Post by Vladimir Fefer
We all want to be happy, and a lot of people have been looking forward to retirement as the time when they can sit back and enjoy life without having to worry about all the stressors that come with deadlines and bosses. But depression is one of the most common ailments plaguing our society and it can hit hard when someone leaves the workforce. Luckily, there is a lot of recent research on the factors that can lead to increased happiness and better overall emotional health and the findings might surprise you. So here’s 5 things you can do to be happier.
Happiness of the Body
(1) Exercise. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself and your emotional health is to exercise regularly. It does not have to be complicated or hard. Just a 20 minute walk will get you the benefits of improved mood and better concentration abilities. You don’t need to join a gym or hire a trainer. The key is to start simply and build a habit. Start with a walk once a week and build from there.
(2) Sleep Better. Sleep is an often overlooked part of our lifestyle that actually has a huge impact on emotional well-being and happiness. I’m sure you know many people who get cranky when they haven’t gotten enough sleep or are running on low energy at the end of the day. If you’re like me, you ARE one of those people. Building a routine around your sleep schedule can help in many ways. Before I go to bed, I try to go over the things that went well during the day so that my mind is focused on good things as I fall asleep.
Happiness of the Mind
(3) Breath Work. Imagine if you spent all day watching sad movies and listening to sad songs. You’d probably be sadder. If you eat bacon cheeseburgers everyday you’d feel sluggish and unhealthy, so too the thoughts we allow inside our minds also affect us. So this tip is about allowing negative thoughts to pass by. Next time you have a negative thought, do this breathing exercise, it takes about a minute.
1. Exhale completely through the mouth.
2. Close the mouth and inhale deeply through the nose to a count of 4.
3. Hold the breath for a count of 7.
4. Exhale for a count of 8.
5. Repeat for 4 breath cycles.
While you’re doing this, focus on your breath. If other thoughts come to your mind, allow them to pass by, just focus on your breath. Doing this exercise regularly will help to alleviate anxiety and it will leave you more relaxed after you finish.
(4) Meditate. Imagine the Dalai Lama getting road rage. It’s a hard thing to imagine because we all agree he’s probably one of the calmest people on the planet. And he always has the slight smile on his face. Like he’s got a cool secret he wants to share with you. Want to know what that secret is? It’s meditation. The Dalai Lama and other Buddhist monks spend many years training and developing their ability to meditate. There’s many ways to meditate, but the breathing exercise you just learned can be a simple “toe in the water” for you to just try it out. Do the exercise without counting or holding your breath. Just close your eyes and focus on regular rhythmic breathing. You’re meditating! And that’s all it takes to start getting the mental benefits of this several thousand year old practice.
(5) Learn a New Skill. Your mind is incredibly adaptable and was designed to be used. Regular mental activity has tons of benefits (like helping prevent Alzheimers) but what’s important for us is the enjoyment and sense of accomplishment you will feel when you’re growing and getting better at something. I know a many in his 80’s who has spent the last 10 or so years mastering photography technology. He’s taken old pictures and put them on CD’s, and then DVDs, and now he keeps them in the cloud. He’s done this with every new technology that has come out, and the pictures of his grandchildren are cropped and edited by him on his computer. Before he retired all he did was take pictures with old Kodak cameras. He spends some time every day learning about how to do it better and he loves it. Some people knit, some people play cribbage. There are many things you can learn and many tutorials on the internet. Just do a Google search on “learn to……” and you’ll find tons of material.
Happiness of the Spirit
(6) Start a Gratitude Journal. This is probably the most powerful idea that I have come across in all of data on happiness I have read. The concept is simple but the effect is tremendous. Every day write down 2 things that you are grateful for. Once a week, read through it. Do this every day for 3 weeks. After 21 days I guarantee that you will feel happier.
Bringing all together – Focusing on Internal Metrics
My next door neighbor Joe recently retired and I was talking to him about the differences and changes in perspective he’s made since leaving the workforce when he said something very profound. He said “At work, I used to measure my output and how much I got done during the day. Now, I focus on internal metrics.” This transition is not hard to make but it is very important. You can start out by asking yourself once a week “Is what I’m doing adding meaning to my life?” or even simpler than that “What did I do today that made me happy?” Your gratitude journal is an easy place to start.
If you’d like to read more on happiness I recommend Spontaneous Happiness by Dr Andrew Weil, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, and The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Vladimir Fefer lives in Chicago and consults for the assisted living review site GoldenReviews.com