How to Increase Happiness- Living a Life of Positivity

by Megan Taylor

Personal development legend Jim Rohn stated: “happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present”. In a world where we are constantly seeking things to make us happier, improve our success, and overall live a better life, how do we “design our own happiness”?

I first wanted to take a moment and explore the benefits of living a happier life. According to CNN, happiness is less about your financial status, and more about the freedom to make choices, building relationships, and overall well being. From my research, I found that things such as stress management, lower rates of depression, and improved physical and mental well-being are experienced with a happier and more positive mindset. However, with so many apps for our phone, programs sent to our email, books to read, and quizzes to take on facebook; it can be difficult to find the right tools to start making positive changes towards a more positive outlook on life.

Here are three, tried and true, actionable items that you can start implementing into your daily life starting now to improve your mindset, enhance your positivity, and increase your happiness.

 
 

1.   Be Mindful-  Psychology Today described mindfulness as: “paying attention to the present moment with intention, while letting go of judgment”. To work towards becoming more mindful, start by sitting in silence and meditating for 5 minutes every morning before you start your day.  Check out this article to start a meditation practice, and I would also encourage you to establish a morning routine. The Miracle Morning is a great resource to help you establish a morning routine which then allows you be more mindful and centered as you go about your day.

 
 

2.   Sleep- A study completed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that “higher sleep regularity was significantly related to higher morning and evening happiness, healthiness and calmness during the week” and that “regular sleep is associated with improved well-being.” The question is, are you sleeping enough and is your quality of sleep adequate? To find the answer to this question, ask yourself: how many hours of sleep do I usually get? Do I hit the “snooze” button multiple times every morning and have to drag myself out of bed? what is my sleep environment like? Are there many bright lights, is the room hot, do I have to use sleep aids? If any of these questions have you considering an overhaul of your night time routine, check our article on how to improve your sleep.

 
 

3.   Smile- Body language has a way of forcing us into a happier and more positive mindset even if deep down we don’t actually feel happy or positive. This idea of “fake it until you make it” is actually right! By smiling at the cashier at Starbucks, standing tall and walking with confidence instead of showing your insecurities, and speaking up when you have something to say even if your voice shakes all triggers the same part of your brain that allows you to feel more confident. If you engage in negative self-talk, our bodies will reflect that; however if we spread ourselves out, our minds react in order to make us feel more powerful. Simple body language such as standing tall, or smiling, can lead to increased assertiveness, confidence, and overall feeling of happiness. Check out our article on body language to start improving yours today.

A positive mindset and a happy life are truly yours for the taking and by setting up habits and using tools such as confident body language, improving your sleep, and being mindful of your daily routine, you are allowing yourself to fully invest and take advantage of all that life has to offer. You are worthy of living a happy life so take some time to invest in yourself and as Jim Rohn so eloquently puts it, “if you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”

Exercise and the Brain


Combat Stress, Depression, and Anxiety through Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but do we really understand the nitty-gritty details of what is happening in our brain when we exercise? Studies show that by engaging in exercise for as little as one hour a day, stress and anxiety levels are reduced and individuals who suffer from depression have found some relief. Recent statistics show that 6.7% of americans are clinically depressed, 18% suffer from anxiety, and 44% report increased stress over the past four years.  In a world where we are constantly and consistently being told to do more, produce faster, and to also be balanced and healthy, no wonder stress, anxiety, and depression rates are at their current heights! The question then is, can exercise really combat these mental health struggles and if so, how?

A History of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “antidepressant rates rose by 400 percent between 1988 and 2008” Along with the immense sense of overwhelming emptiness and sadness that comes with being clinically depressed, other symptoms such as: feeling tired, weight related issues such as Type 2 Diabetes, and increased chance of heart disease are also associated with depression, making it a physical as well as a mental issue.

Did you know that anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill. With 18% of the U.S. population suffering from anxiety, and another 12% not being properly diagnosed, has anyone asked why anxiety rates continue to soar?

