Pathways to happiness
1. What we think
A large part of happiness comes down to perception and expectation. So, in order to reach our goals, we should seek out pleasurable emotions and sensations at every opportunity – both at home and at work.
The cliché “business before pleasure” is a prime example of thinking about things the wrong way. In reality, doing something that makes us feel good promotes energy and calmness, which are both effective tools to combat stress and make us more productive.
Being optimistic can also pay dividends as it helps us to maintain our sense of personal control over things. Significantly, one study found that, on average, optimists have a 19% longer lifespan.
2. What we love
In order to be truly happy, we need to embrace the things we love. This means pursuing activities that fully engage our attention – rather than constantly fighting our instincts.
The satisfaction we gain from being totally immersed in what we are doing is known as being in a "flow." Typically, this is when we are working effortlessly without any awareness of time, when we’re not thinking about ourselves and when we’re not interrupted by extraneous thoughts.
3. What we do
Life is full of choices and if we are to improve our chances of happiness, we need to choose wisely. Sometimes, this is about helping others, being true to ourselves and finding our purpose in life. But smaller details can be important too – such as finding time for people and eating the right food.
A 2017 study from Deakin University (AU) found that an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet (high in vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts) reduced symptoms of depression in 32% of people. Foods like tuna, salmon, nuts, seeds, bananas, green tea, dark chocolate, spinach, blueberries and blackberries are also known to boost serotonin and other happiness hormones. Thanks to an exciting new field of study called psychobiotics, we are likely to learn more on the “gut-brain-happiness” axis in the near future.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that good relationships are fundamental to our happiness. According to the Harvard study we mentioned earlier, people who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are physically healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected. Good relationships are also known to sharpen our memories, while loneliness and isolation can lead to a decline in our health during midlife. It can also result in earlier brain malfunctions and a shorter life expectancy.