I have a confession to make. I’m a happy guy.
I must admit I feel a bit strange in expressing it publicly and it’s very liberating.
According to recent research, I’m happy because I keep my stress levels low, my commitment to well-being high and I build a continuous connection with a sense of purpose.
Incidentally, these three lessons I’ve nurtured over a 20-year period of coaching and counseling people to achieve their best results. What I find most interesting is, out of all the happiness lessons I’ve learned that are supposed to make us happy, it’s the lesson of developing purpose that has been the most valuable for me recently, especially during the COVID-19 days (see my post on grieving and COVID-19).
Developing purpose is part of following a eudemonic path of happiness, a path that involves developing healthy habits (like positive thinking, being optimistic and focusing on activities that give you energy rather than deplete energy). Many believe that following a eudemonic path is the best strategy to nurture higher resilience and increased overall well-being, particularly when it comes to adapting to challenges and coping with chaos and unpredictability.
In contrast, there are happiness specialists who profess that following a hedonistic path of doing activities that feel good or authentic is what promotes the highest sense of well-being. Hedonism is a practice and belief system that centers on living life in a “feel good” zone. That is, committing to actions that help us be happy through promoting a life based on feeling good more than feeling bad. For example, engaging in activities that make us laugh more than cry, or feeling strong and powerful rather than weak and vulnerable.
Although experts still debate the issue around which path leads to the highest and most lasting sense of happiness and well-being, there is little debate that living a life where both eudemonic and hedonistic approaches are combined lead to the best results. Creating a balance of eudemonic and hedonistic approaches to happiness and well-being are crucial to optimal functioning.
Here are my three keys to including both eudaimonia and hedonism in your life to increase your happiness and well-being.
1. Keeping Stress Levels Low
The number one route to promoting happiness and well-being is to lower stress. We’ve all heard through the media how damaging stress is to the body, causing accelerated ageing, weight gain, inflammation, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, even cancer. So, keeping stress away is critical. Here are the top 3 methods I use every day to make sure I’m happy, healthy and on the road to promoting good health.
My top objective now in my life to lower stress is to laugh. In fact, a wise saying goes “a laugh a day keeps ill health away.”
Many experts and a voluminous amount of data agree that healthy laughter not only makes us feel good but also promotes well-being by producing endorphins, increasing oxygen levels and, according to the Mayo Clinic, improves immune system function, relieves pain and improves mood.
While laughter is a largely hedonistic happiness response, I like to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy laughter as a way for us to experience a eudemonic influence. For example, healthy laughter is when we laugh at positive things that happen, like someone makes us laugh, tells a joke or we see something funny on video, in a movie that doesn’t involve harming or insulting another. In other words, we’re laughing with others. Unhealthy laughter can be when someone gets injured, falls or feels humiliated when a live filmed event captures a very embarrassing moment and we find ourselves laughing. In other words, we’re laughing at others.
I make this distinction because when we laugh at someone who’s misfortune causes severe embarrassment, we could be laughing at the pain we ourselves once experienced that we’ve never healed from. Laughter can be deflector of difficult emotions from an experience we’d rather forget quickly than relish immediately. The experience of which is all in the hedonistic eye and the eudemonic heart of the beholder.
In 2005, I discovered a shortcut to lowering stress levels in the brain. As I lay on the top of a hill dealing with a difficult breakup, I decided to look into the sky and simply watch the clouds. As I observed their relaxing movements floating across my view, I decided to close my eyes and imagine I could still continue to see them drifting across the blue sky.
After about 10 minutes, I suddenly realized the anger and sadness I felt earlier were both gone. But how could that happen so easily and quickly, I thought.
As that moment, I discovered the power of eye movements to keep me relaxed as a daily practice. I’ve since continued using eye movements personally and professionally to quickly process emotions and lower stress levels in seconds as I learned from sitting on a hill and watching clouds.
Deep breathing also helps to keep your stress levels low. To breathe deep, there’s a very simple breath called the Hung Saw breath that is designed to lower your heart rate.
To start the Hung Saw breath, again close your eyes and begin noticing the sound of your breath. As you breathe in through your nose, notice the sound “hung.” As you breathe out through your nose notice the sound “saw.” Breathe in, hear the sound “hung.” Breathe out, hear the sound “saw.” Remember that Hung Saw is a silent mantra, meaning you don’t actually say the words as you breathe, you listen for them as you breath. This focus and concentration when breathing is what helps you relax as your mind is attentive to your breath, and not on the subjects that were previously stressing you out.
2. Keeping a Commitment to Well-being Through Exercise
My second key to lasting happiness is exercise.
Similar to breathing, exercise is one of the most widely promoted methods to generate happiness and well-being because it helps us feel good and creates better health. Here are my two favourite methods of exercise that are well supported through studies.
Walking has a long and positive research history in promoting well-being.
According to a 2015 study by Dick Ettema and Ifeta Smajic, “walking has a positive effect on blood pressure and diminishes cardiovascular disease risk factors. Others (e.g. Ekkekakis et al. 2008) found that the level of physical activity involved in walking enhances mood and increases mental health.”
Plan to schedule walking time in your calendar setting aside at least three days a week for a 30-minute walk. See if you can convince a friend to go along with you as “walking and talking” promote even healthier happiness benefits as your brain produces endorphins that promote happiness and feeling healthy but also oxytocin, a bonding hormone that helps strengthen the heart and rebuild heart tissue.
Going to the Gym
In 2015, Europe’s Journal of Psychology released a study that examined the benefits of going regularly to the gym. “First, gym participants perceive themselves to be efficient and productive in general. Second, gym training is believed to increase the control they have over their lives. Third, gym members associate their gym workout with amplified emotional resilience, believing that fitness workout makes them not only fitter in a physical sense but also fitter and better equipped in a psychological sense.”
Essentially, going to the gym or committing yourself to a home exercise program at least two days a week does wonders to promote you being happier, feeling better and improving your overall health.
3. Building a Continuous Connection with a Sense of Purpose
My third key to lasting happiness involves nurturing a fluid and strong connection with a sense of purpose. Neuroscientist and marathon runner Teal Burrell writes about the importance of purpose in her 2017 article in New Scientist. She writes “people with a greater sense of purpose live longer, sleep better and have better sex. Purpose cuts the risk of stroke and depression. It helps people recover from addiction or manage their glucose levels if they are diabetic.”
So why is purpose so important to our well-being?
Because purpose, according to Burrell, “gives us a sense of direction in life – a long term goal set around one’s core values, that makes life worth living and shapes daily behaviour.”
Imagine a life without goals, intentions or a vision. Does that feel like an empty life to you? It does to me, and this is what it would be like to live without a sense of purpose.
Simple tips to developing your sense of purpose:
- Envision something you really, really, really want to happen (in other words, envision something very important and emotionally significant).
- Set intentions for it happen.
- Make your intentions positive and significant to you but also significant to others when they are fulfilled. In other words, by manifesting this intention that will be fulfilled that moves you toward something you really dream about and how could the fulfillment of this be helpful to others (i.e., within your family, work team, at school or for the planet).
- The bigger you make your intentions, the wider the potential impact and the harder you’ll work to accomplish this.
What do you do to make yourself feel happier in your life?
Whatever it is, the key is to make this something you do often and deliberately. The more consistent of a practice you make around being happy, the more likely it is that you’ll be a happy person and be able to weather life’s most difficult storms.