Happiness Strategy: Be Attentive to Body and Soul

This website focuses on ideas to nourish the body, mind, and spirit. After extensive reading on that broad subject matter over the past several years, I’m not the least bit surprised that the final two strategies in Dr. Sonia Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness concern taking good care of ourselves.

Practice religion or spirituality. Studies have shown that religious people are happier, healthier, and recover more quickly from trauma than non-religious folks. As a case in point, 47% of folks who attending church several times per week rate themselves “very happy”; only 28% claim the same degree of happiness when attending church less than once per month. Lyubomirsky posits several explanations for this finding:

  • duke chapelOne’s relationship with the Divine provides a source of comfort and guidance.
  • Through faith, adherents find meaning in life as well as a sense that their presence and efforts matter.
  • The sacred texts and their interpreters yield guidance for living a virtuous life with rewards in this life or the next. These guideposts may give rise to healthy lifestyles and avoidance of risky behaviors.
  • Contemplative prayer quiets the mind and stills the anxious soul; intercessory prayer provides comfort while seeking favorable intervention for the matters at hand.
  • The faith community provides social support, a sense of identity, and collective of people with shared values.
  • Faith inculcates a disposition to forgive.

Lyubomirsky notes that a few faith practices are not conducive to elevating happiness. They are belief in original sin (which lowers self-esteem), belief in a punitive God (which engenders guilt, shame, and fear), and a practice of intercessory prayer alone with no accompanying effort.

Those disinclined to pursue a faith-based practice may be advised seek the sacred in their daily lives. This pursuit may find expression in the sanctification of a life’s work, attentive care of the planet, caregiving for others, or advocacy for an important cause. It may entail engaging with others to explore the great philosophical texts and develop a coherent life scheme. It might involve communing with nature or reveling in the transcendent expression of art.

Whether a person of faith or not, a consistent practice of meditation brings the possibility of enlightenment and joy. Key elements to fruitful practice include: (i) be nonjudgmental; (ii) be non-striving; (iii) be patient; (iv) be trusting; (v) be open; and, (vi) let go. Practitioners realize elevated happiness, reduced stress and anxiety, improved immune function, heightened cognitive capacity, and deep compassion for all beings.

Take care of your body. I’ve written numerous posts extolling the virtues of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a good night’s sleep. Based on scientific evidence, my household leans toward a vegan diet, though we eat meat occasionally. Committed omnivores might consider a reduction in meat intake and eliminate processed foods, sugar in all its forms, salt, and excess fat.

A daily dose of 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise can bolster health, relieve stress and anxiety, lower risk of disease, and promote sleep. It improves happiness by boosting self-esteem as one masters new skills and sees positive change. It’s a vehicle for “flow” (discussed two weeks ago) that provides a respite from worries and rumination. And it creates opportunities for social engagement if pursued through group activities or team sports.

We all need adequate sleep to regenerate physically, cognitively, and emotionally. A sleep deficit causes us to suffer in mood, energy, alertness, longevity, and health. Check out How To Prepare for a Good Night’s Sleep for tips on improving sleep habits.

Finally, Lyubomirsky encourages us to act happy. Smiling and laughter thwart negative emotions and usher in feelings of peace, amusement, and joy. They’re also social magnets that give rise to friendliness in others. Even the mere act of putting on a happy face can make us feel better!