Feeling a little down at the moment? You’re probably not alone. A combination of dark, short days, cold weather, post-holiday bills and low motivation levels can create a perfect storm of the blues. If you’re feeling melancholy it’s a good time to reflect on your state of mind and see what you can do to put yourself back into the positive column.
Why happiness matters
Why does boosting our level of happiness matter, anyway? According to the research, happy people tend to have a higher quality of life and live longer than those who are not. Happiness has real health benefits: It may lower your risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthier body weight. It can also lead to greater success in relationships and careers, more confidence, and a greater feeling of control over your life. So, it's probably worth it to work on having a happier disposition.
Researchers have looked at which places in the world are happiest. Whether it’s because of our country’s natural beauty, our reputation for being a polite bunch, our social support systems or our love of hockey, Canada ranks as the 6th-happiest country on the planet, according to the World Happiness Report 2016, commissioned by the United Nations.
The pursuit of happiness is one of the most important driving forces in our society. But where do we look for happiness? “We hear it often: ‘I would be happy if I won the lottery.’ ‘If I had the perfect boyfriend, I would be happy.’ ‘Happiness is sitting on a beach in the Bahamas,’” says Colleen Carruthers, a registered psychotherapist with The T-R Group Inc. in Peterborough, Ontario. “Many people tend to search for happiness in possessions and experiences outside themselves, but happiness on the inside is what counts and has true meaning.”
In Part 1 of this 2-part article, we described 5 small, concrete actions you can take to raise your happiness level and give the blues the boot. Here are 5 more:
1. Give yourself a joy fix
It’s important to take some time each day to do something nice for yourself. Whether you treat yourself to a fancy coffee, take a relaxing bath or simply spend a few extra minutes on your appearance, you will be subconsciously putting yourself in a better mood. “Give yourself a little bit of ‘me’ time or treat yourself to a joy fix – something to perk yourself up,” says Carruthers. “I’m not saying people should go out and buy happiness, but once in a blue moon, treat yourself.”
2. Do a social media detox
“Social media gives us a false perception of happiness,” says Carruthers. “People are so busy snapping the perfect photo of their restaurant meals that it might actually be preventing them from enjoying the experience.” According to a study by New York Times best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, social media obsession is correlated with higher levels of unhappiness. Many people remove themselves from fun situations in order to craft a status update or post a photo that will garner a few extra “likes” or comments on social media, according to their research.
When you’re not feeling your best, seeing other people’s perfectly portrayed lives on social media can be enough to send even the happiest person into a slump. If you’re feeling down, avoid social media and watch a comedy on Netflix instead.
3. Practice deep breathing
Breathing is one of the few activities you can do to force yourself into the present moment, but very few people do it, explains Carruthers. Shallow breathing has been shown to be a part of the stresses of modern life. “People tend to breathe very shallowly because they’re racing and rushing around. If you’re truly breathing from your diaphragm, you can’t concentrate on worrying,” she says.
Changing how we breathe can relax our body, help our mind focus, change our emotional state and reduce the impact of stress.
4. Write it all out
Carruthers says writing down 3 positive things from your day before you go to sleep can be cathartic. “If you woke up to a sunny day, that’s a positive. It doesn’t have to be that you won a million dollars. It’s the little things that contribute to the bigger picture.”
Writing down negative thoughts can be an outlet to release pent-up frustrations or emotions. If you write out all that is bothering you, it keeps your mind more organized and transfers your negative thoughts onto that paper, providing you the freedom to focus on positivity. Just don’t spend too much time thinking up negative thoughts to write down.
5. Ramp up your exercise
Physical activity boosts happiness and can prevent future depression. In 2013, professors from the University of Toronto compiled and analyzed over 26 years’ worth of scientific research. They concluded that even moderate levels of physical activity – like walking for 20-30 minutes a day – can ward off depression in people of all ages.
If you find yourself feeling constantly sad, anxious or irritable despite your best efforts and these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You can also draw on provincial resources such as the Ontario health ministry’s free Mental Health Helpline or your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch for additional support. If your workplace benefits plan includes a confidential employee assistance program, that’s another option to consider.