What makes you happy? Mindfulness, Hygge and beyond.

It’s International Day of Happiness, a good time to think about what makes us happy and steps we can take to improve.

Our emotional wellbeing can have an impact, both positive and negative, on our physical health. It’s a fact backed by countless studies including the annual World Happiness Report.

In 2017, Norway topped the polls of the World Happiness Report. They’re joined in the top four by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. The rankings look at the main factors that are considered to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, income and good governance.

The 2017 report also examined the social foundations of happiness and it’s importance and demonstrated how work is also a big part of our happiness with unemployment being linked to lower scores.

Within countries, differences in happiness appeared not to be explained by discrepancies in income, but by difference in mental health, physical health and personal relationships.

Patients with chronic illness and chronic pain have higher rates of depression and we know that depression can worsen our experiences of illness and pain – the physical and the psychological are intrinsically linked.

When faced with troubles – stress at work or home, financial worries or health worries, it can be easy to focus on these and lose sight of what keeps us happy. In psychiatry sometimes these are referred to as protective factors – unique facets our lives that keep us safe and happy. For some, it might their family, their spouse, pets – to be honest it can be anything, as long as it works for you. Imagine the scene from Harry Potter – where he has to visualise a happy memory that Harry Potter before he could fly a broom – it’s the same principle! By understanding those principles that truly make us happy, we can call on them in times of need.

Not losing sight of those factors, or the bigger picture, are similar to concepts explored by mindfulness. A Buddhist philosophy that promotes the focusing on the here and the now, and quietening our minds to the external stressors. Mindfulness is gaining popularity in and outside of medicine and it’s ability to help with problems such as anxiety are becoming more apparent. There are lots of really useful online tools for mindfulness and if you’re someone who has anxious tendencies, they are worth exploring.

One way to naturally boost those happy feelings are exercise. There is a unique sense of wellbeing that comes after a work out or after exerting yourself. The process itself promotes the release of endorphins that boost our mood. Not to mention the added benefits on the body, the heart, improved sleep etc.

In honour of International Happiness Day, I have been reading about Hygge.

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A cosy, bubble of good feelings that has come from our Danish cousins – it might not be that much of a coincidence that they made into the runner up position on the World Happiness Index after all.

Hygge, which has been open to some speculation, has saturated our media – newspapers, blogs, insta posts, of late. So popular, the Oxford Dictonary short-listed it as a word of the year in 2016 (it lost out to ‘post-truth’). But what is it all about? In short, it’s an approach to living that embraces the positive and enjoyment in everyday experiences which are thought to be core in the attitudes of Scandinavia.

Whether you choose to follow the teachings of mindfulness, the concepts of Hygge, you work it out in the gym or another path to happiness, remember this: your emotional health is as important as your physical health. We are well when we are holistically well, our body and mind working well together.