During these strange times you may have noticed when out for a walk that you start to appreciate ordinary things more than pre-lockdown. Perhaps you are slowing down and seeing the beauty in nature or smiling more at neighbours and enjoying the company of friends.
Here is a poem that epitomises this for me:
The Orange - by Wendy Cope
At lunchtime I bought an orange-
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave -
They got quarters and I got a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It‘s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.
When we feel happy, we see things through a happiness lens, and everything seems to be easier and more enjoyable. When we are experiencing anxiety, anger, or sadness, no matter how briefly, it is suddenly easier to see all the problems and hardship around us.
Faking/Making your Happy
So how do we lift our mood in order to put on our happiness lens?
SMILE: A smile, even a faking it, can lift your mood.*
BRIGHT LIGHT: Spending time in sunshine outdoors increases our levels of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, giving us the same natural high as we get from carbohydrates**, sex and exercise.
SHARE: Talking to good friends and family can help lift our mood (depending on who and what you talk about!).
EXERCISE: Exercise gives us a free happy high by producing and releasing more serotonin. Aerobic exercise seems to have the most effect, so dig out your roller blades or try an online dance class! Interestingly Alex Korb, Ph D. writes in his article on Boosting Your Seratonin Activity in Psychology Today that if you try to do too much exercise or feel that you are being forced into it, it may not have the desired effect.
TIME OUT: Meditation can help even out our moods or give us the break from our daily stressors that we desperately need to bring back perspective. *** According to Psychology Today, meditation is the strongest mental practice that has the power to reset your Happiness Set Point (see next paragraph).
We’ve all met that happy person, who seems to float through life. Well in 1978 a team of physiologists from Northwest University and the University of Massachusetts published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that revealed that lottery winners and hospital patients suffering from spinal cord injuies had a similar happiness index. The ‘Happiness Set Point theory“ was born.**** This is the theory that the amount of happiness you have within you is determined by heredity & personality traits ingrained in us early in life. As a result happiness remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Happier people naturally have more activity in the front part of the brain. So even when unfortunate, life-altering, or stressful events happen, their brain chemistry will shift back to their innately joyful nature.
In summary, whether or not you are innately happy, we all need to put on our happiness lens sometimes and these 5 tricks may help.
*Coles el al, 12.4.19, at University of Tennessee conducted meta-analysis of 138 studies, testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world. They concluded that facial expressions have a small impact on feelings. For example, smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier.
** You can’t directly get 5-hydroxytryptamine/serotonin from food, but you can get tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in your brain. Ideally you would eat 25-30g of carbs to get that serotonin high! Research by Randy A. Sansone, MD and Lori A. Sansone, MD published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience explore the psychiatric effects of serotonin & its synthesis by the skin.
***Neuroscientist Sara Lazar studied the correlation between regular meditation practice and the thickening of a few major areas of the brain responsible for pleasure, which increase your ability to cope with uncomfortable situations and stressors from ordinary life.