Healthy habits that boost happiness

We do most of our routine activities out of habit. When you practice making healthy choices over and over, they become habits, too — habits that can boost your happiness.

By Amit Sood, M.D.

Half of your happiness depends on conscious choices you make every day — choices that, with time, become habits. In "The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness," I list several healthy habits that can help you boost your happiness. By choosing healthy habits, you can decrease your stress and increase the energy available to you each day — making it easier to do the things that bring you joy.

Here are three of the habits from "The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness."

  1. Eat a healthy diet. Physically, and to some extent emotionally, you become what you eat. That makes your diet extremely important. Three aspects to pay attention to are what you eat, how much you eat and how you eat.
    • What you eat. Eat a balanced diet. Choose whole grains, nuts, fish, vegetables, protein and fiber. Eat a variety of foods to get a broad range of nutrients. Avoid refined sugars, saturated fat, megadose vitamins and calorie-dense food. Eliminate trans fat.
    • How much you eat. Stop eating when you feel just a little full. If you pause a few minutes after feeling lightly full, you will soon feel comfortably full.
    • How you eat. Try what I like to call a "slow-small-savor" approach. Eat slowly, chewing your food well. Take small bites. And savor each morsel. The slow-small-savor approach may help you get more out of your food and help you lose weight, too, if that's your goal.
  2. Keep your body agile. Almost everything you want in life will be easier to achieve if you're more physically active. Each week, most healthy adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in addition to muscle-strengthening exercises. Work toward getting enough physical activity with these ideas:
    • Find practical ways to fit in fitness. Park your car farther away from the store, walk up the stairs, walk to your co-worker's office instead of calling, schedule a meeting away from your office, walk to where you choose to eat, walk while talking on the phone in your office or at home, schedule a walking meeting, or join an athletic club.
    • Combine physical activity with joyful attention. Taking a walk in nature is one way to do this. As you walk, look at the green grass, the blue sky, and the sizes and shapes of the clouds. Look at the plants and trees as selfless sages standing quietly, an emblem of peace, purifying the air, holding the soil together, and giving us lovely flowers and fruits while asking nothing in return.
  3. Get enough good-quality sleep. More than half of us don't get enough sleep, and often, our sleep is not restful. Your brain and body age faster with lack of sleep. Sleep is brain food, so consider sleep a sacred time. Make restful sleep a priority with these tips:
    • If you can, try not to take your worries to bed with you.
    • Relax your body and mind before going to sleep. A relaxing routine may include a warm bath, soothing reading, deep breathing or eating a light snack.
    • If a worry keeps bothering you, write it in a journal or try your best to postpone thinking about it until the morning.

Adapted from The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness, By Amit Sood. Learn more about the book and about Dr. Sood's Resilient Living program.

Experiments

  1. For one day, keep a food journal that lists what you eat, how much you eat and how you eat (quickly or slowly, while doing something else, and so on)
    • How mindful are you?
    • Are you an emotional eater?
  2. In addition to the regular physical activity you already get, take a 10-minute walk (outside if possible) three days this week.
  3. Do something relaxing each night this week to get ready for a restful night's sleep.
Dec. 23, 2016 See more In-depth