Why was everyone so happy today?
When I went for my swim this morning people were very chatty and friendly, everyone was smiling, and happiness was in the air! Why? I think because summer is almost over and this morning we were very appreciative of the blue skies and warmth that will soon be gone.
Our mental state impacts our health.
Researchers from UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) completed studies in which they showed happiness levels coincided with better overall health. This included pain relief, better heart health, lower inflammation in the body, better anti-viral, antibody, and physical response.
This field of research is known as psychoneuroimmunology and what scientists are saying is that a good state of mind – your happiness, affects your genes. So, it’s safe to say that my fellow swimmers and I had a good dose of health through happiness today.
No! In fact, in one research study, the smiling moods of a group of bus drivers were monitored for two weeks and it was found that the mood of the drivers got worse when they were faking smiles, even leading them to withdraw from work. However, when they focused on pleasant thoughts and memories and gave authentic smiles their moods and productivity improved.
Different kinds of happiness
- Eudaimonic well-being is the kind of happiness that comes from having a sense of purpose and meaning in life, it’s authentic and grounded in the present moment. This is what the bus drivers were feeling when they gave authentic smiles and is what shows very favorable gene expressions in immune cells.
- Hedonic well-being is the type of happiness that comes from self-gratification where the focus is on looking for pleasure and avoiding pain. This kind of happiness is limiting and short-lived and doesn’t have such a positive immune-boosting response in the body as Eudaimonic happiness does.
Unfortunately, Hedonic well-being is reinforced from a very young age because we are taught that our happiness is dependent upon our external world and circumstances being favorable. Most of us grow up in an environment that tells us that once we get a certain job, earn an acceptable amount of money, own a home and a car, are in a fulfilling relationship with life running smoothly then we will be happy. Once we “succeed”, happiness will follow! Unfortunately, these things don’t contribute to long-lasting happiness or health nearly as much as we might think!
Authentic happiness (Eudaimonic), derived from such things as caring for others and contributing to society or being part of a community with a sense of purpose and meaning will benefit us more.
It’s a happiness that boosts our sense of well-being and wholeness and it comes from the inside.
Does that mean I have to give up my 46” TV and take up a full-time volunteer job?
No! You might want to try it, but for the time being, let me tell you what happened at the pool today.
Peoples spirits were lifted by the warm sunshine and the clear blue water, everyone was saying good morning and chatting about the day, connection and community was felt which led to people being kind, holding doors open, picking up dropped towels and enquiring after left flip-flops (thongs for my Australian friends!) There was lively conversation in the Sauna and we even talked about the simple things in life that make us happy! As this was unfolding we were all tapping into the Eudaimonic approach to happiness. Albeit instigated by the beautiful weather we were experiencing.
Through our everyday actions and our daily routine, we can tap into authentic happiness, genuine caring, community, kindness, compassion and attention and not only do we genuinely help others as we do this, we influence others to do the same and we boost our immune system at the same time. A win-win for all!
So, wouldn’t it be better if we could turn this fountain of immune boosting goodness on at any time? Well, you can.
You didn’t seriously think I was going to do a blog post without mentioning mindfulness or meditation, did you?!
Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to meditate on happiness for an hour every morning. Only a few minutes!
Setting an Intention
Your mind runs habitual thoughts day after day, many of which are not helpful. Most of our time is spent on automatic pilot. So, what I’d like to suggest is that you address this as soon as you wake up and begin the process of being more intentional about your thoughts and actions before you start your day. Yogis have been doing this for centuries. For those of you who attend Yoga classes, you may be familiar with being asked to set an intention for your class. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, this is called Sankalpa, which means, a way of being from the heart.
So, why not be more intentional about bringing this healthy, regenerating, immune boosting happiness into your life? Because let’s face it, we can’t always rely on the weather to help us feel positive, especially in Melbourne, sometimes we need to create our own internal ray of sunshine.
It’s important to remember that this process is not like goal setting. When forming an intention we start from the premise that we are simply remembering our innate qualities rather than trying to fix or change something, which assumes there is something wrong with us. This is a process of re-acquainting yourself with your inner virtues and bringing them into your day.
A small change in your morning routine is all it takes
- Set your alarm five minutes earlier than normal, when you wake close your eyes again.
- Pause, so you can begin the process of starting your day intentionally, rather than on automatic pilot.
- Spend a few moments tuning into your body and breath. Watch your thoughts come and go and choose to be focused on your breath and body.
- Think about how you would like to “be” today, what positive aspects of yourself do you want to bring to the world? What kind of experience would you like to create?
- See in your mind’s eye the way you want to feel today, perhaps happy, confident, optimistic, joyful or grateful. In what ways will you consider others, how will you communicate with the people you care about?How will you contribute at home or at work and how would you like other people to feel when they are around you. What do you desire from this day?
- Your Intention is more than a goal or a wish, it is an affirmation of the way you’re being right now. As you build this picture in your mind and identify the main qualities you want to bring into your day, phrase your Intention to yourself as a positively worded, present tense statement and feel that you are immediately living that way.
Some examples of Intentions might be:
I am happy and content,
I feel healthy and whole
I am calm and easy going,
I care about myself and others,
I am composed and focussed,
I am vibrant and happy,
I am kind and considerate,
I am willing and attentive,
I listen carefully,
I am open and loving,
I am grateful and giving,
I communicate clearly whilst caring about others,
This is a wonderful way to set your compass before you start your busy day. It ensures that you are more likely foster feelings of Eudaimonic happiness through authentic connection, purpose, and meaning. All the while boosting your immunity as you go!
Today the sun was shining in a blue sky and happiness and health was in the air. AND it is possible to feel happy and boost your health on the coldest winter day if you choose…So start practicing now, cause those cold winter days will soon be here!
If you would like your own worksheet, please download Identifying Your Intention.