5 Ways to Improve Happiness
Increase your happiness on the job! Scientists studying brain chemistry have come up with easy ways for you to try while you work. This article is dedicated to early childhood educators and music teachers everywhere who give out loads of energy on a daily basis. I hope that by reading this article you will find something in it that will give energy back to you. There is a danger that in giving out every day you will forget to look into your own well-being. The emotions you feel and the thoughts running through your brain profoundly affect the chemicals you produce. If you feel happy and think happy thoughts you will eventually set up your very own feedback loop so you can automatically increase your happiness. Just keep these five recommended strategies in mind as you go about your daily work with the children in your care.
1. Feeling grateful will increase your happiness
Gratitude boosts your own levels of the ‘feel-good brain chemicals’ serotonin and dopamine. Medications prescribed for depression target these very same brain chemicals.
You can ‘force’ yourself into a short-term state of gratitude by thinking about a loved one — this can be of the human or pet variety. Or you can achieve the same positive state of gratitude by concentrating on a circumstance in your life that you appreciate. I know a woman who practices this every day by saying out loud:
This is a good day, I’m breathing unassisted.
She works as a nurse to people who are critically disabled and are only able to continue to live when their breathing apparatus is strapped on and connected to power. She says that it’s easy for her to feel grateful — and the rest of us can do it too with a little mindfulness.
2. Helping others is a way to help yourself and increase your happiness
Oxytocin is another ‘feel-good’ chemical released when we are in good company. It’s the brain chemical associated with the feeling of togetherness that we social animals crave. It seems that if you like other people and like to help them, you are more likely to deal with your own stresses effectively — as long as you don’t fall into the trap of over-committing yourself.
Helping others also improves our focus and therefore our chances for getting on with our own life’s plans and dreams.
3. Touch is a cure-all
Social animals like us need to experience touch. If we suffer social exclusion our brains register pain and in brain images, it looks exactly the same as if we have been physically tortured. Quality touch is linked to many benefits including reduction in the perception of pain, improvements in sleep quantity and quality, reductions in stress hormones and reduction in fatigue.
Clever little children come to us with their arms up when they feel unhappy. Or else they clutch our leg or throw themselves in our lap — they know they need the cure of touch! Have a look at our lesson about fingers and hands to find many songs that feature gentle touch e.g. Warm Hands, Warm.
4. Add labels to those ‘downer’ emotions
Name and shame your negative feelings — it switches off their source of power, even if it’s only for a moment. If you can give your negative emotion an evocative description, you calm down your amygdala where the emotions are generated. For example, you could say —
Oh, that’s freaked-out Fear talking! Back off Fear!
This works well with children, so teach them to ‘use their words’ when negative emotions rise to the surface and get start getting acted out. It helps us all when we can get our proficiency with language working on the emotion to ‘talk it down’.
Songs are perfect ways to give children new ways to ‘talk’ about their internal emotional world. For example, have a look at the these 8 songs for exploring feelings in our lesson plan called called ‘In My Heart’.
5. Got a decision to make? Then make it!
We all know the feeling when we are trapped in a decision-making bind. Happiness is triggered by decision-making but the trick is to make a decision that will serve the purpose. And not to get caught in the idea that we have to make the very best, all-time most perfect decision that was ever made.
That’s because having to get things absolutely right ramps up the emotions yet again and suddenly you’ve got niggly, nit-picking Anxiety driving the bus instead of sitting quietly in the back seat looking out the window. We don’t need to have Anxiety planning every turn in the road trip – or in this case, clamping down the brake! A good-enough decision is exactly the right one to calm down the limbic system where the emotions rule. The ‘limbic highjack’ affects our higher mental functions so let’s disarm this ticking time-bomb by being decisive.
Closing the Happiness Feedback Loop
Just to recap — here are the five suggested practices for increasing your happiness
- Develop a habit of gratitude
- Help others
- Give and receive loving touch
- Name and shame negative emotions
- Make decisions — don’t get caught in a bind.
Staying mindful and applying these 5 practices gets the Happiness Feedback Loop operating in an upward spiral and is likely to result in 10 benefits for you.
- Better sleep
- Reduction in pain
- Elevated mood
- Reduction in anxiety
- Improved focus
- Better decision-making
- Improved enjoyment
- More reasons to feel grateful
- Better exercise
- Better social interactions
What’s not to love about being happier! Please write your comments below.
More on boosting your happiness
Read about the stand-up comic and neuroscientist Dr Alex Korb who became an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioural Sciences at UCLA. He’s the scientist behind this idea of ‘5 ways to increase happiness’.