The holidays can bring joy or dread, but family rituals make them enjoyable, research suggests
Some people go home for the holidays hoping just to survive, burying their attention in their phones or football to avoid conflict with relatives. Yet research now suggests that is the wrong idea. Family rituals—of any form—can save a holiday, making it well worth the effort of getting everyone in the same room.
In a series of studies to be published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, hundreds of online subjects described rituals they performed with their families during Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter, from tree decoration to egg hunts. Those who said they performed collective rituals, compared with those who said they did not, felt closer to their families, which made the holidays more interesting, which in turn made them more enjoyable. Most surprising, the types of rituals they described—family dinners with special foods, religious ceremonies, watching the ball drop in Times Square—did not have a direct bearing on enjoyment. But the number of rituals did. Apparently having family rituals makes the holidays better and the more the merrier.
The study could measure only correlations between subjects’ responses, leaving causality uncertain—Do rituals increase holiday pleasure, or do people who already enjoy the holidays choose to perform more rituals? Yet enjoyment ratings were higher when given after, versus before, describing rituals, suggesting that simply thinking about rituals can put a warm filter on one’s experience.
“Whatever the ritual is, and however small it may seem, it helps people to really get closer to one another,” says Ovul Sezer, a researcher at Harvard Business School and the paper’s primary author. “[With] some rituals we don’t even know why we do them, but they still work,” she says.
It could be that rituals offer “small, nonobvious ways” to get people to share an experience without feeling awkward or forced, suggests Kathleen Vohs, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota and one of Sezer’s co-authors. She compares that with “obvious ploys” such as saying, “Hey, everyone, gather around the kitchen table, we’re going to play Yahtzee,” which, she notes, “might be more likely to produce a whole lot of kickback.”
But what about happiness? Prior studies have been mixed about this, with some studies showing no relationship between individual IQ and happiness, and other studies showing that those in the lowest IQ range report the lowest levels of happiness compared to those in the highest IQ group. In one study, however, the unhappiness of the lowest IQ range was reduced by 50% once income and mental health issues were taken into account. The authors concluded that “interventions that target modifiable variables such as income (e.g., through enhancing education and employment opportunities) and neurotic symptoms (e.g., through better detection of mental health problems) may improve levels of happiness in the lower IQ groups.”
One major limitations of these prior studies, however, is that they all rely on a single measure of happiness, notably life satisfaction. Modern day researchers now have measures to assess a much wider array of indicators of well-being, including autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, self-acceptance, mastery, and purpose and meaning in life.
Enter a new study conducted by Ana Dimitrijevic and colleagues, in which they attempted to assess the relationship between multiple indicators of intelligence and multiple indicators of well-being. They relied on the following definition of intelligence: “the ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, and to overcome obstacles by taking thought.” This definition covers several more specific notions of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence.
The researchers administered a battery of intelligence and well-being measures to 288 adults employed within various departments of a large dairy production company in Belgrade. What did they found?
Intelligence and Well-Being
The researchers found that both IQ and emotional intelligence were independently correlated with well-being.* IQ was positively correlated with personal relationships, self-acceptance, personal growth, mastery, and purpose in life.** Emotional intelligence was correlated with the same well-being measures, but was additionally related to a sense of autonomy in life.
Zooming in on the IQ test, the most predictive subscale for well-being was a measure of non-verbal fluid reasoning, which requires pattern detection and abstract reasoning (constructing generalizable principles from minimal information). Some people argue that this form of reasoning is strongly related to general intelligence.
Once socioeconomic status (SES) was taken into account (reflecting higher education and income), however, there was no relationship between IQ and well-being. According to the researchers, this suggests that IQ leads “to greater contentment with oneself and life primarily by enabling one to acquire the social status and financial means which ensure better opportunities and quality of life.” Of course, this does not mean that IQ is simply a measure of SES; IQ was positively correlated with well-being. However, it does suggest that the extent to which IQ is related to happiness depends to a large extent on the opportunities (e.g., financial, educational) you have to utilize your IQ.
What about emotional intelligence? The emotional intelligence tests that were most predictive of well-being were the two higher, more “strategic” branches– Understanding and Managing Emotions. The person who scores higher in these facets of emotional intelligence are better able to comprehend the emotional signals coming from others, and to regulate and manage their own and others’ emotions so as to further their own and others’ personal and social goals.
