Now is a good time to acquire the happiness habit so that happiness and health — which are often linked — continue past the holidays, says Liz (Housholder) Bapasola, Ed.D., my daughter.
A 2000 East Noble High School graduate, she has a doctorate in education and advanced training and certifications in life coaching. Liz and I have shared many conversations about health, happiness and habits.
Her recent blogs at lizbapasola.com offer insights about how to create a habit and how to use habits to your advantage. For example, here are excerpts from her Nov. 23 blog entry:
"As we enter the winter months in the midst of the pandemic, less daylight and colder weather on top of social distancing and mask wearing could take a serious toll on your happiness and well-being ... I’d like to offer five habits for you to develop so you stay happy and well this winter.
"Researchers have found that on any given day 45-90% of our thoughts and actions are habitual, and these habits could be helping you be happy or could be hurting your levels of happiness and well-being. The key is to be intentional with building new habits in your life that help your well-being and happiness. And over time break bad habits that hinder your progress and happiness.
"Here are my top five recommended habits to have in your life during these tough winter months."
Count your blessings
By now you probably have heard of the concept of a gratitude journal. It is simply a record of the things that you’re thankful for, from people in your life, your health, clean water, soft sheets, and the like. It can be big things, like getting a promotion at work or the birth of a child, to tiny things, like your favorite mug.
There are various methods on how to keep a gratitude journal, such as the idea to never repeat anything on your list so your mind is always searching for new things/people/experiences to be grateful for, or to always write down things that you’re grateful for that occurred in the past 24 hours.
For me, writing down at least five things every morning as I take my first sips of hot coffee, with three of those things having occurred in my life in the past 24 hours. The other two things I write every day because they are so important to me and I never, ever want to take them for granted.
I’ve heard of some successful people who write things down that haven’t occurred yet in their life, but they desire them deeply. Writing it down in their gratitude journal helps them believe the goal will come true.
How you come up with your list is up to you. The key is that it works for you and it is deeply meaningful.
Recent research on the effects of keeping a gratitude journal is powerful. People tend to be happier and less depressed. A study just published by researchers from Berkley looked at 300 college students who were seeking counseling for mental health challenges. One group that sought counseling also was instructed to write weekly gratitude letters to someone, where another group was instructed to write about their negative emotions in addition to counseling, and a third was the control group doing nothing but counseling.
They found that compared to the group that wrote about their negative emotions and experiences and those who just did counseling without writing anything down, the group that wrote gratitude letters “reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.” Researchers wrote that “it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.”
Don't forget to exercise
You probably know that exercise and moving your body is good for you, but ask yourself right now how often you do it. Not only does exercise help you prevent a number of chronic diseases and helps you control your weight, it improves your mental well-being.
While the Centers for Disease Control recommends you get about 150 minutes of exercise each week, or about 30 minutes a day, five days a week, I recommend that you make a daily habit of at least 5 minutes of exercise a day and work your way up to 30 minutes a day, seven days a week.
If you’re not exercising at all right now, 5 minutes a day, I hope, seems doable. Over time you can build your stamina and get the recommended amount of weekly exercise. The key is to do something that you enjoy, whether jogging, biking, dancing, weight training, high intensity interval training, or anything else that gets your heart rate up and stops you from sitting at your desk or on your couch. When you make exercise a part of your day, your mood and your body will thank you.
Slow walking is a restorative movement for your body that is different than speed walking or other types of exercise that get your heart rate up.
Walking outside is not only restorative for your body, it gives you the chance to breathe fresh air and get a dose of Vitamin D sunshine, which also boosts your mood.
Use this walking time with a loved one by either finding a walking buddy or calling a friend or family member. Talk to them as you stroll around the neighborhood or local park.
Don’t let the bad weather deter you. Wear lots of layers if it’s cold, bring an umbrella on days it rains every second of the day, but get a walk in every day. I’ve been walking every day, rain or shine, for 30 minutes since March 2020 and it’s been a game changer for me.
