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“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”  ~Dale Carnegie

It seems like these days, as Americans rush around from task to task, with a “to do” list a mile long and never enough hours in the day, we’ve started looking for ways to find happiness much like one looking for the Fountain of Youth.  What makes us happy?  How can two people with very similar lives, rate their overall happiness completely different?  Research of happiness shows that positive reflection and gratitude, optimism, mindfulness, exercise, and even forcing a smile can increase your overall happiness, even for a moment.

But how?

Physically smiling.  Using the muscles to smile causes a chemical reaction in your brain that can boost your mood.  Similarly, frowning, can ignite sadness.  This is a great one to try, and if not anything else, you may find yourself laughing at your expressions in front of a mirror.  Smiling causes dopamine and serotonin (our brain’s happy chemicals) to be released.  So, take a couple minutes to smile, even if it’s fake, to improve your mood.  Read more about smiling on the ConnecticutPost.com .

Exercise.  Sounds bizarre, especially if it’s not your forte, but exercise causes endorphins (yay more happy chemicals!) to be secreted.  Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers which, when secreted, reduce pain within the body and bring about feelings of well-being.  Commonly called the “runner’s high,” this beautiful occurrence can happen for any exerciser.  In addition, exercise helps boost self-esteem and confidence, maintain healthy weight, increase strength and endurance, reduce stress, you feel overall better, reduce your risk for disease, and increase your immunity.  Increasing your happiness is just one more reason to tie up those laces and sweat!

Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is feeling more and more like a buzz word these days, but what does it really mean?  Being mindful is the state of actively observing what is going around you as well as internally.  How does mindfulness help with happiness?  A couple of ways.  Mindfulness increases gratitude (see more on gratitude below).  It also allows us to see deeper into our thoughts and feelings improving our emotional intelligence.  Being more in tune with your emotions helps you to sort out your feelings, love and laugh longer and recover faster from the not so great moments.  How might all that help with happiness?  By helping you keep thinngs in perspective. Which brings us back to gratitude and as some might say “counting our blessings.”  I could go on and on about mindfulness, but for now, if you’d like to learn more, check out #7 on Action for Happiness.org , start practicing yoga and/or meditation, or check out Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and/or Relax and Renew at the RFC.

Optimism.  Yay for happy thoughts!  Similar to smiling, you can actively think happy thoughts, and by doing so you can “force” endorphins to be released in your body.

Think happy thoughts --> Release endorphins -->Feel happier --> Think happy thoughts --> Release endorphins -->Feel happier (...And the cycle continues on and on, until something happens to break it, but the great news is that you can start it again at any time!)

For those that are not naturally optimists, optimism can be learned, created, and made into a habit. To do so, start small, but spend a few minutes each day......

.....Reflecting on positive experiences in your life and/or gratitude.  According to Amit Amen from Happier Human there are more than 26 studies about how gratitude can positively change your life including improving overall health, increasing overall wellbeing, and increasing happiness.  Check out Amen’s breakdown of some of the studies in The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting.  Christine Carter of Raising Happiness suggests to spend time each day reflecting and sharing with your family the best part of your day/week/etc. to help generate optimism and positivity.  So, I thought I’d share 3 of my positive thoughts today:

  • My husband’s love, acceptance, and support of me.  He’s really awesome and I’m so blessed to have this amazing man in my life.  Even when I unleash the crazy, he’s right there, full of love and ready to reel me back in.
  • My 3 year old dancing in the kitchen, randomly, as we cook together.  I frequently ask him if he has to go to the bathroom when this starts.  (In case you don’t have toddlers/preschoolers, wiggling around is one of the signs that they need to pee.)  His reply is an earnest “no Mommy, I’m just dancin’”.  I LOVE IT.  Of course, you know the food tastes better when you shake your hips while you cook.  Try it!
  • My 10 month old has the best smile.  He has 8 teeth; 4 on top, 4 on bottom. He has a huge gap between his two front teeth, but when he laughs and smiles, it’s AMAZING!  So bright, so innocent, so truly joyful that it could break the “silence” of even the roughest day.

Baby Selfie, Chris Pack, Sept. 2014

What makes you happy?  Take a moment to think about it.  Share it below, if you’d like. We could all use another smile today!  Key Pharrell Williams – Happy…..

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About Author

Amanda Pack

Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Amanda received her Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Passionate about health and fitness, Amanda worked in the fitness and wellness industry for 6 years prior to joining the Recreation and Fitness Center team in 2011. At the RFC, she enjoys sharing her passion with the SAS Community through personal training, group exercise instruction, teaching yoga, and coaching recreational endurance athletes. A wife, working mother, triathlete, and yogini herself, wellness is an important theme in both her personal and professional life. Amanda is registered through Yoga Alliance as a 200 hour Yoga Teacher (RYT200), certified in personal training and group exercise instruction through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and is an IRONMAN Certified Coach.

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