Surprising Factors That Affect Our Moods and Happiness
Over the years researching happiness and positivity, I have noticed that there are certain factors that affect how happy and positive I am. Some of these might seem obvious to most people, but I have also found that there are other less apparent elements that have an effect on my overall mood, and, possibly, yours.
All of us want to be happy, positive, and optimistic. Furthermore, most of us prefer to be in the company of others who display these uplifting traits. After all, it is not fun to be around someone who is miserable, negative, and pessimistic. Both positive and negative-minded people can often be identified easily by what they say and how they act even if they are not aware of it themselves.
What I have learned is that when I do certain things, I feel much happier and upbeat. Conversely, if I neglect to do these things, my overall mood and disposition is affected negatively. This is independent of the external circumstances in my life. All of us will experience occasional moments of intense joy (when we get married, get a job promotion, or receive that hard-earned diploma, for example) and intense sadness (when a loved one dies or we fail at an important endeavor, for example). However, most of the time, our daily lives are average and lack extreme highs and lows. It is that average day-to-day living I am referring to that is affected.
Factors That Affect My Mood
1. The Types of Friends I Surround Myself With
I try to choose my friends carefully because I have discovered that the types of friends I associate with can affect my mood either positively or negatively. When I am with people who are optimistic, happy, disciplined, responsible, and supportive, I feel more upbeat and am more likely to adopt their disposition. However, when I associate with those who are pessimistic, unhappy, undisciplined, irresponsible and critical, it affects my psyche in a negative manner. Because of this, I have distanced myself from people who always seem to invite problems and heartache into their lives.
2. The Food I Eat
This may seem surprising, but the quality of my nutrition actually affects how I feel. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects our mood, as you may already know. However, what most people are not aware of is that 95% of our serotonin is produced in our gastrointestinal tract, which in turn is affected by the quality of food we consume. Processed food and food that is full of sugar and saturated fat affect our gut in a negative way, and that affects our brain. Studies have shown that eating unprocessed food mainly comprising fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and seafood has a positive effect on our bodies and also our mood. This explains why people who consume a traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diet typically have 25-35% less depression than those consuming a western diet. Having experimented with different types of food, I have noticed that my diet plays a big part in determining my overall mood. When I neglect proper nutrition, my mood suffers.
The link between exercise and mood has been researched extensively. The findings are quite conclusive. The longer and more regularly we exercise, the better our mood. It is quite obvious to me that when I exercise, I am happier and more optimistic. However, if I miss a workout, I feel like something is amiss, I feel more sluggish, and I am not as upbeat and alert as I normally am. The next time you are feeling down, try going for a brisk walk or run and see for yourself how it affects your psyche.
4. Getting Proper Sleep
I am one of those people that requires at least 8 hours of proper sleep each night. When I fail to get adequate sleep, I become more prone to stress and get more irritable and upset. Besides getting enough sleep every night, sticking to a regular sleep pattern also helps our mood. That is why I started going to bed at the same time each night. When my sleep pattern gets disrupted, I notice a negative change in my mood. Try going to bed early for 2 weeks and you will be amazed at how you feel.
5. Quiet Time/Meditation
Our brains are constantly active. We are always thinking about what we want, what we lack, and how things could be better. This gets exhausting and that is why we need to incorporate quiet time into our daily routines. This quiet time can take the form of sitting down and doing nothing, taking a slow stroll in the woods, or meditation, something I practice almost daily. Giving our restless minds a break counteracts our sympathetic nervous system which is our defence mechanism in times of stress. I notice a clear difference when I neglect to meditate in the morning as I usually do. I become more uptight and more prone to irritability and anger. However, when I remember to meditate and include quiet time in my day, I become more at peace and am better able to face problems. See if you can incorporate 10 minutes of quiet time into your daily routine. Do this for a week or two and you almost certainly will find that you will be happier, less stressed, and more at ease in the world.
6. Multitasking Versus Monotasking
I have talked about the disadvantages of multitasking in this post. When we try to do too many things at once, we get stressed and are not able to focus on doing one thing well. It actually makes us feel lousy and less in control. When we multitask, we are never fully present to enjoy what we are currently doing because we are constantly switching tasks. This does not just pertain to work-related issues. For example, some people eat their dinner while also checking their email or phone with the TV blaring in the background. The mind is scattered and trying to juggle too many tasks at the same time. That is why I always try to monotask rather than multitask, and it has greatly reduced stress in my life. When I am eating dinner, I try to savor every moment and bite.
