Unbelievable but true, these are some of the habits based on the science of happiness: Breathe in the whole forest. Learn to forgive everyone. Wonder from behind a veil of fear.
Psychologists have developed a collection of exercises or “interventions” proven to increase our happiness. To reap benefits from their decades of happiness research, all you have to do is include these exercises into your life. And when you carry out these exercises on a repeat schedule, they build into habits.
But habits are difficult to build and break. Indeed, whether they are good habits or bad habits. So, we suggest you start with rituals instead.
Habits vs. Rituals
Is there a difference between habit and ritual?
Yes. A habit is something you do day in and day out without paying much attention. It happens as if you’re on autopilot, without any conscious involvement. All habits are ultimately automatic, spontaneous behaviors.
Waking up and reaching for your smartphone the first thing in the morning is a habit. Munching down snacks while watching movies is a habit. Changing into a jogging-gear and going out for a run the moment you hit back your home is a habit.
A ritual is just the opposite of a habit. A ritual requires intention, attention, and engagement. It’s never automatic, as when starting out to make exercise a daily habit. Simplified, when you’re doing an activity with mindfulness and attention, you’re carrying out a ritual.
You can’t set a habit from day one. You always have to start with a ritual, which might become a habit if you keep repeating it enough number of days.
Taking out time for 15 minutes of meditation tomorrow morning, instead of scrolling through your social media feed, is a ritual. Going for a 3 minute chair yoga practice whenever you might be craving for a smoke today, is a ritual. And each of these can become a habit when you give it enough time and practice.#Habit is an act you do without paying much attention. A ritual is just the opposite. Click To Tweet
So, don’t attempt to create happiness-habits at the outset. Instead, aim to start with happiness rituals. In time, they’ll get ingrained as habits. Remember, all our habits are mostly subconscious activities.
Research from positive psychology gives us enough cues as to what rituals we could start with for raising our happiness levels. Here are a few simple practices that you could begin to build into your day to lift your mood.
1. Breathe In The Whole Forest
In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku, and in Mandarin, they call it sēnlínyù. The English speakers call it “forest bathing” or “forest therapy”.
Researchers from Japan and South Korea have extensively studied the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest, and built a robust body of scientific literature. Researchers found a 40 minute walk in the forest was associated with improved mood and feelings of health and robustness. Now, shinrin-yoku is finding recognition and usefulness through rest of the world.
In this, you go to a forest and spend time taking a relaxed walk while inhaling deep the forest air. What you would be really doing is breathing in the air mixed with essential oils (phytoncides) released by the trees. In a way, you might also call it forest breathing.
The inhalation of these organic oils have many scientifically proven benefits. They significantly decrease cortisol – a stress hormone. It improves your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Forest therapy improves mood, and increase mental energy and performance.
They also increase immunity by increasing body’s natural-killer cells. This helps faster recovery from surgery or illness. Current research is hinting that this might even prevent cancer.
2. Learn To Forgive Everyone
Everything and everyone can be forgiven.
You might want to react to that with a rebellion. Yes, there are acts and people that can not, and should not, be forgiven. But in opposing the idea of universal forgiveness, you could be overlooking one thing. While asking you to forgive the worst offences and the vilest offenders, mind it, we’re not asking you to do it for their sake. It’s only meant for you.
When you’re forgiving someone, you don’t even have to tell them about it. By not telling them, you’re letting them suffer — if they’re suffering at all without your forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of your negative feelings whether that person deserves it or not, or whether they get to know about it or not.
At the same time, by forgiving them in your own mindspace, you’re ultimately, and only, putting down the smoldering grudge of chronic anger that has been hurting you.
The fallout of forgiveness is a emptying a toxic part of your mind. Letting go of your resentments will make space in your mind for other, positive, emotions to come and stay.
Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can lower the risk of heart attack, and improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It has also been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, stress. It can help us sleep better.#Forgiveness is releasing your negative feelings; it's unrelated to the person you're forgiving. Click To Tweet
Researchers indicate that with age, your forgiving capacity gets more intricately linked to your health. “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
3. Start These 3 Good Things
This is a simple, and still powerful practice that can boost your happiness levels. It’s actually a science-verified method of counting your blessings. The effectiveness of this was proved by Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, and by Martin Seligman, in 2005.
The process is simple. Sit down with a pen and paper, undisturbed, and write down three good things that happened in your day. Be sure to include how they made you feel, and why they happened. It will be difficult at first, but you’ll get the right hang of it with practice. You could do this before going to bed, or in the morning.
What this does is force you to start seeing the good things in your life. Normally, we tend to focus on the negative things around us, as these pose a potential threat to our survival. And in doing that, we become good at ignoring the good things around with us. With 3 good things, your mind becomes more aware of the positive things in your life.
Whereas a negative brain sees problems, a brain re-conditioned to “look at the bright side of life” sees happier possibilities. In a way, you’re rewiring your brain for positivity and meaning. As a result, you find yourself living happier, more fulfilling lives.
4. Work It Out For Happiness
Exercise is good for you, whatever your age, sex, or physical condition. Apart from fighting back many diseases, it boosts your mood and energy. Science has shown time and again that physically active people are happier.
John Ratey, the world’s most known exercise researcher, says, “Exercise generates the release of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. People’s mood significantly increased after exercising.”
Exercise helps us have a better control of our bodies and capabilities of our bodies, which then boosts our confidence for goal-achievement. Exercise distracts us from negative thinking patterns, as overthinking and worrying, and cuts down our stress. When you exercise with a friend or a group, it increases your social relatedness and hikes your happiness.
A recent study revealed that exercise helps the body remove toxic substances linked to stress-related depression. Dr. Jorge Ruas, who led the study, says: “Well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances.”
Researchers found that even a 20-minute bout of exercise can give a mood lift that can last for up to 12 hours. Remember to make the work out fun.
5. Don’t Forget To Feel Awe
Awe is a combination of fear, admiration, delight, and surprise.
It is difficult to describe. But you may equal it a feeling of dread added with wonder, thereby making awe a little less joyful than wonder. In any case, awe is light-years away from the irritatingly ubiquitous urban jargon ‘awesome.’
You get a feeling of awe when you come across something exceptionally grand and extremely powerful. A thing of awe exhilarates and scares. Paul Pearsall, a psychiatry professor and clinical neuropsychologist, wrote the first ever book on it: Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion. It turned out to be his last book before he passed away in 2007. He saw awe as the 11th emotion, beyond the scientifically accepted ten emotions of love, fear, sadness, embarrassment, curiosity, pride, enjoyment, despair, guilt, and anger.
Through that book, Pearsall tells us if we experience and interpret awe correctly, it can save us from a state of languishing and launch us into a much-needed state of flourishing. As he says, you can make that personal journey from languishing to flourishing by consciously engaging and reflecting on the world outside yourself, by being in awe of seemingly ordinary things around you.Don't forget to feel awe. It can take you from a life of languishing to one of flourishing. Click To Tweet
Pearsall writes, “If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life’s meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life’s processes, including health, illness, love, and even death.”
Psychologists Paul Piff, Pia Dietze, and Dacher Keltner tell us how to find awe in their paper Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior: “Awe arises in evanescent experiences. Looking up at the starry expanse of the night sky. Gazing out across the blue vastness of the ocean. Feeling amazed at the birth and development of a child. Protesting at a political rally or watching a favorite sports team live. Many of the experiences people cherish most are triggers of the emotion we focused on here—awe.”
Of all these rituals, and in time habits, that can make us happier, I suggest you surrender to awe first, and feel how it changes you. To find awe, look at some old pictures from your parents’ or grandparent’s time. Go watch a flower sway in the spring breeze, or peer into the vast expanse of a late evening sky.
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