Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to be (Truly) Happy

    I ran across a survey done last year, sponsored by Ally Bank, that questioned more than a thousand people to find out what makes them happy. The survey focused on money, but as an outgrowth of the questions, some interesting findings popped up about what really makes people feel good.

     Everyone knows that enjoying the intimacy of a long-term relationship improves your chances to be happy. And it helps if you're lucky enough to be in good health, have some close friends and enjoy a positive relationship with children or grandchildren. But the survey revealed four other significant factors that contribute to a higher level of personal happiness.

     First is exercising. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said that taking part in a regular exercise program makes them feel happy. Why? Engaging in exercise is a positive, helpful way to cope with stress. Studies indicate that exercise mimics the effects of antidepressants. It helps increase our energy levels, and boosts levels of endorphins and other "feel-good" chemicals in the brain.

     Participating in a sport or exercise program can give you a sense of accomplishment, and if you do it with other people (golf, tennis, softball, dancing, a spin class), helps you make friends and feel like you're part of a supportive social group. A good workout has also been shown to improve people's sleep patterns, as well as promote the development of new brain cells that can increase memory and learning capabilities.

     Enjoying your work. In America, work is not only the activity that takes up most of our time, it is an identifying characteristic, one that is central to our sense of who we are. So 68 percent of those polled said enjoying work increases overall happiness. Other studies have showed that Americans who feel they are successful are twice as likely to be happy compared to people who don’t feel that way. Work can engage our interests and our skills, and empower us to create value in our lives. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Happiness lies ... in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

     The issue for retired people is that we no longer work. Yet work leaves its legacy. We still identify with our profession. We're retired; but we tell people that we once were a lawyer, teacher, banker or chef. And we all know that we can still find a sense of accomplishment in our volunteer work, or our artwork, or our classwork . . . or in helping take care of our grandchildren.

     Eating healthy. The foods we eat indirectly but indisputably influence the functioning of our brains. One key to improving our mood is to cut back on sugary and salty snacks in favor of nutritious alternatives. A study published in Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, vegetables, fish and whole grains reported 30 percent fewer depressive symptoms than those who consumed a typical American diet.

     In addition, of course, people who eat right are less likely to get sick; they recover more easily if they do get sick; and they likely live longer than people who are overweight or consume a poor diet. In addition, certain foods affect our brain chemistry and help us stay happy. It's no coincidence that we turn to carbohydrates, from cookies to ice cream, from pasta to peanuts, when we are feeling blue. Carb-rich foods stimulate release of serotonin, which at least in the short term tends to improve our mood. And then there's chocolate. Personally, I'm not a big fan of chocolate. But the nutritionists tell us it boosts levels of brain chemicals like phenylethylamine and anandamide that can bring on a euphoric feeling.

     Saving money. The Ally survey showed that it's not how much you earn that makes you happy; it's how much money you have left over. A surprisingly high 84 percent of people acknowledged that saving for a rainy day makes them feel more secure and more in control of their lives, leading to an overall sense of well-being. And the more you save, the more likely you are to be happy57 percent of those who boasted $100,000 or more in savings were extremely or very happy, versus 42 percent who'd squirreled away $20,000 to $100,000 and 34 percent who had less than $20,000 to their name.

     Of course, most retired people are not adding to their accounts. We're withdrawing. But the happiness factor comes with the sense of control. So if we have a plan, and can reasonably expect that our retirement resources are going to cover our needs, then it helps support that sense of well being, and even accomplishment.


DJan said...

This is all so true. I eat right, exercise, and when I was working I loved my job. Now I love my retirement, and I even have enough money each month. So for me, life is good. Nice to think about why that is, Tom. Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

According to your list, I should be miserable.
I am quite happy and content, as I count my blessings.

Snowbrush said...

Interesting post, Tom. Thank you.

Farmboy1 said...

A good job, money in savings, and a lotta dark chocolate.....yeah, life is good. Thanks for the article, makes one count their blessings.

Meryl Baer said...

Definitely words of wisdom. When I don't exercise I feel lethargic, and guilty. I usually eat healthy, but when overeating and/or eating unhealthy stuff my body rebels.

Stephen Hayes said...

I know that if I miss my morning swim I feel cranky all day.

Linda Myers said...

I do water aerobics or walk most days of the week. We leave for Eastern Europe next week and I'm glad I'll be fit enough to do all the walking and all the eating!

Dick Klade said...

Three our of four ain't bad. Although I enjoyed some moments during my years of employment, working itself seldom contributed greatly to my happiness.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Excellent post, Tom. You're so right. Everything you mentioned is an important element of happiness -- and when that gets out of balance, I tend to feel the difference right away.

Anonymous said...

That is all fine and well if you have any money you saved, your kids are not draining you emotionally and financially and you are not care taking your elders..We did all of those, both parents passed from this earth several siblings and a friend who was more like a Mom to me than my own mother who passed when I was young. Health to me is one's wealth and where you live too, it used to be pristine in the pacific northwest now we are experiencing FIRES FROM HELL, winds like the sun, no rain or precipitation for so long I cannot believe it is the pacific northwest, it has wrecked havoc on food, people and living in general..If I wanted to live in the valley of the sun I would live in Arizona and new mexico and texas..I think glogal warming has gotten to Washington state and Oregon state, total ban of all fires, fire pits, fireworks, etc..Three firefighters lost their lives defending fires in Twisp Washington.. Oh, my living god it is even hot at the Washington and Oregon Coasts, ski season was a wipeout and now they say we will not get much precipitation? what the living hell is going on???????????????????? I say enjoy each day one never knows when the weather will turn ugly as it has it has never been so hot since 100years the weather professionals state for the Pacific Northwest..This weekend will mark nearly 30 days of 90 and above weather for the Vancouver Washington area! YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

One can't travel to the coast for cool air either, it is hotter than a pepper plant there with hoards of people who are coming from other areas and rude, is not the word..We go to a place on the Washington coast a tiny cabin with childhood friends, we hate to come home, if they had a hospital near we would sell and move, but alas they don't have one and don't plan on building one..If you want to be happy in my opinion BE GRATEFUL YOU DON'T LIVE IN CALIFORNIA, NO WATER, TONS OF PROBLEMS, MORE PRISONS AND FEDERAL PRISONS THAN THE AMOUNT OF SCHOOL TEACHERS THEY HIRE AND SCHOOLS IN RUIN...It used to be a wonderful state but not anymore and people cannot buy a home there ever, least homeownership in all of the USA and that included Hawaii which is the most expensive state to build a home, but it can be done! Not is California I went to college there and lived there all up and down the coast no more it is terribe and it used to be so wonderful, I was born there after world war 2 I would never live there again, one cannot really live and they never have any greenery to boot..But poor Washington it is becoming an arid desert tooo, I pray daily for some coolness and rain, it doesn't come around..Car insurance is extremely high here uninsured motorist and just got our homeowners policy, we are paying dearly for those homes that burned to the ground in all of the fires pounding this beautiful state of Washington, I say be GRATEFUL AND HUMBLE THIS IS NOT HEAVEN ON EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!