Life can be tricky sometimes.
With competing schedules, conflicting personalities, and societal pressures the are seemingly always urging us to do more, as parents it’s easy to live in a state of constant stress and overwhelm.
Even for our kids, who are ideally enjoying the carefree days of childhood, the reality is that they are joining our stress and overwhelm at an increasingly earlier age.
For most of us, there are days, weeks, or even months where we could use a little more happiness in our lives.
But short of time-consuming and costly therapy sessions or trips to Disney World, how do we find it?
Fortunately, it’s not hard.
Here are five simple, research-based activities the entire family can do to bring a little happiness into your lives.
Before you start groaning and throwing up objections about how expensive a gym membership is and how you hate to exercise and really don’t have time to anyway, give it a chance.
Remember, these are simple ways to get happy.
No gym membership or coordinating spandex outfits needed here.
Even just 10 minutes of exercise a day can do the trick, and you can choose the activity that makes you the happiest.
Download an app with short routines the whole family can do, make up your own, or go full throttle and use that gym membership, it doesn’t matter.
The point is to fit in exercise of your choosing each day.
This should be a no-brainer for kids, but with the increasing reliance on screens to provide the bulk of entertainment, you may have to make it a conscious effort to get their exercise time in too.
What does science say?
While there’s a ton of support for the idea that exercise makes you happier, one really compelling study can be found in Shawn Achor’s excellent book The Happiness Advantage.
Depression patients were divided into three groups. One group received medication, one engaged in exercise, and a third did a combination of medication and exercise.
The three groups showed similar improvements in their happiness early on, but the follow-up results were surprising and encouraging.
After six months, 38% of those who had taken medication only had slipped back into depression. In the combination group, 31% had fallen back into depression.
Surprisingly, the exercise-only group had just 9% of its participants relapse into depression.
Of course you don’t have to start out depressed to benefit from exercise.
Numerous brain studies show that exercise releases feel-good hormones and chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, that will instantly boost your mood.
2. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
As a parent, you likely remember your parents urging you to eat your fruits and vegetables, as their parents before them likely did.
The known health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are nothing new, but what is emerging are
studies showing various foods can also have a positive effect on our emotions.
One consistent finding has been a positive correlation between fruits and vegetables and feelings of happiness.
For example, a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology in 2013 showed that eating an average of 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day may improve emotional well-being in healthy young adults.
Study subjects kept a diary tracking their positive and negative emotions as well as consumption of five specific foods.
Analysis of the diaries showed not only more energy and feelings of calm and happiness on the days the young adults consumed more fruits and vegetables, but that the effects actually continued into the following day.
This is one happiness trigger than can become a habit in your family, resulting in improved emotions and physical well-being without any extra time or effort.
3. Get Your Sleep
With so many things on our to-do lists and our children’s lists, sleep is often the first thing to go.
Yes, we know Johnny should have gotten in bed earlier tonight, but there was school, and soccer practice and we had to eat dinner, then his favorite show was on TV . . .
We think we’re doing our kids a favor by letting them enjoy the fun things in life while letting sleep slide, when we actually may be making life less fun for them.
While different kids and adults need different amounts of sleep, it is essential that you usually get however many hours your body needs.
Common sense and experience tells us we just feel better after a good night’s sleep.
We’ve all experienced the effects of sleep-deprivation that come with a newborn, and the results of sleep-deprivation when a young child throws a needless and unprovoked tantrum.
You may have heard that good sleep improves our focus and productivity, as those studies have been around for a long time.
More recent studies are showing that another positive effect of a good night’s sleep is increased happiness.
One interesting example is a study conducted by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, who directs the Center for Human Sleep Science.
In the study, Walker had sleep-deprived college students attempt to memorize a list of words.
The surprising result was the students could recall 81% of the words that had negative connotations, such as “cancer,” but only 31% of the more positive or neutral words, such as “sunshine.”
Researchers theorize that such results occur because sleep deprivation hits the area of the brain that processes positive emotions harder than it does the area of the brain that processes negative emotions.
In other words, if we go through the day tired, we’re more likely to focus on the negative than on what makes us happy.
Finding a volunteer project the whole family can participate in can be a great family bonding experience in many ways.
If that’s too hard to consistently coordinate or agree on, look for something your kids are interested in and age-appropriate opportunities to make it happen even in small ways.
It can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor by cutting his grass or walking his dog.
Many community organizations for underprivileged kids also have opportunities to just show up and play with the kids or be group leaders.
It may take a little effort to find something that's the right fit for your family’s interests and schedules but it will be worth the effort.
Studies consistently show that volunteering makes us happier.
The specific “why” behind this fact varies a bit, but basically comes down to some version of these factors listed by the Heart Foundation:
- Volunteering causes us to feel like we’re making a difference, when so often we feel that we can’t help solve the world’s problems.
- Volunteering makes you feel like you’re part of something big, as you join with a larger group of people to make life better for others.
- Volunteering makes you feel healthier because it keeps you active and about in the community.
- Volunteering is a chance to be social and experience the positive feelings that come with connecting with like-minded people.
- Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose as you give back to the community, spend your time being productive, and get to learn new skills in the process.
Again, keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be huge. Start as small as you need to, and don’t be surprised when you find yourself motivated to search for more involved volunteer projects for you and your family.
You may be rolling your eyes or thinking you could never get your family to agree to meditation.
Contrary to some popular myths, meditation can be a simple practice that doesn’t require you to purchase a special pillow and spend hours each day sitting cross-legged and chanting.
If your family is skeptical of meditation, agree to just give it a try for 30 days.
And, keep it simple. Download an app such as Calm (stick with the free version) and choose short 5 to 10 minute meditations.
You’ll find that you’re not doing much more than relaxing and trying to clear your head.
And studies universally show that what’s going on inside your head with a consistent meditation practice is that your brain is being rewired for happiness, among other positive traits.
There are many studies on this, but unless you want to go full scientific and really dig into why meditation makes you happy, the five summarized in this article should give you reason enough to commit to giving it a try.
To summarize those summaries even further, studies have concluded that meditation makes you happier because:
- It shrinks the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls anxiety and fear, thereby bringing you less stress and more joy.
- It lowers the amount of cortisol in your body, which is a stress hormone.
- It creates more activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is the happy, calm zone of the brain.
- It keeps our minds from wandering, allowing us to be present and engaged in what we’re doing and resulting in more happiness.
- It provides a level of relief from anxiety and depression similar to that of antidepressant drugs.
The tendency to discard meditation as an important part of our daily lives often comes from the fact that it sounds too good to be true.
How can being still and relaxing for a few minutes each day have any real effect on our happiness?
The endless number of studies that show that it does in fact work should be enough to convince even the hardened skeptic to give it a try!
And Don’t Forget to Party
Of course at Kids Party Characters, our number one way to get happy is to book your next party with us!
There is, however, nothing “simple” about a KidsPartyCharacters.com party.
With over 200 characters to choose from, your child’s first challenge will be to narrow it down to just one (or two!).
Whichever character gets the invite as her special party guest will show up ready to party with a fun and interactive show with your child and her guests.
We also have all the extras your child will love such as balloon twisting, face painting, and cotton candy.
Choose the package that’s right for you at KidsPartyCharacters.com and bring on the happiness.
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