When was the last time you were happy? Not just “content” or “not sad” but unapologetically, spontaneously, happy?
Turns out, many of us have to think long and hard to remember the last time. That seems crazy, right? With all our modern conveniences like fast food, fast cars, and instant access to just about everything at the touch of a button or a swipe of your fingertips, you would think we would all be giddy with excitement every day, all the time.
But, we’re not…
Too many people suffer from feelings that range from mild uneasiness and worry, to a sense they aren’t doing what they really want to or should be doing. Many of these feelings are small and temporary. However, sometimes they work their way into the extremes of mild and even severe depression.
Either way…it puts you into a funk.
The good news is you have the ability to change all that. The great news is not all of the solutions involve a life filled with daily medication or a lot of pain. In fact, it could be as simple as adding something to your plate, your mind, or your daily routine.
Here are 3 simple and natural ways to start your journey to becoming unapologetically happy:
Step #1: Eat Happy Foods
Now by “happy” I don’t mean a meal that’s handed to you in a box through a drive-up window. Happy foods are those that give your body the nutrients it needs to run at optimal capacity while also avoiding whole-body inflammation.
As you may already know, there’s a lot of talk about inflammation. Researchers believe a relationship may exist between inflammation and chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
Not all inflammation is bad. When you get injured, your body uses normal inflammation as a cornerstone to the healing process. Inflammation protects the injured area and delivers nutrients your body needs to resolve the injury. This type of inflammation is specific – it targets a certain area of the body for a limited amount of time.
The inflammation that causes problems is the constant, low level, whole body inflammation that hangs around like a houseguest who refuses to leave. It’s been hypothesized this type of inflammation can actually negatively affect parts of your brain and then ultimately affect your mood, thoughts, emotions, and even appetite.
The foods best suited for happiness are those that combat whole body inflammation. Because food choice is such an easy way to improve your overall health, it’s a great place to start.
What are these foods?
Most follow the lines of a Mediterranean diet which is rich in Omega 3’s and whole food sources. You want to avoid as much processed and “faux” foods as possible. These tend to be created with processes and chemicals that increase inflammation.
Don’t worry, walking away from the baked and packaged treats you may love doesn’t mean deprivation. With little alterations you’ll discover you have an abundance of choices.
And they are delicious, fresh, and nutritious!
You won’t feel deprived because as you add these foods to your plate, your body will get more and more of what it really needs. When it has what it needs, it’s not going to cry out to you for a donut or a salty bag of chips.
Can you imagine what life can be like if you actually lose cravings for the overly processed stuff? It’s possible…really!
Your new choices include:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Sweet Potatoes
- Sunflower seeds
- Green tea
- Dark Chocolate (70% cacao)
- And More!
It doesn’t have to be difficult.
Throw together a salad with mixed greens, sunflower seeds, sliced avocados, orange slices, cucumbers, and grilled salmon topped with a sesame dressing and you’re good to go for an entire afternoon!
Or, start your morning with a couple of Omega-3 fortified eggs, a whole wheat English muffin and some fruit. A simple snack can be a handful of almonds and some dried figs.
Got a sweet tooth? Skip the cake and try a bite of dark chocolate or slice and freeze some fresh fruit like pear or peach and shave some chocolate over it.
The more happy foods you add to your current food choices; the less often you’ll crave processed foods or those prepared with ingredients that encourage an inflammation response.
Step #2: Breathe More
Now, I could say meditate (because it works); however, I’m aware of how little time most of us make in the day to do that. It seems impossible to sit still and think of nothing for 10 minutes. Heck, most of us can’t do it for even 1 minute!
Even so, there is evidence that meditation can actually alter your brain. The Dalia Lama was onto something when he said, “Happiness can be achieved through training the mind…”
And we train our mind by shutting out some of the external noise that seems to crowd our world every minute of every day. We up our happiness quota by spending a little bit of time within our own bodies.
What does that mean?
By unplugging, turning off, and tuning out the noise around us we have an opportunity to experience silence. This silence can be calming. The calming allows our brain a “time out” which in turn allows us a time out.
Begin by just breathing. Or rather, concentrating on your breath. In a quiet spot, close your eyes and just breathe. You can even do it right now. Breathe in for a count of 10; then breathe out for a count of 10. Inhale completely, filling your belly and then exhale completely.
Focused breathing is one part of a psychological tool called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Along with yoga and meditation, when MBSR is practiced over a period of time it may change the brain structure for the better, as reported in the Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
Mindfulness really allows you to hone in on what you’re doing, right now, in the present, and fully appreciate the activity. Too often we are thinking and worrying about what has already happened (the past) or what will happen (the future) rather than really enjoy what we’re doing right now.
When you tune in to NOW; you can experience more happiness.
Mindfulness and breathing don’t always have to happen in a quiet place. When you run, you can concentrate on your breathing; when you swim, you can concentrate on your breathing; in the garden, you can concentrate on the task at hand; as you cook, you can concentrate and enjoy each site, smell and sensation as you prepare the meal.
Be present and breathe.
Step #3: Reach for the Stars
You’ve probably heard the saying “reach for the stars” when it comes to setting goals, right?
While setting and reaching goals gives happy vibes, what I’m referring to here is stretching and moving your body.
You can do a formal exercise such as yoga or tai chi, or you can do a simple sequence of easy stretching. I often do this after my morning run. There’s nothing quite like allowing for 10-15 minutes to stretch the muscles, bend backwards, and work in a few powerful yoga poses as I look out onto the calm of the ocean before me.
It’s such a blessing to take in the beauty of the natural world around us.
Think about it. Many of us go through the day holding our breath; just as many of us spend most of our day tensed up. This is the result of hunching over a computer screen at the office; hunching and gripping the steering wheel as we navigate through traffic; or thinking of something stressful and tensing up as a result.
Can’t you just feel the tension in your shoulder as you read those sentences?
It’s time to just let it go and reach for the stars!
You have to stretch your body to release stress and anxiety and allow the fluids in your body to flow. Just like a complicated electrical board, you don’t want any kinks in the lines that block your energy and obstruct optimal health. Fluidity is important for getting those nutrients you’re introducing to your body to all the right places.
It can take as little as 5 minutes and can start before you even get out of bed in the morning. Then, throughout the day, take time to stand up, stretch, and take a little walk at least once an hour. For a double bonus, use that “walking” time to grab a glass of water. This will keep you hydrated and happy.
That’s Just the Beginning…
These 3 simple steps to happiness can be implemented immediately. They set up a foundation for getting the right nutrients into your body, creating a calming environment inside yourself in which to focus and unwind, and opening up the happiness highways throughout your body as you extend, stretch, and release the tension from our modern world.
This is just a start.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) these suggestions are not meant to replace any treatments you have discussed with your doctor. Any changes you make or add to what your doctor has suggested should be discussed with your doctor.
However, any time you make healthy changes you stack the odds in your favor for living a full, mindful, and unapologetically happy life.