Dr. David Heber, MD, Author, Chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute and Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board Member
According to a recent white paper by the Wits/Medical Research Council, Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), 25.7% of South Africans are most likely depressed with more than a quarter of respondents expressing moderate to severe symptoms. Around the globe, people are coveting access to resources that can help them achieve better mental health and start their journey towards finding inner peace. And as people strive for better mental health, it’s important to understand the impact that being happy can have on mental well-being and overall health, and that individuals can indeed create their own happiness. In fact, the relationship goes in both directions – if you are healthier, you are happier and if you are happier, you are healthier!
Happiness is the physical, mental, and emotional state of well-being. It can be achieved by boosting your physical health as well as optimising your emotional and mental health. Following a healthy lifestyle of balanced nutrition and physical activity can result in a lower heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety, all of which can be linked to happiness. Additionally, happiness is associated with the release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters associated with brain health.
May is Mental Health Awareness month and the perfect opportunity to assess our own mental health, evaluate what makes us happy, share what happiness means to each of us with those we surround ourselves with, and how we can find it. In openly discussing your perception of happiness with others, you may discover that much of what can make you happy is not only linked to greater health and wellness, but completely within your control.
What Makes People Happy?
According to an Ipsos survey, people most look to their health and well-being (both physical and mental), their family (partner/spouse and children), and having a sense of purpose as what gives them “the greatest happiness.” Next comes their living conditions, feeling safe and in control, being in nature, having a meaningful job, and having more financial security.
While the path towards better health and its connection to happiness may be relatively straightforward, finding your purpose is also a personal journey requiring you to dig deep and get to know your true self. Positive psychology, the field which studies the optimization of emotional and mental health as well as happiness, has found that people who have a purpose are more likely to be happy.
Here are several proactive tips that can help guide you in your journey to creating your own happiness and achieving better overall health long-term.
Science shows that healthy eating also contributes to happiness. The physical state of wellbeing is largely determined by how you fuel your body. Your body is a vessel that can only run optimally the better you take care of it. We do this by adopting daily habits of practicing balanced nutrition and a healthy active lifestyle.
Exercising regularly and maintaining an active lifestyle can benefit both our bodies and our minds. When we exercise, our muscles and brain benefit from an increase in blood flow bringing oxygen and nutrients to our brain cells. Our dopamine pathways in the brain are also stimulated which activate our pleasure center. For this reason, exercise is used for treating mood disorders, depression and addictive behaviors including overeating.
Make Time to Relax
There’s a reason why the worldwide interest in self-care is growing— making the time to relax and recharge is one of the best ways to find true happiness. The most effective way to do this is by igniting the relaxation response. This theory shows that relaxing has many effects on the body including lowering blood pressure, pulse and calming the mind. The step-by-step process to triggering the relaxation response includes 1) Sitting quietly in a private spot 2) Relaxing your muscles from head to toe by contracting and relaxing each muscle 3) Focusing on your breathing 4) Breathing deeply; and 5) Thinking of a relaxing image like ocean waves. Practicing this just 20 minutes a day can recharge your mind and help you get to sleep at night.
Finding Your purpose
A key principle of Positive Psychology is finding your “why,” or your purpose. True happiness comes from living a life that you choose because it fulfills your personal purpose. To find your purpose, elaborate on these four steps:
1) Find your passion or what you love
2) Establish your mission or what you feel the world needs more of
3) Work for which you can be paid
4) Have confidence in what you’re good at doing
Once you have worked through these four steps, your purpose will be revealed. For myself and my colleagues at the Herbalife Nutrition Institute, that purpose is to foster the world’s premier health and wellness company and community, giving people the tools to live their best lives.
Reframing your mindset can go a long way—rather than complaining about things that are wrong in your life, focus on the good things, large or small. While this may be easier said than done, psychological research shows that concentrating on what is good in your life and expressing gratitude will make you happier. Keeping a gratitude journal or making a brief gratitude list every day giving thanks for all you have can help you improve your mood.
Focus on Things You Can Control
All of us have a circle of influence and a circle of concern. The circle of concern is made up of all the external factors that are out of your control, while the circle of influence includes things you can control—like your personal habits. Choose a proactive approach, and work on the things you can change rather than worrying about the things you cannot change. Taking responsibility for your personal habits and accomplishments will increase your confidence and your sense of happiness. Having a proactive mindset allows you to focus on change, rather than being inactive, which paralyzes your growth through worry and anxiety. One of the best ways to improve your happiness is to develop healthy habits in all aspects of your life—including eating a balanced diet and implementing a healthy active lifestyle.
Happiness is not an accident, or something that just happens, but something that you make happen. Happiness is a physical, emotional, and spiritual sense of well-being, that when found, should give you a lasting feeling of contentment. Use this month to consciously create your own happiness by implementing habits that will positively impact your physical and mental health enabling you to maintain a sense of inner peace.