Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may a light upon you.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
As women who lead unpredictable lives, it’s understandable that our happiness levels will ebb and flow rather than remain at a steady state of bliss. We should react to our lives appropriately and this means feeling fantastic after acing an exam or feeling morose after getting dumped by a boyfriend. Duhh. However, none of us deserve to feel upset for too long and we owe it to ourselves to make each day as bright as it can be given our circumstances. I bet you didn’t know that happiness is 50% genetic, 40% our actions and 10% our circumstances.* If you did, you are likely an avid reader of happiness books and deserve a virtual high five for possessing random positive psychology knowledge, but that’s beside the point. The point is that we have it in our power to overcome what happens to us and uplift our spirits the natural way. I may not be a psychologist, but thank goodness psychology is not rocket sciences. After reading this list you will be equipped with all the information you need to get a smile to appear on your lips as if you just spotted the cutest small dog in the whole world. Boo, the most famous dog in America, this is a shout out to you. If you’ve never heard of Boo, you may just have to stop reading this article temporarily and Google search him. And let the positivity begin!
1) Light in the morning and darkness in the evening is just the best for saying sayonara to the blues. Make sure to get some rays of sunshiny goodness in the morning (as close to dawn as possible) to prevent depression and to treat depression if you’ve got it. It is now known that light therapy is wondrous for treating all types of mood disorders, not just seasonal affective disorder. A 2005 metanalysis (a study which combines the results of multiple independent studies) of bright light therapy for depression found that “bright light treatments are efficacious, with effects equivalent to those in most antidepressant pharmacotherapy trials”. Woot! Bright morning light works just as well as antidepressant medications, but with no side effects. On the same note, don’t go all Edward Cullen on yourself (sorry Twilight haters) and not get any sleep. Staying up late or pulling an all-nighter is pretty much equivalent to just asking moodiness to come find you. Not only this, but studies show that staying up late makes you more inclined to eat late at night, thus increasing the odds of gaining weight, thus making you more inclined to dislike the way you look, thus making you more likely to become unhappy.
2) Socialize, socialize, socialize. Being around friends is so important for well-being. If you are feeling extra stressed, put down that textbook and take a coffee break with a friend. You will be surprised how good it feels to have a therapeutic venting session with your girls (or guys) and you will be able to get back to studying in a good mood, which can improve concentration and might just increase your test score.
3) Eat foods that are naturally bright and colorful. For your brain to adapt and respond to stress, you need to fuel it with foods high in antioxidants, like fresh vegetables and fruits. Without enough antioxidants, our brains literally become “toxic or rancid.” Ewwww. I am not kidding. Our brains are made up of fat and lipid peroxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs as fats become rancid. Free radicals are highly reactive, no good for us, particles that accumulate in the cells of our brain. When free radicals accumulate, byproducts of peroxidation build up and hence our brains really do begin to decay. These byproducts have been linked to depression, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s and more. So, arm yourself with antioxidants and fight those free radical bitches.
4) Move those limbs. Run. Walk. Climb a tree. Put on some music and dance around your room in your underwear a la Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels (a personal favorite). Just move. It is simply not healthy to study for hours on end in a chair. When you exercise, your body releases feel good endorphins, which are opiate-like substances, secreted by the brain. They have the same painkilling mechanism as morphine, so they can produce a sense of euphoria when the endorphins bind with the brain’s receptor sites. Better yet, exercise with a friend and get a double dose of happiness.
5) Ingest some fatty-acids. Scientific research overwhelming supports the notion that fatty acid balance plays a role in mental well-being. Scientists who study diet and its relationship to depression have consistently found that patients with mood disorders have reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids. There are two main omega-3 acids, EPA and DHA, both of which play critical roles in proper brain functioning. Omega-3 fats are found in fish, but fish on the market can be highly polluted. Take a DHA supplement or purified fish oil to get a clean, non-polluted helping of those omega-3s.
6) Put things in perspective! This one might be the most important thing you can do. When you are old and your hair is a lovely shade of gray (gasp!), are you going to give a Twinkie what your score was on a silly little biology exam? Or even the GPA you graduated college with? I don’t know about you, but my answer to this question is hell no. While I am an advocate of trying your hardest, don’t freak if your best isn’t the score you had hoped for. And don’t judge yourself, attempt to analyze your overall intelligence level or compare your test scores to classmates. Just work hard, do your best, and say C’est la vie to that the exam.
7) If all else fails, just Google pictures of cute puppies and kittens. Works every time. If you didn’t Google Boo by now, shame on you.
*Wondering where the 10% came from? It turns out that when positive or negative events occur, we adapt pretty quickly and our happiness levels return to baseline. Negative events usually last longer than positive events- most people recover from a major loss in one to two years whereas it generally takes about six months to get used to something that makes us happy and return to normal happiness levels.