Sunday Snippet: Finding Happiness
As camp directors at WeHaKee Camp for Girls, we often see campers that struggle with being happy when they first arrive at camp. Their bags are filled not only with shorts, flip flops, and swimsuits but with the pressures from their school and home communities to be someone other than who they may want to be. However, in the accepting camp environment, they soon begin to let go of those pressures and explore their real selves. That is when we begin to see them experience true contentment, pleasure, and joy. Real happiness is entering their lives!
Huffington Post contributor, Belle Beth Cooper explored the pursuit of happiness and offered several scientifically based steps to achieving happiness in her article 10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science (The Huffington Post, November, 11, 2013). Here are some of the happiness tips she discovered in her examination of the research:
Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough
So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all. Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression.
Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions
We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.
Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.
Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference in how happy we feel, generally.
Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C
Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood but broadened thinking and improved working memory… Being outdoors… on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all-natural environments than they were in urban environments.
Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number
One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives. …we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain
Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts. Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.
Plan a trip – but don’t take one
As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.
Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness
Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity, and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness. Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life.
Our fight/flight mechanism causes us to flee not only from physical difficulties but also from emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions however, only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia. Strategies to release emotional turbulence include sitting in silence and thinking in detail about what triggered the negative emotion. The key is to do so as an observer — stepping outside of yourself as if you’re reporting for a newspaper. It’s a visualization technique used by psychotherapists to detach a person from their emotions, which allows you to process an experience objectively and rationally. (Belle Beth Cooper, The Huffington Post, November 11, 2013)
It’s amazing to think about how many of these techniques can be found in the camp environment. Exercise, spending time with friends, being outside, helping others, and simply smiling all occur on a regular basis throughout each day at camp. No wonder for many campers when asked to describe their ‘happy place’, they almost always describe camp! Thanks for reading and have a great week!