Emotional intelligence had a direct effect on well-being, and this association remained strong even after controlling for SES. What’s more, of the two measures of intelligence– IQ and emotional intelligence– emotional intelligence was the strongest predictor of well-being, outweighing not only IQ, but also a person’s SES and age. This finding suggests that emotional intelligence– particularly the capacity to manage one’s emotions toward optimal personal goal attainment– is a form of intelligence that can help people live a more fulfilled life regardless of their economic circumstances.
Why Is Intelligence Associated with Well-Being?
I think intelligence matters for a fulfilling life for a number of reasons. For one, a higher IQ is a gateway to better education. Those with higher IQ scores are much more likely to score well on standardized tests of achievement, and academic performance is often the first hurdle necessary to continue up the ladder of occupational opportunities.
Also relevant here is the association between IQ and openness to experience. Those with a higher IQ tend to score higher in a number of facets of openness to experience, including intellectual engagement, intellectual creativity, introspection, ingenuity, intellectual depth, and imagination. This tendency for deeper cognitive processing is critical for dealing with a lot of life’s up and downs. While trauma is inevitable in life, research shows that we can grow from our traumas if we have a healthy form of rumination in which we reflect on the deeper meaning of the event and can use that cognitive processing to perceive greater opportunities for ourselves and others.
Regarding emotional intelligence, since having a fulfilling life often requires accomplishing the goals you have set out for yourself, it makes sense that being able to manage your emotions in the service of a larger goal will be associated with well-being and self-actualization.
Perhaps the most important analysis will turn out to be how IQ and emotional intelligence interact. There is some evidence that in certain contexts, emotional intelligence can amplify the effectiveness of a high IQ, and high emotional intelligence can even compensate for a lower IQ. Future research should definitely look more closely at the interaction between these two important aspects of human intelligence.
Of course, it’s possible that the findings operate in reverse causation, and being happier increases intellectual skills. Most likely, both directions are at play in the correlations found in the study. Clearly more research will need to look at the association between intelligence and well-being over time.
At any rate, I’m pleased to see that this line of research is being conducted. I believe a great responsibility we have as a society is to ensure that all people– regardless of their IQ score– are able to self-actualize and lead a life of self-acceptance, autonomy, meaning, and positive social relationships.
* It should be noted that IQ and emotional intelligence were moderately correlated with each other. This suggests that both tests are tapping into a common set of processes (e.g., executive functioning, working memory, etc.), even though IQ and emotional intelligence also involve a partially different set of skills.
The two-year study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), observed more than 2,500 high school students from Los Angeles.
Digital media and the attention span of teenagers
A team of researchers analyzed data from the teenagers who had shorter attention spans the more they became involved in different digital media platforms for the duration of the experiment.
The JAMA study observed adolescents aged 15 and 16 years periodically for two years. The researchers asked the teenagers about the frequency of their online activities and if they had experienced any of the known symptoms of ADHD.
As the teenagers’ digital engagement rose, their reported ADHD symptoms also went up by 10 percent. The researchers noted that based on the results of the study, even if digital media usage does not definitively cause ADHD, it could cause symptoms that would result in the diagnosis of ADHD or require pharmaceutical treatment.
Experts believe that ADHD begins in the early stages of childhood development. However, the exact circumstances, regardless if they are biological or environmental, have yet to be determined.
Adam Leventhal, a University of Southern California psychologist and senior author of the study, shared that the research team is now analyzing the occurrence of new symptoms that were not present when the study began.
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The researchers concluded that the teenagers might have exhibited ADHD symptoms from the outset due to other factors. However, it is possible that excessive digital media usage can still aggravate these symptoms.
Fast facts about ADHD
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is commonly diagnosed in children. However, it can also be diagnosed in older individuals. ADHD can be difficult to diagnose. Since several symptoms of ADHD are similar to normal childhood behaviors, the disorder itself can be hard to detect.
The symptoms of ADHD may include forgetting completed tasks, having difficulty sitting still, having difficulty staying organized, and having trouble concentrating or focusing.
Men are at least three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females.
During their lifetimes, at least 13 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD, as opposed to only 4.2 percent in women.
The average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven years old.
The symptoms of the condition will usually manifest when a child is aged three to six years old.
ADHD is not solely a childhood disorder. At least four percent of American adults older than 18 may have ADHD.
This disorder does not increase an individual’s risk for other conditions or diseases. However, some people with ADHD, mostly children, have a higher chance of experiencing different coexisting conditions. These can make social situations, like school, more difficult for kids with ADHD.
Some coexisting conditions of ADHD may include:
Conduct disorders and difficulties (e.g., antisocial behavior, fighting, and oppositional defiant disorder)
Smart phones and tablets have become a cancerous growth in our lives – never leaving us, feeding off our essence, and sucking away our attention, life, and energy. Social media is like an aggressive form of brain cancer, attaching to our mind, addicting us to cheap dopamine rushes, replacing human interaction with a digital façade of living. Stealing away our time, technology has become a disease that infiltrates our mental and social health, leaving us depressed, anxious, worried, envious, arrogant, and socially isolated.
What we type and text to others causes over-thinking, rumination, and misunderstanding. The way we respond with type and text can be misinterpreted, leading to social strain in relationships. Digital communication lacks the natural flow of body language, eye contact, touch, voice inflection, tone, and real-life rapport. Accustomed to digital communication, people lose their ability to have adult conversations. This hurts everyone’s ability to work together, discuss ideas, solve problems, and overcome multi-faceted challenges.
Popular social media platforms prey on human weaknesses
On Facebook, the pursuit of likes and comments can become an addicting sensation. When the attention fails to come in, the Facebook user may feel unheard or undesirable. When the user sees their friends getting more likes, they may perceive other people having a better life than they do, leading to depressed feelings. (Related: Former Facebook exec: “Social media is ripping society apart.“)
On Twitter, communication is limited to short bursts. These bursts encourage people to engage in divisive language that is used in inflammatory ways and is easily misunderstood. Twitter is used to build a “following” which becomes a high-school-esque popularity contest that easily inflates egos and gives a platform to the most annoying ones in the bunch.
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Instagram and Snapchat have become more popular as well, making users anxious to show off their lives online 24-7. This infatuation with documenting every moment is an anxious, self-absorbed way to live and it does the person no good, because these technology gimmicks interrupt the actual moment and disturb the flow of real life. Do we really think that everyone cares about every picture, every meal, and everything that we do? As the digital world continues to bloat up with information, pictures, and voices, all of it loses its value and sacredness. Over time, no one genuinely cares. The louder a person gets on social media, the more annoying they are perceived.
Technology addiction destroys sleep, leads teenagers to other addictive substances
As parents pacify their children with screens, the children are exposed to constant light stimulation which excites brain chemicals. The colorful games and videos over-stimulate the child’s mind, making them addicted to the sensation. Consequentially the child becomes more restless and behavioral distress increases over the long term.
Technology has made our lives more selfish, isolated, and interrupted. Social media has preyed on our weaknesses, trapping us in its mesmerizing facade of happiness. According to SurvivoPedia, teenagers who spend more than five hours a day on their devices are at a 72 percent higher risk for suicide risk factors. In order to alleviate the mental health issues associated with social media, teenagers may turn to other addictive substances to take the edge off.
Additionally, these devices interfere with healthy sleep patterns — which are essential for proper brain development. The onslaught of blue light and electromagnetic frequency interferes with healthy melatonin levels in the brain. The things that we post online can keep us up at night as well. The addiction to check the phone for responses and likes can keep a person up, too. All this brain excitement and depression throws off the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to poor sleep and mental fatigue during the daytime.
The quality of your thoughts determines the quality of your life. If your mind is pure and your thoughts happy, positive, healthy and empowering, your life will be, too.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
2. Your happiness depends on you.
Every single person is responsible for their own happiness, and you yourself are responsible for your own. Never rely on someone else for your happiness. Always remember that your happiness depends on you.
“Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.” ~ Stacey Charter
3. Happiness begins with acceptance.
Happiness begins with acceptance – acceptance of what was, acceptance of what is, and acceptance of what will and/or might be. By accepting, embracing and making peace with yourself, your life and the world around you, not only do you become a lot happier and more at peace, but you will also make room in your life for something better to emerge.
“Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Happiness is about forgiving yourself for all your so-called mistakes and failures. It’s about making peace with all your flaws and all your imperfections and accepting yourself just as you are.
“To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now.” ~ Alan Cohen
5. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special. And remember that time waits for no one. So stop waiting until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Saturday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink, until you’ve sobered up, until you die, until you are born again, to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy.” ~Author Unknown
The more you learn to express your gratitude and appreciation for every experience, every interaction and every little thing that life sends your way, the happier you will become and the better your life will get.
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” ~ Frederick Keonig
7. Happiness is about being present in the moment.
When you are fully present in the now, enjoying and appreciating each moment of your life, how can you not be happy? Happiness is about being present in the moment, and the more engaged you are in the now, the happier you will become.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
8. Happiness is about being of service.
Happiness never decreases by being shared, and the more you share who you are, what you know and the many gifts and talents you possess with those around you, the more happiness you will experience in your life.
“We are but visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” ~ Dalai Lama
Happiness isn’t something that can be pursued nor is it something that we can cling on to. Happiness is about letting go.
“There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul. It is easy to make a mistake here, “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot
And these are the 10 important things you should know about happiness. I would love to know which one you think can make the biggest difference in the quality of our lives.
You can share your comment in the comment section below
Happiness has little to do with it. Research suggests meaning in your life is important for well-being.
My favorite medical diagnosis is “failure to thrive.”
Not because patients are failing to thrive — that part makes me sad. But because of the diagnosis’s bold proposition: Humans, in their natural state, are meant to thrive.
My patient, however, was not in his natural state. Cancer had claimed nearly every organ in his body. He’d lost a quarter of his body mass. I worried his ribs would crack under the weight of my stethoscope.
“You know,” he told me the evening I admitted him. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have cared if I made it. ‘Take me God,’ I would’ve said. ‘What good am I doing here anyway?’ But now you have to save me. Sadie needs me.”
He’d struggled with depression most of his life, he said. Strangely enough, it seemed to him, he was most at peace while caring for his mother when she had Parkinson’s, but she died years ago. Since then, he had felt aimless, without a sense of purpose, until Sadie wandered into his life.
Sadie was his cat.
Only about a quarter of Americans strongly endorse having a clear sense of purpose and of what makes their lives meaningful, while nearly 40 percent either feel neutral or say they don’t. This is both a social and a public health problem: Research increasingly suggests that purpose is important for a meaningful life — but also for a healthy life.
Purpose and meaning are connected to what researchers call eudaimonic well-being. This is distinct from, and sometimes inversely related to, happiness (hedonic well-being). One constitutes a deeper, more durable state, while the other is superficial and transient.
Being a pediatric oncologist, for example, is not a “happy” job, but it may be a very rewarding one. Raising a family can be profoundly meaningful, but parents are often less happy while interacting with their children than exercising or watching television.
And people with high scores on measures of eudaimonic well-being have low levels of pro-inflammatory gene expression; those with high scores on hedonic pleasure have just the opposite.
Doing good, it seems, is better than feeling good.
One study analyzed how having purpose influences one’s risk of dementia. Researchers assessed baseline levels of purpose for 951 individuals without dementia, then followed them for seven years, controlling for things like depression, neuroticism, socioeconomic status and chronic disease. Those who had expressed a greater sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and were far less likely to develop even minor cognitive problems.
Another study followed more than 6,000 individuals over 14 years and found that those with greater purpose were 15 percent less likely to die than those who were aimless, and that having purpose was protective across the life span — for people in their 20s as well as those in their 70s.
Having purpose is not a fixed trait, but rather a modifiable state: Purpose can be honed through strategies that help us engage in meaningful activities and behaviors. This has implications at both the dinner table and the hospital bed.
A recent randomized control trial compared the effect of “meaning-centered” versus “support-focused” group therapy for patients with metastatic cancer. Patients in the support groups met weekly and discussed things like “the need for support,” “coping with medical tests” and “communicating with providers.”
Patients in the meaning-centered groups focused instead on spiritual and existential questions. They explored topics like “meaning before and after cancer,” “what made us who we are today,” and “things we have done and want to do in the future.” Meaning-centered patients experienced fewer physical symptoms, had a higher quality of life, felt less hopeless — and were more likely to want to keep living.
Other research suggests that school programs that allow students to discuss positive emotions and meaningful experiences may enhance psychological well-being, and protect against future behavioral challenges. But this isn’t how we usually operate. We instead assume that anxiety and depression are problems to be treated — not that emotional resilience and human flourishing are states to be celebrated.
What’s powerful about these conversations is not just that they can help cancer patients through treatment or help teenagers build resiliency — they can also help the rest of us. We should all consider asking ourselves and our loved ones these questions more often.
During my most trying months of medical school, I met every Sunday evening with three friends. Phones off, lights dim, wine glasses full. We shared the most challenging and most rewarding moments of our weeks. These conversations helped each of us glean — or perhaps create — meaning in challenging, sometimes traumatic, experiences: the death of a child we’d cared for; abusive language from a superior; the guilt of committing a medical error.
It was in these sessions that I chose my specialty, decided to apply to policy school, and vowed to reconnect with a lost friend.
Meaning grows not just from conversation, of course, but also from action. One recent study randomly assigned 10th graders to volunteer weekly with elementary students — to help with homework, cooking, sports, or arts and crafts — or put them on a wait list.
Teenagers who volunteered had lower levels of inflammation, better cholesterol profiles and lower body mass index. Those who had the biggest jumps in empathy and altruism scores had the largest reductions in cardiovascular risk.
Engaging in these kinds of activities may be most important for individuals whose identity is in flux, like parents with children leaving for college or workers preparing for retirement. A program run by Experience Corps, an organization that trains older adults to tutor children in urban public schools, has shown marked improvements in mental and physical health among tutors. The improvements included higher self-esteem, more social connectedness, and better mobility and stamina. (The children do better, too.)
This work hints at an underlying truth: Finding purpose is rarely an epiphany, nor is it something you pick up at the mall or download from the app store. It can be a long, arduous process that requires introspection and conversation, then a commitment to act.
The key to a deeper, healthier life, it seems, isn’t knowing the meaning of life — it’s building meaning into your life. Even if meaning is a four-legged friend named Sadie.
We’ve all asked the question, “what is happiness?”
Is it a feeling? Having stable circumstances in life? Or is it something that’s deeply personal and can’t be defined?
Well, according to Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, it’s simply a way of being.
In fact, in a simple, but profound quote below, Thich Nhat Hanh says that true happiness is based on inner peace:
“Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
Thich Nhat Hanh says that acceptance is an important part of being peaceful. Yet, in western society, too many people try to change themselves for other people.
However, this is futile to our own inner peace and happiness:
“To be beautiful means to be yourself.You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”
Thich Nhat Hanh says that to achieve acceptance, we need to start embracing the present moment and the beautiful miracles that exist around us:
“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love…Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”
Thich Nhat Hanh goes onto say that this doesn’t mean we never think about the past or plan for the future, but that we do so in a productive way:
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”
We often talk about happiness, yet rarely take the time to define it. And that’s probably because it is incredibly difficult — each scientific discipline has its own take on it.
From a philosophical perspective the concept of happiness is often related to living a “good life”, flourishing, virtue, and excellence, rather than to experiencing an emotion. To psychologists happiness is an emotional and mental state of well-being related to experiencing positive emotions but also to a sense of meaning and satisfaction from life.
Economists are also interested in happiness and have developed numerous surveys, indices, and equations to let us know which nations and people are the happiest. Besides the subjectively reported levels of happiness (towards which they are understandably suspicious), economists believe that factors like individual income, social security, employment, relationships, children, freedom, and leisure, have a big impact on our happiness.
In 2012, the UN started publishing an annual World Happiness Report – a survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 155 countries on six key indicators: freedom, generosity, health, social support, income, and trustworthy governance. By these measures, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland took the top spots in 2017. The US came 14th.
But our national level of happiness does not necessarily translate into a personal one. According to psychologists, circumstances are responsible for only about 10% of our personal levels of happiness. Studies have shown that regardless of what happens to people – winning the lottery or losing a limb – their happiness levels tend to return to what they were before the event in about two months. This phenomenon is called the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation.
Researchers say that another 50% of our happiness is determined by our biology, and more specifically, genetically determined personality traits like “being sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious.” Twins who had similar scores in key traits — extroversion, calmness and conscientiousness, for example — had similar happiness scores, but these similarities disappeared once the traits were accounted for.
Not all is lost, however. 40% of your happiness is determined by your thoughts, actions, and behaviours. According to Buddha, this is enough to liberate you from suffering, if you channel this potential in the right thoughts, actions and behaviours. Science agrees — there is a lot you can do to influence your happiness levels.
Happify, a company dedicated to helping people live happier lives, has created a wonderful infographic summarizing the most relevant research on happiness and what you can do to increase it. See it below.
If you’re jonesing to give your life a major upgrade in 2018—and beyond—setting a few doable goals is the first step. That means nixing bad habits that may be sabotaging your progress in addition to promising to do more stuff that’s good for your health. Out with the old, in with the new, right? In that vein, experts discuss 10 of the most harmful habits you should leave behind in 2017.
1. Spending too much time on the couch.
While downtime is good for both your body and mind, too much of it can be damaging. “People living a sedentary lifestyle tend to be less healthy,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF.
You should also be strength training, because it’s great for your bones, muscles, and health in general (it’s also an effective way to help increase your metabolism, if weight loss happens to be one of your goals). Aim for at least two days of strength training per week. To see exactly how to fit it all in, here’s what a perfect week of working out looks like.
2. Regularly drinking your way into a hangover.
Drinking a lot is a clear (if enjoyable) way to compromise your health. Moderate drinking is one drink a day for women, and heavy drinking is around eight or more per week, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Routinely blowing past these parameters can lead to issues such as weight gain, unintentional injuries like falls, and chronic diseases like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and various cancers.
But! It’s not all bad news. Moderate drinking—while perhaps not the magical good-for-you habit that we’ve been led to believe—can be a perfectly fine thing to do, if you want to do it. Just understand that it’s probably not benefitting your health, and drinking too much can have detrimental effects.
3. Starting a strict diet, then falling off the wagon time and time again.
Yo-yo dieting is the result of routinely embarking upon diets that are too restrictive. When you inevitably dive into a pile of food, you’ll eventually gain back any weight you lost, and your baseline weight will inch up bit by bit, Wider explains. “It’s much better to adopt habits that will sustain a healthy weight—you don’t want to always be looking to lose weight,” she says. Plus, yo-yo dieting can have longterm effects on your health; studies have linked yo-yo dieting (repeatedly gaining and losing a significant amount of weight) to chronic issues like heart disease, stress, and high blood pressure.
But if you do want to lose weight and keep it off for good, it’s about building your life around eating patterns that aren’t rooted in deprivation, even though extreme cleanses and quick fixes might sound more appealing. They just don’t work—here’s what does.
4. Using electronics before bed.
You already know you should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleepper night. Putting a moratorium on before-bed Instagram scrolling will help you turn in for the night more quickly, sure. But it can also help you get better quality Zs, Wider says, by lowering your exposure to sleep-disturbing blue light, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Most sleep experts recommend finishing any screen time at least 20 minutes before you’re ready for bed.
Quitting smoking: Easier said than done? Yes. Completely, utterly worth it? Also yes, Wider (and every expert worth their salt) says. Smoking lowers life expectancy in many terrible ways, including boosting your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and cancers anywhere else in the body, and issues like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
“Watching other people put forward manufactured lives on social media can leave you feeling bad about yourself, so you want to limit that,” Wider says. But social media can also give your happiness a lift by keeping you connected with people you love and admire.
It’s not about scrubbing your phone of all things social, but browsing mindfully. Know that no one’s life is really what it seems on social media, and remind yourself of that whenever you start to feel down (then go do something that helps you remember all the kickass parts of your own life). Also, maybe unfollow those accounts that always, without fail, leave you feeling like chewed gum stuck on the underside of a table.
7. Convincing yourself that everything you worry about will happen.
“Anything you’re worrying about is usually just a thought, and here’s the funny thing: It’s not necessarily true,” Carter says. Take a moment to breathe, be present, and ask yourself if there’s any logical basis to your worry, Carter says. That should help you separate fact from unnecessary fiction. And if it still feels like your tendency to worry is unmanageable, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
8. Complaining non-stop.
Although it’s counterproductive, complaining actually feels great. “If things feel out of control, it tricks your brain into thinking you’re doing something about it,” Carter says. “But you’re not fixing anything when you complain.” You’re actually priming your brain to only look for the bad instead of the good: “Your braindoesn’t register everything in your environment; you train it to look for relevant patterns. When you complain, you train your brain to look for patterns in things you don’t like,” Carter explains.
When you catch yourself complaining, redirect your attention to something good about the situation, or start working on a plan to change what isn’t up to par. “It doesn’t necessarily mean accepting what you don’t like, but training your brain to look for things you appreciate,” Carter says.
9. Using distractions to numb your negative emotions.
“Every time you feel uncomfortable, the world offers you a host of ways to numb that discomfort. You can check Facebook endlessly, eat a pound of brownies, or have a couple of cocktails,” Carter says. Instead of actually cutting down anxietyor sadness, these tactics just bury those emotions so they can stew and eventually erupt.
You also can’t pick and choose what you’re numbing. To truly experience happiness, you have to let yourself experience the less shiny side of the coin sometimes and work on better coping habits for stress, like these. If you’ve tried these habits and nothing is helping calm your anxiety, you may want to try talking to a mental health professional for more effective ways to treat and cope with anxiety.
10. Making outsize goals that are hard to achieve.
This might sound incongruous after all of the above, but it actually meshes perfectly. “There’s a misconception that if you set a goal, you can achieve it through willpower. But humans change very slowly and incrementally, and people try to change too much too fast,” Carter says.
Instead of setting overly ambitious goals, take small steps and introduce change slowly so you can form the neural pathways that are essential in cementing habits, Carter says. Once you succeed at those, you can take on larger goals from there. If you’re setting a resolution this year, aim for something that is attainable, so you’re more apt to stick to the changes that will help you get there.
We are all aware that eating fruits and vegetables can make us healthier, but what about happier? A new study has found evidence to suggest that increasing one’s daily fruit and vegetable consumption can have a direct, positive effect on their overall mood. The team hopes the new findings may be enough to help motivate picky eaters to add more green to their diets.
For the study, now published online in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from Warwick University in England teamed up with scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia to better understand the psychological effects of eating more fruits and vegetables. The international team followed the food and mood diaries of more than 12,000 randomly selected individuals who had taken part in the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey in 2007, 2009, and 2013.
The team adjusted the data for issues that could affect life satisfaction, such as changes in income and personal circumstances. As part of the survey, volunteers were asked to document their weekly fruit and vegetable consumption and their overall life satisfaction. Their responses were then compared over the years to see if there was any correlation between diet and life satisfaction. Even with these factors accounted for, results revealed that increased fruit and vegetable consumption was predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction, and well being. According to the study, people that changed from eating almost no fruit and veg to having eight portions of fruit and veg a day had a life satisfaction increase equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment.
The researchers aren’t quite sure why eating more fruits and vegetables makes people happier, but they suggest it could be related to the antioxidants found in more healthful foods. For example, one study from 2012 found that individuals with higher levels of antioxidants, known as carotenoids, tended to be more optimistic about the future. Carotenoids are the pigments that give certain fruits and vegetables their coloring, and can be found in carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potato, and kale.
Unfortunately, a major flaw in this study lay in the fact that the researchers measured the volunteers’ carotenoid and optimism levels only once. Because of this, the scientists could not conclude whether eating fruit and vegetables makes you more optimistic, or that optimistic people simply eat more fruits and veggies.
In this new study, the volunteers’ diet and mood were tracked over a period of time. Not only was the increase in happiness noticeable, it was also swift. For example, while it could take decades of healthy eating for dieters to reap certain physical effects, such as preventing cancer, the psychological effects were noted only two years after individuals had increased their fruit and vegetable consumption. The researchers believe that these quick results could be enough to help further urge the public to adopt a healthier diet.
“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” study co-author Dr. Andrew Oswald said in a recent statement. “People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.”
However, getting the public to eat more fruits and vegetables is easier said than done. For example, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are more likely to crave “high-calorie” foods such as junk food because this helped to ensure our survival, The Huffington Post reported.
Pair this natural instinct for high-calorie food with the money and effort it takes to cook with fresh produceand it’s clear why so many of us fail to meet the daily quota, around five to nine servings of fruits and veggies. Still, the team hopes that these findings may help motivate us to eat healthier, if not for our physical health, than at least for our mental well being.
Source: Muicic R, Oswald AJ. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. AJPH. 2016.