Esade professor Jordi Quoidbach shares five science-based happiness strategies to cope in turbulent times. How can you feel better?
5 happiness strategies:
0:19 I Care about others
1:40 I Connect with nature
3:19 I Touch base with the present
4:22 I Pursue a passion
4:50 I Listen to your emotions
Still more questions?
Today I thought I would lighten the mood a little bit, and share with you five happiness strategies that are backed by science.
1. Care about others
The first strategy might be obvious, but is probably one of the most powerful, and it is to stay connected with other people. What is the biggest difference between people who are usually happy and people who are not? The answer is their social relationships. In particular, we find in our data that the happiest people on average (those who say they are 90, 95, or 100 percent happy) tend to spend about 70% of the time surrounded by others, or at least, another person. Less happy people only spend around 35% of the time connected with other people.
Less happy people only spend around 35% of the time connected with other people
Another fascinating finding from happiness research is that one of the most powerful ways you can boost happiness is by being kind to people. We tend to think of altruism as sacrificing our own happiness in order to benefit someone else, but it turns out that happiness is not a zero-sum game, and when you help someone you usually feel happier as a result. And if you need inspiration, I think this current pandemic has also triggered a pandemic of kindness. Just go on social media and type #CovidKindness, and you'll be amazed at some of the smart ways humans are being kind to each other in these difficult times.
When you help someone you usually feel happier as a result
2. Connect with nature
The second piece of advice I would give you is to connect with nature. That might sound obvious, but lots of research shows that when we live surrounded by nature, we tend to feel better and less stressed. There is even research suggesting that views of nature can help us heal faster, and so nature is really embedded in our psychology. We need nature to feel good.
When you are at home, some research suggests that nature substitutes can help. We can reap some of the benefits of nature just by, for example, caring for a plant. So taking care of your plants, looking at plants, having plants in your room, can help lower your stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood. If you don't have plants, some other studies suggest that listening to a soundtrack of nature for just 15 minutes, or the sound of a forest or a waterfall, can lower stress and improve your mood.
Nature is really embedded in our psychology. We need nature to feel good
Even putting nature pictures on your TV can benefit your mental health. And finally, if you don't own a TV, and you don't own a speaker, and you don't have a plant, you can close your eyes and imagine taking a walk toward a beautiful natural scene for 10 or 15 minutes. Studies suggest that even this small step can improve your mood and lower your stress.
3. Touch base with the present
The third piece of advice is to connect with the present moment. How can you stay in the present moment when you have all these worries about future uncertainties? I will share with you two strategies. The first is to try mindfulness meditation. If you haven't heard of mindfulness meditation, it is becoming increasingly popular, and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that it can help lower stress and increase well-being.
The idea is to take a moment to focus on your breathing, on your body sensations in a non-judgmental way, and to re-center your attention on whatever is happening here and now inside you. In particular, I suggest that you try what we call ‘savouring’. My research suggests that this is a powerful way to boost your well-being. Take something that you like, and try to experience it with your five senses. Try to sharpen your senses one by one, and fully savour the experience of the item you like.
4. Pursue a passion
Number four is to connect with a passion. If you observe happy people, you find that happy people do stuff, and in particular, they do things that make them feel a sense of autonomy, things that makes them feel a sense of growth. They do things that give them a sense of purpose and meaning in life, or things that are just fun in themselves. Find a passion that you connect with, or connect with an old passion that allows you to check some of these boxes.
5. Listen to your emotions
My last piece of advice would be to connect with your emotions. The problem with those negative emotions is not so much that we have them, it is just part of life to have negative emotions, but it is more about the relationships that we have with our negative feelings. We can start learning from our negative emotions. We can use that information to act on our values and our goals, and progress towards understanding them.
People who experience a lot of emotions are actually healthier than people who experience a narrow range of emotions
When you experience negative emotions, rather than trying to chase them away – first tell yourself: ‘I notice that I'm experiencing (type of emotion). Now you can ask yourself what is this irritation? What is this fear telling me about what is important for me? Then, rather than dwelling on that negative feeling, it is time to make a plan. This helps you progress towards understanding the goal, or value, or need, that is not being fulfilled (even in a tiny way). What kind of steps can you take to progress towards that understanding? My research suggests that people who experience a lot of emotions – including all the negative emotions – are actually healthier than people who experience a narrow range of emotions. So, please try to welcome your emotions, accept them, learn from them, rather than chasing them away.
To wrap up, these are clearly difficult times. People are stressed and unhappy. One way we can cope is to make sure we find moments to take care of our happiness. This means caring about other people, getting our daily fix of nature, getting our daily dose of touching base with the present moment, pursuing our passions, and listening to our emotions – rather than chasing them away.
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