We live in interesting times: Breakthroughs in psychology and science allow us to understand the mechanics of mood and happiness like never before and yet our society is still experiencing an epidemic of depression that seems to be growing with our increasing technological disconnection from the natural rhythms of the body and life. Ironically, happiness is one of the easiest things to create in life and yet so many people seem to struggle with it. That’s in large part because until we integrate the core life skills outlined below, we tend to rely on factors outside of our control to boost our mood and increase our happiness: other people, relationships, stimulating experiences, television, social media and movies, or worse yet, mind-altering substances. These all can produce temporary shifts in our mood, but none can sustain long term change and produce lasting happiness and wellbeing. Happiness must ultimately come from within—it must come as a result of how we live and experience the world and our place in it and, most importantly, how we see and treat ourselves.
The good news is that once you understand the core factors that influence mood and happiness, it’s really not that difficult to make the shifts necessary to experience lasting results in your life. By implementing a few core practices daily you can make leaps and bounds in experiencing an almost permanently elevated mood and abundant joy that lasts for a lifetime.
Practice 1: Nourish Your Body and Mind at the Deepest Levels
Without proper lifestyle, diet and nutrition, it will be difficult to maintain a positive mood for any length of time. And while most people understand this on an intellectual level, it’s a bit more nuanced when actually implementing it into your life. In order to simplify this as much as possible so you can start making positive shifts immediately, I’ve outlined the core things your body needs on a daily basis to thrive:
1. Fresh, Abundant Oxygen
You can live for months without food and days without water but only minutes without air. Nothing is more essential to life than fresh, pure oxygen and the main way you get this essential nutrient is through your breath. Most people use only about 25% of their lung capacity and have chronic shallow breathing patterns. Make it a point to get outside somewhere with fresh air (ideally in nature) and spend at least 5-10 minutes breathing deeply. Also be mindful of your breathing patterns throughout the day, no matter where you are, and try to expand and deepen your breath. Abundant oxygen is critical for proper brain and cellular functioning, and your mood can be powerfully elevated simply by getting more oxygen into your bloodstream on a consistent basis.
Sunlight is essential to almost all life on the planet and is particularly important for humans. This is because sunlight hitting our skin produces the essential vitamin D, which has been shown in numerous studies to be directly linked to our mood and happiness levels. Furthermore sunlight stimulates your optic nerve, which is connected to your pineal gland, the master hormone regulator in the body. The pineal gland regulates our sleep/wake cycles, our mood, and the overall functioning of the body, among other things. Regular exposure to sunlight helps stimulate the pineal gland and can elevate mood and happiness.
3. Clean Water
Your body is 70% water, clearly an essential element for life. And yet most people a) don’t drink nearly enough water daily and when they do drink water they b) drink polluted water. Without abundant, pure water your body and mind cannot function properly and your mood will suffer as a result. Ideally drink half your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of spring water daily. For example, a 150 lb. man would want to drink at least 75 oz. of water daily. If you can’t easily access spring water then high quality filtered water is the next best thing. Water supplies cells in all parts of the body with essential nutrients and simultaneously flushes toxins from your system, both of which have positive effects on mood and overall happiness.
This encompasses everything from running to yoga, to lifting weights, swimming, walking and everything in between. The body needs movement daily to keep the heart strong and blood properly circulating. Movement also tends to infuse the body with oxygen and stimulate the production of new cells. But perhaps the most important part of movement is that it stimulates neurotransmitter and hormone production and release, essentially flooding the brain and body with dopamine, serotonin, and other peptides and hormones known to stimulate positive mood and feelings of pleasure.
5. Whole, Ideally Organic, Food
Diet is a complex topic but to simplify it to its essence, always strive for balance and breadth in what you eat. This ensures that you get the full spectrum of essential nutrients necessary to maintain good health and supply your body and mind with what it needs for repair, rejuvenation and proper hormone and neurotransmitter production, which, as mentioned, are key to happiness and elevated mood.
Another important point is to always choose fresh, organic, unprocessed, Non-GMO and unrefined foods as much as humanly possible and avoid the use of microwaves, which destroy nutrients and chemically and energetically alter food in harmful ways. These guidelines ensure maximum nutrient bioavailability and that food is ingested in a form that the body can recognize and easily assimilate.
Often overlooked in our technologically oriented modern culture, a connection with nature is extremely important for mental and emotional wellbeing. Being in nature has been shown to stimulate positive emotional states, as well as the immune system, and typically floods the body with fresh oxygen. Natural sounds are also harmonizing to the brain and can quickly restore hemispheric communication by moving brain-wave patterns into alpha-wave states, which promote relaxation, positive mood, stress reduction and creativity, among other things. It’s also been shown that spending time in nature stimulates the immune system and infuses the body with negative ions, which have a number of beneficial health and healing effects in the body.