Research completed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that from 1983-2009 stress rates increased 18% for women and 24% for men. Research to support the increase in stress suggested that “economic pressures are greater, and it's harder to turn off information”. With continually increased economic pressure and more information being thrown at us, are stress, anxiety, and depression levels going to continue to rise or can we work to combat them?

Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health
With stress, anxiety, and depression levels rising, it is important to investigate how the brain responds to these stressors and how exercise can help to lower these levels.

  • Hippocampus- center for emotion and memory
    The Hippocampus shrinks as we age, resulting in memory loss, increased risk for Dementia, and more. However, by engaging in physical, aerobic, exercise, it has been proven that within 1-2 years, the size of the Hippocampus can increase, resulting in better and improved memory. As memory improves, anxiety of aging and stress of forgetting details lowers; resulting in higher productivity at work, and lower rates of mental decline as you age.

  • Amygdala- part of the brain associated with emotions
    This tiny part of our brain houses our primitive fight or flight responses. Many of our emotions, reactions, and response are learned habits that we can essentially re-program through, you guessed it, exercise! When faced with stressful situations, our brain will immediately respond with the path of least resistance. If you typically reach for that extra piece of chocolate cake when you have a hard deadline coming up, or you grab a pack of cigarettes when your spouse is on your last nerve, or you bottle up your emotions when you feel angry, all of these negative, self-destructive behaviors can be re-programmed by forcing yourself to go for a run, hit up a kickboxing class, lift weights at the gym, or go for a swim. A release of “happy chemicals” (which I discuss in the point below) essentially shifts you out of the “lizard brain” mentality and into higher levels of thinking.

  • “Happy Chemicals”- Responsible for putting you into a positive state of mind
    Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the quartet that triggers those feeling of happiness, positivity, and motivation. These neurochemicals are released when you do things such as: making new goals (dopamine), focus on the things you do well (serotonin), deepen relationships (oxytocin), and exercising (endorphins). By daily engaging in activities that release these “happy chemicals”, you are able to lower depression, anxiety, and stress levels and find ways to enjoy life.

 

Action Items to Improve Your Daily Life
We’ve seen the severity of rising stress, anxiety, and depression rates and we’ve looked at how those feelings affect our brain and that exercise truly does help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression rates. The question now is, how do I start? Below are three easy ways to get started in under one hour every day:

  1. Take a walk
    Even just walking for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night can help you shift out of a negative mindset or anxiety loop and help your brain shift into a better mindset. Change your pace throughout your walk from a stroll to a brisk pace and then back down to a stroll to increase your heart rate.

  2. Hit the weights
    Take 30 minutes to an hour every day and lift heavy weights. By lifting weights you not only increase bone density and decrease the likelihood of osteoporosis as you age, but you also get that awesome endorphin rush! Find a local gym or set up a home gym and get lifting. There are great, easy workout plans online, just be sure to start small and ask questions if you need help.

  3. Stretch
    Whether it is taking a yoga class, following along to a youtube video, or creating your own stretching routine, take 10-20 minutes every day and stretch your body out! By breathing deeply and centering yourself, you have the ability to instantly shift your mindset to a positive place. Youtube has great resources so start there if you aren’t quite sure where to begin

If stress, anxiety, or depression have been ruling your life, take back control by centering your mind, getting your body moving, and recognizing that you have the power to change your life, so start today.

If You Can Count to 5, You Can Change Your Life

by Megan Taylor

I bet you’ve heard this before: “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear”, did you know that there’s actually a ton of truth in that statement? Take a moment and think about the things you want in your life. What do you dream about? Where does your mind go when you just let it wander? What are the things you hold back from saying, doing, or pursuing in your life? Now, take a moment and consider the commonality that stops you from doing, dreaming, and working towards those things. It all boils down to fear. Fear of failing, fear of saying or doing something others might find to be dumb, fear of letting others down. This fear is paralyzing, it cripples you from the inside out and forces you into the safety net where your dreams and goals are simply that, dreams that won’t ever be realized or acted upon.

I’m going to let you in on my secret weapon for combatting fear, for putting dreams and goals into action, and for living life to the fullest. You ready for it? Here it is: 5,4,3,2,1, GO.