Maintaining social connections in this time of social distancing during a pandemic is crucial for your well-being.
You can do this by scheduling phone or Zoom catch-ups on a weekly basis, creating a private Facebook group so you can update each other with pictures and other posts, or sending an old-fashioned card in the mail that tells them how much they mean to you. Social connection is critical for your well-being and happiness.
During this period of time when we’re told to be 6 feet apart from those outside our household, staying socially connected is vital.
Record your small wins each night before bed. Reflecting on your day and writing down a list of all the things you did that you’re proud of is a game changer for your happiness levels.
We are motivated when there’s progress in our lives, and taking 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what went right in your day gets you in a positive state of mind before bed and allows your subconscious mind to keep thinking about those positive things as you sleep at night. I’ve been doing this nightly journal habit for months now and it truly helps me remember that even the small steps towards progress on my goals matter. I always can come up with at least one or two things I did that made a difference in the day.
Remember to implement the three-step process in creating a new habit so these actions become habitual in your life and you’ll be well on your way to a happier self this winter.
The three-step process for creating a habit can be found at lizbapasola.com/articles.
misdiagnosis was key
to new 'fantastic life'
Like my daughter Liz Bapasola, Dr. Allen Lycka also suggests that we focus on gratitude for a happier life.
Formerly a dermatologist, Lycka is an author, speaker and mentor.
When he was at the top of his career in 2003, he was told he had six months to live. That misdiagnosis transformed his life and led him to discover a new calling, as explained in his book, "The Secrets To Living A Fantastic Life … Discover The 13 Golden Pearls Within," co-authored with Woman of Distinction winner Harriet Tinka, who had a similar life experience, surviving death after being kidnapped, stabbed, and left for dead.
“As we approach the holidays — and all the expectations that come with them — it’s worth remembering that in life you can’t control everything,” Lycka says. “That’s true even in the best circumstances, but it’s been especially true this year. It is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens.”
With all the negative things that 2020 brought, it’s easy to forget the many things you can be thankful for, Lycka says. Giving thanks for what we have and for the people in our lives, and realizing that this is something that will bring us joy changes your perception. “It turns from having a 'me' focus to a focus on others. Even in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I can press pause, enter my own zone of silence and picture all I am grateful for, and this is my secret weapon to the daily stresses of the 21st century. Practice this regularly and experience a radical change in your life.”
He also encourages self-compassion. "Showing compassion for others is wonderful, but it’s also important to show yourself compassion if you feel you failed to meet other people’s holiday expectations, or if world events cause you more worries than you can handle.
"Self-compassion is the practice of noticing what you’re feeling and remembering that you’re human and therefore fallible, just like everyone else. It’s about treating yourself with the same kindness you would give to a beloved friend. Unfortunately, few of us have been trained to respond to ourselves in this way. Much more often, our response is to beat ourselves up when we stumble. But research has shown — and your own experience may echo — that self-flagellation is counterproductive.”
He also reminds us that holidays can be a time when grudges become magnified. He says forgiveness will do more than just make the holidays better. It makes all of life better.
"When we refuse to forgive and instead indulge in thoughts or acts of revenge, retaliation and hate, we keep the cycle going and going,” Lycka says. “I once read that forgiveness does not mean you have to break bread with the transgressor. What it does mean for you, in the most positive sense, is when you wish them well you also give yourself peace.”
He also suggests spontaneous acts of kindness. “Have you ever noticed how good it feels to say or do something kind for someone else? Performing random, spontaneous acts of kindness has been shown to boost self-image, lead us to perceive others more compassionately, promote a greater sense of connection with others, and feel grateful for our good fortune. We could all use a little kindness as 2020 draws to a close.”
For more information on happiness see drallenlycka.com.
GRACE HOUSHOLDER is a columnist and editorial writer for this newspaper. Contact her at email@example.com.