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Winifred Lender: Tips for Increasing Your Happiness Quotient

One goal that almost all people aspire to, regardless of nationality, sex or culture, is to achieve happiness. While happiness may mean different things to different people, it is a universal human drive. Once our immediate needs for food, water and safety are met, we begin to look toward the goal of happiness and fulfillment.

Increasingly, research is exploring the science of happiness. While we used to believe that circumstances and our genes determined how happy we are, we are now learning that these factors are only part of the picture. In fact, we now know that about 50 percent of our happiness is genetic and 10 percent is because of circumstances, such as income or illness. While 60 percent of our happiness is pre-programmed, a significant 40 percent of our happiness is related to behavior we can control.

These behaviors can have a significant impact on our overall level of happiness. They can increase a person’s happiness whose predetermined level is low or can catapult someone whose fixed happiness level is already high into a new stratum of happiness.

Knowing that through certain behaviors we can control 40 percent of our happiness is empowering. It also leads to the inevitable question of which behaviors actually maximize happiness. While research is still accumulating in this area, there are some behaviors that are linked strongly and consistently with improved mood. Being aware of these behaviors and incorporating them into your daily life can increase your happiness quotient.

Pick a couple of the behaviors that follow and see how you can introduce them in your life.

» Get more sleep. The literature on sleep is replete with its benefits for physical and emotional health. Obtaining a little more sleep each night (start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier) and maintaining a relatively consistent bedtime and wakeup time every day (weekends included) can have a profound impact on your overall well-being and happiness. Even the habit of getting an additional 15 minutes of sleep a night can make an impact over time.

» Increase physical activity. Studies show clearly that physical activity is not only good for our bodies but also good for our emotional and brain health. This type of activity can decrease cortisol levels, increase feelings of well-being, and decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. Focus on physical activity you enjoy to engage in on an ongoing basis. Even 20 to 30 minutes three times a week can make a huge difference in your overall well-being.

» Better balance between your digital and real-world lives. Researchers report that too much use of digital devices can lead to trouble sleeping, anxiety and social withdrawal. Be aware of your digital-real-life balance. Push yourself to put down your cell phone more often, charge your device out of the bedroom and engage with others as opposed to your devices. Challenge yourself to partake in a digital-free evening activity at least once a week.

»  Eat more mindfully. Research reveals that when we eat mindfully (without digital devices or other distractions present), seated and really focus on our food and the processing of eating, we enjoy our food more, make better food choices and tend to eat less. Consider savoring each bite more often and slowing down as you eat.

» Nurture close relationships. The link between relationships and emotional and physical health is strong. Ensure that you focus on enhancing the relationship with your spouse or significant other, if you have one. Research shows that if these primary relationships are positive, they can significantly boost happiness. Also, focus on reigniting or developing a base of friends who are supportive and whose company you enjoy.

» Capitalize on your strengths. While we often spend time thinking about our weaknesses and how to improve them, it is important to focus on our strengths. A focus on your strengths can enhance your happiness level. Think about what you are good at and then look for opportunities to engage in these behaviors. This can involve volunteering, signing up for a class or inviting others to do what you are good at doing.

» Prioritize yourself. We are often too busy to take care of ourselves, and our happiness often suffers. Sacrificing our own self-care may work in the short run, but in the long run it can lead to depression, anxiety and illness. Take time now to nurture yourself, even if it is just time alone in the garden, reading a good book or going for a walk. This time can revitalize you and you can be more efficient in taking care of others. This self-care should also include yearly visits to the doctor.

— Winifred Lender Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at [email protected]. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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