5 Tips To Focus On Happiness In The New Year
Happiness by definition is a state of well-being, joy, or content. It could be a sense of satisfaction after completing a job or a task. Or the positive feeling we get after helping others. Because happiness can mean different things to different people, it can feel like an elusive emotion that is difficult to attain.
Neurologically, happiness is the release of chemicals in our brain. Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins all contribute to the feelings we associate as happy. This means there are things we can do every day to help increase the release of these chemicals, and elevate our overall feeling of happiness.
1- Engage in physical activities
The fact is physical activities, aerobic or anaerobic, have considerable positive effects on the brain in multiple ways. It improves blood flow, and a well-oxygenated brain functions better. Exercise also helps the brain produce endorphins, a neurochemical that not only helps elevate mood but helps decrease pain as well. In addition, not only is the neurochemical dopamine released, regular exercise can actually increase the amount of dopamine receptors in our brain.
Over time, exercise changes the brain’s structure by growing new neurons, specifically in the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain associated with emotions, learning, and memory. By restructuring the hippocampus, it helps stabilize our moods and leave us feeling emotionally balanced throughout our day.
The good news is we can gain these benefits by doing as little as ten minutes of exercise a day. If getting exercise is a new habit, we can start small by choosing to take the stairs whenever possible or parking at the end of a parking lot instead of upfront. Maybe we can walk around the block or in the park during our breaks or after work. Of course, if it’s too cold or we prefer to stay indoors, we can jump rope, do jumping jacks, practice yoga, do push-ups, or any other activities that elevate the heart rate while we move around.
2- Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is when we center ourselves in the present moment so we can assess our actions and thoughts without judgment. This sounds more complicated than it is. We can meditate, do deep-breathing exercises, say affirmations, focus on our body, and avoid multitasking for short, deliberate periods of time either daily or weekly.
When we engage in mindfulness for at least five minutes a day, it helps rewire our brain. Meditation in particular helps shrink the amygdala, the region of the brain that is tied directly with our sympathetic nervous system and triggers our fight-or-flight response. Stress increases the amygdala which makes us more susceptible to reacting to situations through fear or with anxiety. By shrinking the amygdala, we become more open to reacting to the same situations through a calmer outlook.
Practicing mindfulness also reduces the levels of cortisol in our brain. Cortisol is the stress chemical that can disrupt our sleep patterns, cause our moods to become volatile, and decrease our productivity. Mindfulness increases dopamine and serotonin, which lower cortisol levels. It also increases our brain’s production of melatonin, which stabilizes our sleep schedule.
3- Sleep better
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep daily helps keep the brain functioning effectively. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, it can lead to sleep deprivation. A sleep-deprived brain affects our cognitive functionality, making it difficult for us to pay attention, make decisions, and think critically. This combines to diminish our productivity and focus.
To sleep better and enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep, avoid using phones or other devices in bed. Screens emit blue light, which is the same wavelength as sunlight. This signals that it’s morning to our brain, raising cortisol and inhibiting the production of melatonin, which is vital in our sleep-wake cycle.
Other ways to help ensure we get the right amount of quality sleep is by setting up our bedroom to be sleep-friendly. Keeping our bedroom clutter-free helps our brain relax so we can fall asleep faster. We can put up curtains to keep light out or use a sleep mask to help block light that could wake us up. To alleviate noise, we can listen to calming sounds or use ear buds. All of these are small ways we can help us fall asleep and stay asleep.
4- Practice gratitude
Gratitude helps us appreciate the value and importance of the people in our lives and the things we have. When we reflect on these things, it helps raise our feeling of satisfaction. This is more than simply being thankful. Gratitude is also engaging in behaviors of giving and generosity.
When we feel gratitude, our brain activates our ventral and dorsal prefrontal cortex. These areas are responsible for our emotional responses, and enhance things like bonding and morality. It also is a key element in our reward system, helping us strengthen our habits. Every time we’re grateful, our reward system is activated, which motivates us to engage in this behavior again.
We can actively practice gratitude in multiple ways. Keeping a gratitude journal, where we write down what we’re grateful for every day keeps us focused on the more positive aspects of our lives. We can also make more of an effort to express gratitude to people in our lives on a regular basis. Making the commitment to say thank you or otherwise show our appreciation to one person a day is an easy way to practice gratitude daily.
5- Build and embrace self-love
Self-love is when we not only believe in ourselves, it’s when we make our well-being a top priority. And it goes beyond simply saying we have confidence in ourselves or believing in ourselves. Building self-love means we take actions to support our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth.
One of the most important things we can do is practice self-care. This means taking time to nurture ourselves throughout the week. Taking a relaxing bath, getting a massage, practicing meditation, or engaging in creative endeavors or hobbies.
Other ways to build self-love is to create boundaries and uphold them. These can be to maintain our work-life balance, protect our emotional well-being in all relationships. We can remind ourselves of our value, pay attention to what we’re afraid of, and work on overcoming those obstacles, stop comparing ourselves to others, and allow ourselves to make mistakes. By taking the time to take care of ourselves, we’re giving our brain the rest and resources it needs to be emotionally balanced and physically rejuvenated.
The path to happiness is attainable for everyone. By creating daily habits that promote neurochemical responses in our brain that help promote our emotional well-being. A healthy brain is a happy brain and allows us to reach our truly limitless potential in the New Year and beyond.