You might think I'm crazy, and you may be right, but this little countdown trick called the “5 second rule” is a game changer. I’m serious! I have spent 90% of my life living in fear. I was hiding in this shell of a normal life with a 9-5 job where I cleaned the house and did the dishes because that’s what, as a woman, I am supposed to do, and if I just stayed in that safety net, everything would be ok. I hated my job, felt that I had no voice, was unhappy with how I looked and felt, and was slowly destroying myself from the inside out with the negative self-talk and self-destructive mindset. I didn’t feel empowered to ask for things I wanted, I didn’t have any goals I was working towards, and I wasn’t happy in my own skin. Then, one day, I happened upon an interview on the School of Greatness podcast between Lewis Howes and Mel Robbins and it changed my life. Mel started by saying that “our thoughts are either the killers of our dreams or our biggest cheerleaders”; I paused the interview and thought for a good ten minutes about my self-talk and realized how destructive and unproductive it was. The things you say in your mind become your reality so by continually telling yourself “you’re fat”, “you aren’t good enough”, “you probably can’t achieve that”, those words will slowly become your truth.

Mel’s “five second rule” is focused on changing your life 5 seconds at a time. You can change your life in 5 seconds by taking those moments where you are scared to speak up in a meeting, confront your spouse about something that is bothering you, change the self-talk in your mind, or really any other decision where you lean into the fear and do that thing that scares you instead of backing into the safety net and doing or saying nothing. These small, five second moments will grow and evolve and strengthen until your confidence develops. By discovering your truth, by leaning into fear, you become the person you want to be and you allow yourself to make choices on how you want to live instead of allowing fear to run your life. By “hearing your truth and speaking it no matter how your voice shakes”, you take ownership of your life and open the doors to endless possibilities.

How do you start? You 5,4,3,2,1 and go! The next time you are faced with something that makes you uncomfortable, instead of going into that autopilot mode you change the gear into drive and count backward in your head, 5,4,3,2,1, and then you move. You aren’t going to feel like doing it, you’ll probably start sweating, and you may even feel a little nauseous, but the point is that you are doing it. You are moving into the fear, you are conquering self-doubt, and more importantly, you are proving that you are worthy of your dreams. You only have one life so lean into the things that scare you, go for it, and prove to yourself that you can accomplish the dreams and goals you’ve set for yourself.

I started using the five second rule three months ago and I can honestly say that I am a changed woman. When negative self-talk creeps up I 5,4,3,2,1 and switch my mindset to something more positive, when there is something at work that I want to achieve I 5,4,3,2,1 and ask the question, or start the project, or initiate the change to make that goal happen. This rule can be applied to any area of your life: work, school, parenting, self-care, friendships, romantic relationships, business decisions, literally anywhere that you are forced to make decisions, this rule can be applied. Whenever you feel that instinct to act, you need to lean into it and move towards that instinct. It may sound like a simple rule but it does not mean that it is an easy rule! It’s easy to continue with your job instead of asking your boss for a promotion, it’s easy to roll over and go to sleep instead of asking your spouse to be intimate with you, it’s easy to tell yourself you look fat in that new dress you just bought instead of being confident in the hard work you’ve put in at the gym, and it’s easy to let life pass you by instead of putting in the work to make your dreams a reality. Life really could be an easy walk in the park, but is that really going to satisfy you at the end of the day? The worst thing that could happen is someone says “no”. That’s it! Your job won’t disappear because you go out on a limb and ask for a raise, your spouse won’t divorce you because you ask them to be intimate with you, your friends won’t make fun of you for looking amazing in a dress even if you don’t quite believe you can pull it off. The world will not end and the sun will come up tomorrow. You simply need to get out of your head long enough to move into the scary, uncertain territory of something new. You do that by going 5,4,3,2,1 MOVE.

Everything you’ve ever wanted really is on the other side of fear and the awesome part is now you know how to get to the other side. Check out Mel Robbin’s book “The Five Second Rule” and her interview on the School of Greatness podcast here and start changing your life today.