spin on things. In fact you could get happier in just 15 minutes a day…
Why do I need to be happy?
Having a positive outlook on life pays when it comes to your health. Research studies repeatedly show that optimists have fewer health problems, feel less pain, have lower stress levels and sleep better than pessimists do. Of course, there are times in our lives when being happy might seem impossible, but even during those tough times there are things you can do to give your mental wellbeing a boost and increase your emotional resilience.
Small steps to happiness
There are four main chemicals in your body that affect how happy you feel on any given day - endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. The secret to lifting your mood is learning how to switch these feel-good hormones on throughout the day. How well you eat, how much exercise you do and how well you look after yourself all impact how often you get a happiness hit from these mood-boosting chemicals. But you don’t need to overhaul your diet, head to the gym or set aside hours of me-time to get the benefits.
Six ways to feel more positive today
Set aside a few minutes each day to make sure you’ve included some of these mood boosters in your lifestyle
1. Start your day right
Pack your breakfast full of B vitamins to give your body the building blocks it needs to create the ‘feel-good four’. “Wholegrain breads, eggs, dried fruit and fortified cereals are all good sources of B vitamins, which your body needs to manufacture the happiness hormones,” says nutritionist Sarah Flower (www.sarahflower.co.uk). “They also help your body to use nutrients from other happiness foods such as essential fats and magnesium (more on these later) more effectively.” Try scrambled or poached eggs on toast with some grilled tomatoes, muesli with dried apricots and some natural yogurt or a smoothie made with oats, dates milk and banana.
2. Snack on nuts
People with low mood often have low levels of the anti-stress mineral magnesium in their body. “Magnesium helps to relax your muscles and soothe your nervous system, which can have a positive effect on your mood,” says Sarah. Magnesium is richest in foods such as wheat bran, almonds, brazil nuts and cashews, but you will also find lower levels in green leafy vegetables, peanuts, millet, rye, tofu, walnuts, pecan nuts, coconut, brown rice, figs and dried fruit. The easiest way to top up your levels is to snack on a handful of unsalted nuts every day, spread some low-sugar peanut butter on a rice cake or scatter a few nuts and some dried fruit on some natural yogurt for pudding.
3 Eat oily fish
Twice a week make sure you’re topping up your levels of essential fatty acids by eating oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines. Studies show that people who eat a diet rich on omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to experience low mood than those who don’t. “Fish oils are known to both relieve stress and anxiety and to regulate inflammation in your body,” says Sarah. If you don’t like oily fish take a supplement such as Power Health Omega-3 Fish Oil 1000mg £8.89/90 capsules from www.powerhealth.co.uk or call 01759 302595
4. Move every day
Happiness and exercise are actually quite similar – they both help to boost your immunity and they encourage the release of feel-good endorphins. If you’re feeling blue a brisk walk around the block could be the lift you need. Exercise also helps to reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol so you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Try to schedule in short bursts of activity throughout your day and if you can get outside. Studies show that taking the time to observe nature everyday helps to lift your mood too. Try a quick walk around the garden, walk up and down the stairs, dance to your favourite songs or go for a walk with some friends.
5. Soak it up
There’s nothing quite like a relaxing bath before bed – but you can double the happiness benefits of yours by adding some magnesium-rich Epsom salts. “Magnesium is well absorbed through your skin so it’s a great way to top up your levels,” says Sarah. “Epsom salts are also helpful at combating insomnia (and there’s nothing like a bad night’s sleep to make your extra grumpy) so try soaking in a bath before bed several times each week.”
6. Praise your positives
Making any change to your lifestyle can be difficult at times, even if they’re just small tweaks. But one of the things that happy people are really good at is focusing on the positives instead of scolding themselves about the negatives. For example, if you manage to get outside for a brisk walk two days out of five celebrate that instead of focusing on the three days you sat on the sofa. Tracking your positive steps towards a happier new you is a great way to do this, which is why we’ve included a cut-out-and-keep tracker for you right here.
Steady with sugar
When you’re feeling low it’s natural to want to cheer yourself up with a sugary treat. “But when you eat lots of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates it could cause your blood sugar to spike, which increases your body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Sarah. If you need a sweet treat after a hard day opt for something like a baked apple stuffed with a little dried fruit and nuts and served with some natural yogurt.