Practice 2: Shift Your Perspective on Life
Beyond taking care of your body, how we perceive ourselves and life in general determines in large part how happy we are. Let me explain how this works: At any given moment there are trillions of bits of data coming into our sense organs and being filtered by the brain. However, the brain can only process about 2 million bits of data at any given moment, which means that most of the incoming sensory data gets filtered out. How does the brain determine what to filter out and what to let into your awareness? Based on your beliefs and perceptions about yourself and the world. You see, your brain always seeks to avoid cognitive dissonance, which means that it filters out what does not fall within your belief structure and perceptual model of the world.
Therefore all beliefs and perceptions are self-reinforcing, meaning that if you believe the world is unsafe and dangerous or you believe you are not good enough, your brain will only allow in data that supports those points of view, and you will interpret your life experiences to fit your perceptual model. Things that don’t fit in will either be rejected or interpreted in such a way that they don’t disrupt your self and worldview.
The point being that what you believe to be true controls your level of happiness and ultimately your mood as well. Certain belief structures and self/worldviews support happiness, abundance and growth and others do just the opposite and limit it. It’s usually pretty obvious if a belief or perception is limiting or supporting your happiness level, so I won’t go too deeply into it here, however, what I’d like to do is offer a set of belief systems you can adopt as soon as you’d like that are guaranteed to produce lasting happiness, peace and joy in your life if embraced fully.
These are outlined succinctly by Mary O’Malley in her six phases/levels of consciousness model, which I’ve summarize as follows:
1. Life happens to you.
2. Life happens by you.
3. Life happens in you.
4. Life happens for you.
5. Life happens through you.
6. Life is you.
In a nutshell, this describes the process of evolving from a disempowered, victim mentality through to the idea that you are creating your life and ultimately into the understanding that there is a greater wisdom in life than we could possibly comprehend, which is not so subtly being alluded to by breakthroughs in quantum physics research in recent years.
This process of personal evolution reliably shifts you out of limiting beliefs and perceptions into a way of seeing yourself and the world that will transform your happiness and mood long term. It’s a somewhat in-depth topic so rather than give a summary here that won’t do it full justice, I recommend you read the full explanation of the stages here: the six levels of higher consciousness.
Practice 3: Live in Alignment With Your Purpose
Without purpose, life has no meaning and a life without meaning creates an existential crisis that reliably leads to despair, frustration, depression, self-destructive habits and other counterproductive behaviors and perceptions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to experience true, lasting happiness.
On the other side of the coin, a life with purpose creates a deep sense of meaning, a drive to create, dream and self-express in ways that almost always contribute positively to society in some way, shape or form, which have been scientifically proven to boost mood and create lasting happiness. Furthermore, the pursuit and actualization of one’s purpose in life can and often does lead to a feeling of achievement that is described by those who have experienced it as the greatest feeling and high known to man.
Could you imagine waking up everyday doing the thing you loved most in life? It would be hard not to be happy and fulfilled in some way. The trouble is that most people are not doing what they love—they are doing what is expected of them by friends, family and society or whatever they need to do to survive and pay the bills. This usually means doing something they are not excited or passionate about, which makes it difficult to be happy.
Not sure what your passion is? Here’s a powerful piece of advice to help you not only get started, but to guide you long-term as you start on the journey to discovering and ultimately living your purpose:
One of the major mistakes that people make during the process of discovering their purpose is trying to pinpoint the exact thing they should be doing. It is rare that someone knows precisely what they want to do with their lives. This knowledge only usually comes after some time is spent exploring and heading in the right general direction.
Let me explain: If you are in Chicago and you need to get to San Francisco, at first you simply go West. Having a specific address is not essential until you get much closer to your destination.
Discovering your purpose operates in much the same way. At first, you’ll want to figure out in a very general sense:
1. What qualities you value and would like your profession/job/career to have
2. What you would like to be doing if money were not an issue
With this knowledge, you can begin to explore what fields or areas would be a potentially good fit for you and start looking for and creating opportunities to head in that direction. You might decide to get a new job in a field you are more passionate about or volunteer with an organization aligned with your values, for example.
Overtime, as you continue to head in whatever direction is most inspiring and fulfilling for you, you will begin to get a much clearer understanding of what your purpose is. It may come quickly or you may need to try a few different things to figure out what is most aligned with who you are and what makes you happy.
It is important to think in broad terms at the beginning stages or you will defeat the purpose of the exercise. Remember, you only need to know what general direction you would like to begin heading in. As you begin to hone in on the path that is correct for you, the details will reveal themselves, and you will suddenly find yourself standing face to face with your purpose. And the best part is that the journey to discovering it is usually quite enjoyable as well, leading you to a profound sense of happiness and accomplishment even before you discover why you are here.
Sources: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, tandfonline.com, consciouslifestylemag.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov