6 steps to a happy life, according to a top doctor

Nov 16, 2020
Health expert Dr Kieran Kennedy lists six steps you can take to lift your mood. Source: Getty.

‘Cheer up’, ‘don’t worry, be happy’, ‘wouldn’t kill you to smile’ — when you’re feeling unhappy, comments like these can actually do more harm than good. Sometimes we don’t feel like smiling and sometimes cheering up feels like an impossible task. And when we’re living through the year that we are, navigating the stressful, unchartered waters of a global pandemic, happiness can — and has for many — fallen by the wayside. It’s important to know that, in many ways, that’s to be expected and that it’s okay not to be okay. But, as well as knowing that being happy feels a whole lot better than not, it’s been proven that getting a little more of the happy stuff in our day, (however small), can be a boost for good health. Studies show that happy people are less likely to get sick, are less stressed overall and can live longer.

How do we find happiness when we feel hopeless?

First we need to recognise what happiness actually is. Happiness has a lot of definitions, but in general it encompasses the positive end of our emotional spectrum — inspiration, gratitude, hope, pleasure and contentment are good examples of positive emotions that all fall within the happy bubble. While at first it may sound silly, even just thinking about what happiness means to you can start to shift your mood. Below I’ve listed six steps you can take to lift your mood:

  1. Acts of kindness: Studies have shown that being kind to others and performing small acts of kindness increases feelings of gratitude and happiness. Something as simple as holding open a door for someone, helping someone with their groceries, or visiting an elderly relative has been scientifically proven to boost positive emotions.
  2. Be kind to yourself: Being kind to yourself is also key to happiness, and those who have learned to avoid perfectionism, social comparison and materialism are often found to be happier than those who focus on those same things. It’s easier said than done and often requires some time and practice, but you can rewire your brain to ensure negative patterns are ‘trained out’ of your thinking.
  3. Stay social: Studies show that in general, humans feel lifted and more positive when we’re making social connections with those around us. Seek out open social connections that foster a sense of safety and acceptance.
  4. Smell the roses (literally): Studies have shown that floral scents make a lot of us feel happier. The cognitive key here is that emotion is often strongly linked to memory. Cluing into sounds, smells and sights that are associated with positive emotions in the past can actually help boost your emotions in tough times.
  5. Exercise: There’s indisputable and undeniable evidence that shows time again that physical fitness is closely linked to feelings of positivity, but it’s definitely not about spending hours at the gym (unless you want to!). Even forms of activity like taking a walk to enjoy the fresh air will help boost your mood and start positive emotions flowing.
  6. Be grateful: Gratitude journals have become popular for a reason. No matter how difficult a day you’ve had, finding the time to pinpoint the positives is also proven to improve feelings of happiness in the long term. As a gratitude journal writer myself, I can attest that sometimes it acts as the jolt I need to realise that things aren’t really that bad.

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