You may be thinking: Is happiness even available right now? Can you benefit from boosting it in this time of crisis? What is a “happiness habit” anyway?
The answer is YES, YES and I’ll get to that shortly!
Believe it or not, there are small tweaks (habits) we can make throughout our day that have a surprisingly large impact on our baseline levels of happiness. Since happiness increases resiliency, motivation, creativity, optimism and problem solving, increasing our happiness levels will also help us manage stress and anxiety as we live and work through a pandemic. That in turn, will allow us to take more positive actions towards our work-life wellbeing.
Now, I certainly don’t mean to simplify the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic, nor the latest horrific, violent, and devastating acts of injustice and brutal deaths of countless Black lives here in America. That is why, I believe these habits are imperative to incorporate in our everyday lives. I know that nourishing our happiness will enhance our mental toughness in the face of adversity. Research shows that bringing more happiness into our lives has far more benefits than merely feeling good. If you contribute on your own individualistic level to make this world a happier place, you will make a difference on a collectivistic level.
Furthermore, I realize that this challenging period affects some more than others. Together, we can enhance our psychological immunity through evidence-based skills and simple, scientifically proven habits. Why? Because these habits have been shown, time and time again, to make a difference in the day-to-day quality of life for ALL those who follow them. The more you’ll practice both existing and new habits, the more you’ll gain their accumulated benefits to boost your well-being. Happier people are also kinder, more inclusive and open minded. They are people who are more likely to find solutions to societal issues. In times of so much turmoil, it’s important to watch and build the right “mindset” so we can be an active part of the solution to our problems.
So without further ado, here are the 7 Habits that will maximize your happiness during challenging times…
1. IMPROVING YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Many scientific studies are searching for the aspects of what make people happier. The one constant factor that stands out is our strong relationship with others. Not only have strengthening relationships been found to make us happier, they have also been found to make us healthier. And in challenging times, isn’t that so very important?
It is a scientific fact that the distress you experience during these challenging times will decrease by actively increasing your good social connections. The significance of good social relationships can be summed up as: Other People Matter!
Note to consider: Though government officials and media use the term ‘social isolation’ during this pandemic, perhaps it’s best to address it as ”physical isolation”. After all, it is the physical isolation that will help us better control the spread of the pandemic, but not our social isolation.
With that in mind: How can you increase your social relationships to boost well-being while maintaining the physical distance you need?
Here are some examples:
Schedule Zoom calls with relatives or friends. Discussing real life issues or small talks.
Be considerate while engaging with those you may be “quarantining” with. Being physically distant is harder for some than others.
Consider that your views of the latest violent acts in America might be different than others. (Even those close to you.) Be compassionate and get engaged despite the difficult dynamics that co-habitating 24/7 may bring.
Focus on supporting and accepting other’s pains and opinions, while contributing to the conversation of change.
2. RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Naturally being kind to others has been shown to make a positive difference to those who receive the act of kindness, but interestingly it has also been shown to make a big difference in boosting the “giver’s” own happiness and wellbeing. According to happiness expert, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, there are preliminary studies indicating that being kind to others can boost your own gene expression. This will then boost your immune system and potentially even boost your ability to fight a virus.
With this ‘win win’ situation in mind, here are some specific examples for small random acts of kindness that you can do today:
Bring a meal to an elderly neighbor who is “sheltering at home.”
Smile and wave hello to the people you come across even if you don’t know them.
Pick up the phone and ask a friend you haven’t talked to for a while how they are doing? Offer to support them if there is any need.
Donate, with goods or with your time: take five minutes to help someone less familiar to you in your network/Facebook/forum, and answer their specific question/need.
In today’s climate of challenging times the positive effects of kindness are even greater. Get creative and plan your action.
3. KEEP MOVING
We all know that exercise is good for our health, but we don’t pause often enough to appreciate how essential it is for our mood. Notice how I’m referring to “moving” and not necessarily what we would consider “regular exercise”, such as going to the gym and giving it your all. It’s now known that the positive and cumulative benefits of just moving during the day are essential to our wellbeing. When James A. Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, first coined, “Sitting is the new smoking” many people thought that was a dramatic statement. Today, however, many medical experts believe this to be an accurate statement.
The physical activity can be anything that literally moves our bodies. So even if we’re stuck indoors, we can still make time to move and stretch. Our overall health and mental health is directly linked to our need to keep moving throughout the day, so find ways to get physically active every day!
There are lots of simple ways to incorporate movement into your daily routine. Here are some examples:
Set a timer to remind you to move; and then get out of your chair!
Look to the horizons, away from your digital screens often.
Walk around the house, every hour, for a few minutes each time.
Practice indoor Yoga, Jiu-Jitsu, Pilates and the like.
Put on a song you love and dance a bit!
Here’s what evidence based research found to be helpful in creating a new habit. It turns out that our habits run on a simple loop of cue, routine and reward.
Cue: A cue can be almost anything, from a visual trigger to a certain place (your computer monitor), to a time of day (waking up in the morning), an emotion, or a sequence of thoughts. Using a ‘when/then ’ statement to prime your brain (“When I wake up, then I’ll go for a 10 minute walk”) is very helpful, because you are anchoring it to a behavior you are already performing. Again, the idea behind the “when/then” tool is to ‘pair’ one habit you are already doing, with the newer habit you want to integrate. It lowers the amount of activation energy it takes to get your habit started.
Routine: Research has found that a routine habit, even as short as 10 minutes practiced for a week, can start making a difference. You can even start off with just a few minutes, and in time you can extend the duration and frequency. For now the goal is to take the “willpower” out of the equation, to decrease your brains’ ability to “negotiate” with you not to do something, and to automate it, so you can feel it is easy enough to follow.
