At the beginning of this series of GuidePosts we noted that the number of people reporting stress, anxiety and depression is massive! The WHO note that mental health issues have increased 13% in the last decade (in 2017) and substance disorders up some 20% and with suicide as the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds - you realise that this is a huge problem.
1 Billion people across the world suffer a mental health problem in 2022!
That’s 1 person in 8!!!
The increase of substance abuse is evidence that people are trying to cope with their stress, anxiety and depression with the “pleasure” of the dopamine high. This is creating a dopamine imbalance which can lead to addiction and is instead making us chronically unhappy according to Dr Robert Lustig in his excellent book, Hacking of the American Mind.
In all our striving in the pursuit of happiness we seem to be paying the price in alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, excess unhealthy food (ice cream, chocolate), smoking and social media “likes”. Meanwhile stress and anxiety are on the rise and incidents of rage make the news daily.
And that stress and cortisol increase reward seeking behaviour and decrease reasoning ability!
The world isn’t in pursuit of happiness, it’s seeking pleasure to offset the stresses of living… because it’s quicker than actually pursuing happiness and joy!
How do you increase happiness and joy in your whole life?
I’m so glad that you asked.
As I mentioned - taking a dopamine pleasure high route is quicker - especially (ab)using substances. BUT, it’s short lived and within minutes or hours you’ll be after another high due to the increasing dopamine imbalance and addiction.
Instead we can deal with chronic unhappiness and gain long term benefits through some simple, deliberate changes to how we go about our every day life. Dr Lustig proposes a solution he calls the 4C’s of Happiness: Connect, Contribute, Cope and Cook. (Check out “Hacking the American Mind”)
Connect with people you like and enjoy. Join your local church, a social group or simply have a conversation. Preferably in person. Make sure that you practice empathy with them - this engages your mirror neurons to feel what they feel, or to “walk in their shoes”. The result is a serotonin boost and a feeling of personal contentment and fulfils your own personal need for belonging and perhaps mattering.
Time with pets can also be beneficial and achieve much the same result.
PS. Emailing, Facebooking, Insta’ing, Threading or X’ing is NOT connecting.
Give something of yourself: your time, your resources, your skills, your energy and your attention to something larger than yourself. Volunteer at a shelter, help a charity, make or repair something for someone else who needs your help.
Giving to others is self-transcendent (spoiler alert! This is a large part of your purpose in this life!) and fulfils your personal need to matter.
Three activities that will improve your serotonin receptors in your brain (and hence make you feel happier and better): Sleep, Mindfulness and Exercise.
Sleep deprivation increases stress and cortisol and causes depression!. Sleep is so essential for your brain and body and can fill several volumes alone for the essential benefits and much advice. Read Why We Sleep, by Mathew Walker or Claudia Aguirre’s 7 Healthy Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep.
PS. Screens KILL sleep!!! And trying to multitask (which you cannot!!) is costing you sleep because it increases stress and cortisol.
Mindfulness practice helps you alter your brain waves and calms your mind deliberately. We’ll be using a mindful process in bridging from stress to joy.
Exercise regularly. Whatever takes your fancy. I personally recommend walking - even better with some company or a dog. Decent brisk walking is nothing but beneficial. Running is tougher on your body, cycling means dodging pedestrians and cars. And good stretching is amazingly beneficial - pilates or yoga for low impact.
Combine exercise with mindfulness is better than using SSRI’s for treating depression!
PS. TV/Netflix surfing increases dopamine, kills sleep, is mindless and usually accompanied with unnecessary trips to the fridge for another beer, candy bar or ice cream.
Cook for yourself! If you don’t know how to cook, you are being held hostage by the food industry (most who are in it to make profit and care less about your health and well-being and like you being addicted to sugar highs etc!)
You need to boost two items in your diet and knock one out: Up Tryptophane, More Omega 3 and Less Fructose.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found sometimes in whole milk, nuts, seeds, eggs, poultry and fish (esp Salmon). It is the precursor to serotonin. You need more of it!
Omega 3 is another fatty acid that is an anti-inflammatory and improves your mood. Find it in fish (esp Salmon and Mackeral), algae, nuts, plant oils.
Fructose is added sugar. Reduce and better still, cut it. It depletes serotonin and ramps up your dopamine. It is the anti-happiness food of choice!
PS Fast food is your enemy. Fish is your friend (and no I don’t mean filet o’ fish burgers!) Learn to cook and choose wisely - your body and brain will thank you.
That’s it! Connect with others, Contribute by giving, Cope by sleeping well and mindful exercise and Cook (fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds) for yourself. You will be happy!
What about Joy?
It is said that Joy is of the heart, happiness is on the face.
We’re going to tackle How to Increase Joy@Work next.