7. Excessive Alcohol Consumption
As most of us know, alcohol is a depressant which affects our brain chemistry. It also reduces the amount of serotonin in our brains. Studies have revealed that people who suffer from anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be excessive drinkers. I love wine and have drunk my fair share over the years. However, when I drink too much, I experience negative feelings and feel horrible the next day. Furthermore, because I feel hungover, I am less likely to do the other things listed in this post that contribute towards a better mood. When I enjoy one glass of wine or refrain from drinking altogether, I notice that my mood is much happier. I also get more accomplished and this makes me more happy, too.
8. Negative Media
Our media today is often full of sex, violence and negativity. We are exposed to it everywhere and that is why it is important to be vigilant about what we watch, listen to, and read. Many years ago, I would get comfortable on my couch in the evenings and watch crime shows, violent movies, and negative news broadcasts. I began to notice that my mood was being affected negatively so I decided to greatly reduce the amount of negative media I consumed. It is one thing if we are exposed to negative media occasionally. However, most of us are constantly bombarded with it and, over time, this has a negative effect on our mood. Try this: be aware of the quality of media you watch, read, or listen to over a period of weeks and rid yourself of the negative stuff. Replace it with uplifting and positive media and notice how your mood will improve as a result.
9. Practicing Gratitude
Practicing daily gratitude is one of the most powerful changes I have made in my life. You will be pleasantly surprised when you notice the benefits of giving thanks each day for all that is right and good in your life. It will make you aware that your glass is not only half-full (rather than half-empty), but perhaps overflowing. Regularly taking stock of the many blessings that exist in my life has dramatically improved my overall mood and outlook on life.
Positive visualization can be very powerful and that is why I spend a few minutes each morning practicing it. Human beings tend to have an inherent negativity bias that causes us to worry unnecessarily and imagine the worst. Visualization is the practice of envisioning positivity and good in our lives and it can greatly affect our mood and level of optimism. When done regularly, it can be very effective. Try it for yourself for a couple of weeks and see the difference it makes with your mood.
11. My Expectations
One of the most effective ways I have found to improve my mood is to be aware of my expectations. Most of us have expectations about how our lives and the world in general should be. We want others to act in a certain way, the weather to be just perfect, the traffic during our commute to be flowing, our kids to behave the way we want them to, our careers to develop as we wish, etc. Clearly, things do not always work out the way we hoped and this gives rise to disappointment, anger, stress, and sadness. The only thing we can do is our very best and then we should let things go. When we do things to the best of our abilities and then let go of expectations, we find peace and happiness. This is a hard lesson for most of us to grasp and apply. This is not the same as complacency because being complacent does not involve doing our level best. Learning to reduce my expectations has helped me to reduce my disappointment and become much happier. Ironically, it helps me to achieve more because I am not focusing on things that disappoint me and I cannot control.
12. My Internal Dialogue
We are all a product of our past experiences and not all experiences are pleasant ones. We are also constantly talking to ourselves, judging people and circumstances, and, most importantly being harsh on ourselves. That is why so many people feel that they are not good enough, not smart enough, too old, too young, not attractive, or complete failures. None of this is true, of course, but when we send ourselves those messages day in and day out, we start to believe them. That is why it is so important to be aware of the conversations we have with ourselves. This is done by being mindful. When we are able to take a step back and ‘observe’ the manner in which we speak to ourselves, the negative internal dialogue slowly but surely loses its power. We begin to see that our internal voice is not always right and we can then replace it with more positive messages that serve us better. It is not easy, but, with effort, we can change the tone of our internal voice. This awareness has had a positive effect on my mood and overall happiness and confidence.
13. Improvement Versus Stagnancy
The last factor that has a substantial impact on my mood and happiness is related to whether I am improving as a person, stagnating, or even worse, regressing. I have noticed that I am happiest when I challenge myself, try new things, and leave my comfort zone. I used to to love the safety of my own comfort zone until I realized that, in order to visit new lands, one must lose sight of the shore. I have to experience some discomfort if I want to grow and progress. This applies to everything from my relationships, to the gym, to my career, etc. I have learned to look at discomfort as a sign of improvement and I try to welcome it. Most human beings need purpose and challenge in their lives in order to be happy and content, and stagnancy does not provide that. See if you can push yourself slightly outside your comfort zone in different areas of your life for a couple of weeks even if it is a little scary. I think you will be much happier that you did. I know that this has made me a lot happier.
When I pay close attention to and apply these 13 factors in my life, I am a much happier and more optimistic person. My overall mood is more upbeat and I experience less sadness, frustration and anger. This is not a one time quick fix. I still have to work on these every day. However, with practice, we can all change our mindset and our moods, leading to a much happier and more fulfilling life.