We all strive for happiness, but it can be hard to find. Magazines, adverts, social media, friends, family – all have different ideas about how to achieve happiness.
Feeling happy is important for both your mental and physical health, but what will really make you happier?
In the past few years, scientists have found that although our genes and circumstances play a part in affecting how we feel, a large proportion of our happiness comes from the things we do.
Here are my top ten tips on how to make yourself happier:
1. Be active: Evidence shows that being physically active is good for our mental wellbeing. You don’t need to run a marathon – find an activity that you enjoy and that fits into your daily life. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
2. Eat and drink well: Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Poor or restricted diets are often lacking in B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, which have both been shown to have a big affect on our mood. Too much sugar and not enough fibre (found in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains) will also make us feel sluggish. Alcohol is a depressant, so cutting down how much you drink will make you feel better.
3. Be social: Connecting physically (not online!) with other people is important for our wellbeing. Strong relationships help us feel more supported, secure and give us a sense of purpose. Supporting others has been shown to improve our wellbeing too.
4. Give: Doing things for others has a big affect on our happiness. Giving creates stronger connections between you and other people. Try giving five minutes a day to help someone, give away the things you don’t use anymore, or volunteer in your community.
5. Make time for yourself: Whether it’s reading on your commute into work, a ten- minute walk in the park at lunchtime, or half an hour in the bath, take time to destress from the busy world. Meditation or mindfulness can help. Get to know who you are and what you want.
6. Have a social media detox: There are countless studies that correlate social media with anxiety, depression, isolation and sleeplessness. Social media can cause us to ‘compare and despair’ and leave us feeling undervalued if our posts don’t get many ‘likes’. Have screen-free evenings or days and try to spend time connecting face-to- face with your friends and family.
7. Keep learning: Evidence shows learning boosts our self-esteem and self-confidence, while giving us a sense of satisfaction and optimism. You don’t have to go back to school. Think about ways you could learn every day – take up a new hobby or craft, cook a cuisine you haven’t tried before or learn to fix something in your home.
8. Set goals: Setting goals or targets, however small, and working towards them, can help create feelings of positive achievement. Goals help to give us focus and feel in control over our own lives.
9. Play: Take time out to play. Idle play changes our daily routine, lifts negativity and can make you more creative. Play keeps us healthier in old age and helps us find the answers to problems.
10. Smile: Research has shown that smiling helps us, and those around us, feel happier – even if that smile is faked. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, try one on and see if it helps you feel more positive.
By Dr Alexandra Phelan, a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions.