Happiness is a subjective term that can be understood as self-fulfillment, physical and emotional wellbeing, and contentment. There is no one universal way to attain happiness; however, there are tools and concepts you can explore to discover your own path towards optimizing your happiness. Below are five strategies you can integrate into your daily routine that may leave you feeling lighter and more uplifted.
Choose Quality over Quantity
We are all familiar with the “less is more” concept, which emphasizes that our happiness is not determined by having an overabundance of materialistic things, mundane relationships or an overloaded schedule filled with tasks and rituals. You might notice that this can leave you feeling drained and depleted at the end of the day, instead of feeling accomplished and gratified. It is important to show gratitude for the things that add value to your life and minimize the background noise. For example, focusing less on compulsory consumption and more on enhancing the quality of human interaction and connection enables individuals to experience a sense of freedom. In other words, when there is less clutter in our lives, this quiets the inner chatter in our minds, leaving us feeling more grounded and energized.
Decrease Your Social Media Footprint
The media has taken huge leaps technologically, and people are living their lives vicariously through a variety of social domains. Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, Twitter, and other platforms are becoming ever-present in our lives and are beginning to shape the way many of us perceive ourselves, others and the world. When used in excess, social media can adversely affect an individual’s sense of identity and even one’s core beliefs. Social media emulates the addictive characteristics that drugs have on the brain, which can cause an unhealthy attachment to seeking validation. From a biological perspective, the “high” individuals get from posting photos and receiving likes in return activates what neuroscientists refer to as the brain’s “reward center.” This causes a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to the expectation of pleasure; in fact, it’s the equivalent amount of dopamine that is also secreted during sex, gambling, drug use, sugar consumption, and exercise.
If you notice negative impacts on your wellbeing after engaging in social media, perhaps this is your brain’s way of telling you it’s time to decrease your usage.
Let Go of Unhealthy Attachments
The human brain has evolved to cling to stability, normality and security. Changes in our relationships, structure and routine can trigger a fear response and act as major stressors in our daily lives. This causes us to react by desperately holding on to the things we know; however, not everything that is familiar or comfortable is beneficial for our mental and physical wellbeing. Sometimes we might find ourselves holding onto toxic relationships because it is too difficult to let those relationships go. Other times, our attachments can be towards material items, food or substances. These attachments could be a result of an inability to regulate difficult thoughts and emotions, which leads to a dependence on unhealthy behaviours to ease discomfort and/or pain (i.e. binging, purging, gambling, drugs, alcohol, compulsive shopping). It is important to recognize the maladaptive patterns and relationships we have in our lives and to let them go, which may necessitate accessing support to do so.
Recognize and Change Maladaptive Patterns
Once we learn to become aware of our irrational and negative thought processes and begin replacing them with positive and rational thoughts, we can start to take control of our emotions and behaviours. Humans are creatures of habit and once we get into a routine of thinking or acting in a certain way, these patterns become automatic. Neuroscientists use the phrase, “what fires together, wires together,” to describe this brain cycle. Negative thought processes that occur repeatedly over time wire our brains in ways that perpetuate a vicious cycle along this path of least resistance. When we work to identify and change these maladaptive thought processes and make them more adaptive, our brains begin to rewire and form new neuronal pathways. Practice makes perfect: the more we make a conscious effort to change negative thought and behavioural patterns, the more quickly they will be replaced by more positive ones.
Self-care is a word we hear all too often but don’t integrate enough into our lives. In order to enhance our coping toolbox and optimize happiness, it is important to engage in certain behaviors that are good for our wellbeing. Below are a couple of self-care tips that can add value to your daily routine.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice of being in the present moment. It is rooted in Buddhist tenets of non-judgment and observing the anchoring effects of the breath. Mindfulness can be practiced through daily meditative sittings, mindful eating, mindful walking, visualizations, body scans and yoga.
Exercise: Exercise is a natural way for our brains to release endorphins, leaving us feeling refreshed and happy. Jogging, weight lifting, cycling and boxing are a few of the many different outlets we can use after a stressful day. Exercise also helps integrate a routine into the week, which is a helpful tool for time management.
Journaling: Journaling is an effective way to become self-aware of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are not serving us. It is an outlet for expression that enables us to track behaviours and identify where change is needed. Journaling can take the form of diaries, logs, thought records and behavioral activation activities.
Healthy Eating & Sleep: Integrating the proper nutrients and vitamins into our diet enhances motivation, energy levels and promotes healthy brain activity. Healthy eating in combination with getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night has huge impacts on our overall well being.
Ashlyn is a registered social worker who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, mood disorders and addictions. She received her Masters degree from the University of Toronto and specializes in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy.