To achieve optimal health and well-being, we must not only pay attention to how we care for ourselves physically but also attend to our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being and happiness. This may involve questioning long-held beliefs and ways of being in the world that no longer serve us.
For example, most of us worry from time to time—and some people worry most of the time. But the reality is that worrying is a futile activity. Worrying about world events, other people’s lives or even your own life has no effect on the outcome. In fact, worrying does nothing except create fear and unhappiness in the precious moments of your life. But interestingly enough, while worrying doesn’t ever improve a situation, cultivating an attitude of happiness and trust can.
Be Happier, Be Healthier
Recent research proves that a sunny disposition could be the main key to a happier, longer life. According to studies, optimism—the tendency to believe that good things will happen—may speed recovery from cardiovascular disease and other health problems. To explore this theory, researchers studied a group of men and women between the ages of 65 and 85. At the start of the nine-year trial, each subject completed a survey on general well-being, which gauged his or her tendency to be optimistic or pessimistic. Of the 941 participants, four subgroups were formed to reflect the levels of optimism or pessimism among the group as a whole.
When the nine-year period was complete, researchers discovered:
- Participants with the highest levels of optimism at the start of the study had the lowest death rate (30% of the optimists versus more than 57% in the most pessimistic group).
- When all other factors were considered, the risk of death was 29% lower among those who were highly optimistic.
- Optimists were 77% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than pessimists.
The researchers also noted additional benefits of having a sunnier disposition, such as positive effects on the immune and hormonal systems. The beneficial effects of an optimistic personality likely have to do with a life stance that results in less emotional and physiological stress. Whether or not you were born with an optimistic personality, it’s possible to learn to think like an optimist and thus reduce your stress.
Making The Choice To Be Happy
How well we adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of life determines to a great extent our health and well-being, and how successful we are at adaptation depends upon the choices we make on a daily basis. For the most part, these choices are small—for example, choosing between taking a walk in nature or shopping at the mall, watching the sunset instead of watching television, or taking a few minutes for meditative prayer in the morning instead of going to the computer to check emails. When you make the choice to take a walk in nature, watch the sunset, or sit quietly in morning meditation, you are replenishing your energy reserves and reconnecting with the essence of life.
To live a life of balance, we must understand that life is not a race, and that true happiness never comes from doing more or having more. Our life expression of doing, which is manifested in our physical activity, work, and play, reflects our inner being, and thus is an extension of our spirit. We must challenge our learned habits of overdoing and overworking to create instead a life based on what is most meaningful to us as unique individuals. We must join together the thinking rational mind with spiritual awareness to have our spiritual being and our expression of doing come into balance.
Developing and maintaining a connection with our inner being requires quiet, peaceful, restorative time. It is only when we allow ourselves time for self-reflection that we can be certain we are living in accordance with our deepest truth.
Strategies For Happiness
I’ve found the following lifestyle strategies are essential tools for cultivating and maintaining true happiness:
- Limit your exposure to the news to perhaps every other day, or even once or twice a week.
- Reduce noise pollution by listening less to television or talk radio. Instead, listen to soft, joyful, relaxing music, or simply tune in to the sounds of nature.
- Eliminate negative habits such as smoking, recreational drugs, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or staying up too late at night.
- Engage daily in a variety of moderate and enjoyable exercises.
- Nourish your body with a healthful, whole foods diet.
- Spend time cooking at home using whole, fresh ingredients. Sit down to eat with family and friends and savor the meal together, accompanied by pleasant conversation and laughter.
- Breathing is a potent tool for relaxation, and when you’re relaxed, you’ll feel happier.
- Spend time outdoors each day. Sunlight and fresh air improve stress defense and are powerful mood brighteners.
- Slow down. A great way to do this is to notice the beauty around you on your way to and from work each day. Is the sun shining? What do you hear? How does the air feel on your skin?
- Soak in a candlelight bath with fragrant essential oils and Epsom salts before bedtime a few nights a week.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
- Be positive and believe in yourself. Negative self-talk and continually doubting your abilities is a sure way to create unhappiness.
- Cultivate an appreciation for the beauty around you. Smell the flowers, watch the sunset, and listen to the birds and wind rustling through the trees.
- Believe in the good within you and others. When there is a problem, focus on finding a solution rather than blaming. Allow yourself and others to make mistakes. Avoid name-calling, ridiculing, or labeling. Expect and nourish positive rather than negative encounters with others.
- Love your family and friends and practice forgiveness. When you learn to forgive, you develop the emotional confidence to overcome any difficulty, and at the same time, you reduce your stress.
- Cultivate gratitude. As you awaken each morning, give thanks for your breath and the gift of your life. Throughout the day, consciously practice expressing silent or spoken gratitude for all of the blessings you encounter.
- Laugh each and every day. Laughter is extremely important for a healthy, long life. Seek out humor and joy: watch children playing, read a funny book, watch a comedy, and even learn to laugh good-naturedly at yourself.
- Practice maintaining your sense of peace and calmness in any situation, no matter how upsetting.
- Nourish your soul through spirituality, prayer, and religion. Meditate, pray, worship, go on a spiritual retreat, and seek truth in a manner consistent with your beliefs.
- Leave some unscheduled time in every day. If possible, spend one day each week without any planned activities.
- The expression of love is our true divine calling. Appreciate the love that you have in your life, and the love that you witness around you. Giving love is as nourishing as receiving love—tell your family and friends how much you care about them, and demonstrate your love through your actions.
One thing is for certain—we all will face challenges throughout our lives. How we handle these challenges—whether we are defeated by them or see them as opportunities—has a great deal to do with our well-being and our happiness. If we can find the opportunity in every challenge, we will develop a resilience of spirit and a deep contentment that will sustain us throughout life.