Reward: It’s recommended that you dedicate at least 30 seconds of reward time after you execute your new habit. Whether that’s checking it off a list, sharing your good news, noting it in a gratitude journal, or making yourself a cup of tea — rewarding your efforts releases feel-good hormones that helps to accelerate your habit creation!
As an example, if the ‘keep moving’ habit is a challenging habit for you, pair it with one that you do automatically, like getting up to get your water. What you’re doing is making a new routine: when I get up to refill my water bottle, then I do 2 yoga poses for 5 minutes. Then be rewarded by applauding yourself for doing so, and perhaps checking it off your to-do list!
4. ENHANCE POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Besides the obvious fact that positive emotions make us feel more joyous momentarily, (which of course we can all benefit from more of), positive emotions are found to expand our abilities to come up with more solutions to our problems. It turns out that positive emotions broaden our awareness and our thought processes by increasing our attention and focus to more options in the environment. Thus, positive emotions over time improve our resourcefulness potential, and therefore our resilience.
To embrace fearless positivity in the midst of uncertainty, try the following:
Create a list of things that genuinely bring a smile to your face, use photos, stories.
Dial up your playfulness, we are built to play and built through play.
Dial down negativity by being watchful of your TV news time.
Savor the good. List what went well today for you, and why it did, no matter how small it might seem to you.
5. SETTING A GOAL TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Having a goal that you’re excited about can help you feel more motivated, purposeful, and hopeful. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. It could just be a simple plan for something you’re looking forward to, like planning which flowers you’d plant this summer.
Researchers concluded that hope comes from your energy and excitement about a “desired what’s next”. It’s created by setting goals, figuring out the “how to”, and finding ways to maintain your willpower to follow through. And again, even a small goal can make a big difference.
During COVID-19, small and near future goals are preferable. The mere anticipation of the joy to follow through on an attainable goal is a desired feel good part of the brain. It can bring a sense of purpose and help you feel more satisfied during these challenging times.
6. PRACTICE A GROWTH MINDSET
As we have experienced in recent times, our lives and working conditions are constantly changing and evolving and we need to continually learn new skills to keep up. When you practice a growth mindset you internalize the notion that the hand you’re dealt with is just a starting point for your growth. You believe that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, regardless of your talent, current skills or environment.
On the other hand, if you have a “fixed mindset” you believe that your qualities are carved in stone, which means developing new skills and attitudes is close to impossible. Now, I ask you, which mind set is better to cultivate in general, but even more so in challenging times where you might be called to learn and expand?
Obviously, it’s a growth mindset. Fostering a growth mindset in the midst of a challenging situation does not mean ignoring risks, dangers, and concerns; rather it means leaning into mental agility. Open your heart to this “I can grow” practice no matter what your skills, talents or circumstances are, so your brain will help you grow from any adversity you face, and successfully take on any new challenges.
Here are some thoughts to consider as you boost your mind for growth mindset:
Reframe the situation: Look at the current crisis from all angles. Change in our routine can be a source of major stress, but it can also be a catalyst for growing new habits. Yes, there are devastating and horrific changes happening as well out there, I do not want to ever discount that, but we better focus on what is in our control, and what we can do to be part of the solution.
Intentionally acknowledge the daily progress you are making: Consider what changes you have made to better your situation now. Hard work should always be rewarded before inherent skill.
Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training”: The brain is like a muscle that needs to be worked out, just like the body. Train it to grow, and grow with it.
Think realistically about time and effort: New skills take a lot of practice and patience, it takes time and dedication to shift your mindset.
Rethink stressors: The way we approach a situation makes a difference in our ability to bounce back. Research shows that when we think about stressors as a challenge rather than a threat, our minds use a different region of the brain to process the information, a part that allows us to grow more.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware, nonjudgmental, and curious about what you are thinking, feeling and doing in the present moment. You might be questioning why you would want to be grounding yourself in the present. Why would you want to become truly attentive and keenly aware of your surroundings in times of adversity?
Well, you want to focus on one habit of mindfulness in particular: savoring. This will allow you to, first, get more pleasure out of the present moment (the daily things you’re currently doing, regardless of the adversity you’re facing). Second, by taking a moment to be more present you allow your mind a break from thinking of the future and all the potential stress that comes with it!
Try it out, start with savoring the small, mundane activities of your routine, like while preparing dinner. The aim is to derive pleasure by taking a longer moment to actually experience and appreciate what you are doing. Besides the fact that paying close attention to the touch, taste, smell, sight or noise can trigger all sorts of positive emotions, the key to mindfulness is that it takes place NOW. In order to savor, you have to step out of past reminiscing or the anticipated future, because savoring is wrapped up in the present moment.
Examples to consider for mindfulness practice:
Every time you wash your hands, pay attention to how wonderful the water feels.
When eating, remove distractions, chew and notice flavors like you’re noticing for the first time. Also notice your stomach getting fuller.
Observe and acknowledge any thoughts you may have with no judgment.
When all is said and done, one of the most important habits you can create for yourself is to be kind to yourself. If you don’t stick with a new, positive habit, if you keep falling back into old, bad habits, or if you just feel like you’re not happy at the moment…THAT IS MORE THAN OKAY. That is normal. That is expected. And that makes you human. I’m here to remind you to tell yourself kind, encouraging words.
“Tomorrow will be better.”
“I’m not perfect, and that’s ok.”
“I slipped up today, but that doesn’t mean I always do this.”
“I am not a failure just because I failed to do this.”
These words are important for your mind to hear you say. We are what we choose to believe. So treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Just don’t give up! 🙂