Health and Happiness
Health and happiness are two things that most of us want in life. Whilst health and happiness both sound straightforward in themselves, achieving them is not as simple as we might think. In this month’s blog, I look at the relationship between happy and healthy to ask:
Does happy lead to healthy? (other things being equal)
Does healthy lead to happy?
What do you think? Take a look at your own position by asking yourself the following questions:
- If you’re happy, are you more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle? Are you more likely to eat healthier food, to make time for a walk or the gym and to prioritise your overall wellbeing?
- What about if you’re healthy? Do you feel happier and better in yourself when you’re sleeping well and avoiding crutches such as alcohol or sugary foods?
- Are times when you’re less happy likely to coincide with when you’re leading a less healthy life: stressed, feeling exhausted and seeking refuge in wine or comfort food?
- What about unhealthier times in your life – do they coincide with you feeling less than your usual good self?
Whilst it’s certainly possible to be happy without being healthy and healthy without being happy, some degree of connection is likely. When writer Gretchen Ruben embarked on ‘The Happiness Project’, she placed exercising and going to sleep earlier as her first priorities.
In my client work, I often see evidence of an unhealthy to unhappy or unhappy to unhealthy link. I ask new clients to fill out a detailed questionnaire to provide me with a deeper insight into their problem or desired changes. Clients come to improve sleep, restore natural body weight, build a healthy relationship with food, be motivated to exercise and much more. Very often I find they have spent a very long time, many many years, trying unsuccessfully to make these changes themselves.
Most likely they have been addressing the issue in question when the real root of the problem is elsewhere for example:
- A lack of purpose
- An unhappy job
- Family stresses
- A difficult relationship
Trying to help them by working solely on the presenting problem is like trying to pick leaves off a plant when the real problem is the deeper root. Having said this, there are many simple things we can do to improve our happiness and many simple things we can do to improve our health with a few of each shared below:
Sleep. When it comes to health, sleep is king (keep a lookout for next month’s blog on improving sleep). Actions to improve our sleep are basic rather than rocket science. Start by fixing your bedtime and rising times to restore your body’s own natural pattern for sleep and waking.
Eating. We’ve become a nation of grazers with food present at every opportunity through the day. Like sleep, restore a natural pattern of eating times with regular mealtimes (adding in a couple of light healthy snacks if especially active).
Mindset. A positive mindset is good for our health. We can take the lead from the young orphan girl Polyanna (from the film of the same name) who, regardless of life’s difficulties, is always cheerful with a positive and pragmatic attitude.
Improve your happiness
Purpose. A sense of purpose whether its your job, your family, a creative outlet or other, is recognised as being a key factor in happiness (see my latest nurtureHR blog post on purpose: What gets you up in the morning).
Over-expectation. Often people attribute their happiness to a single factor: I’ll be happy when I lose weight, when I meet a partner, when I have a new job etc only to find their life isn’t instantly transformed when achieving these. Despite feeling heavier than you may like, not having a partner (and wanting one) or having a job you dislike, making small changes can effect bigger change in your life:
- Taking your attention away from food and focusing on enjoying life by seeing friends, going to the theatre or helping in a community voluntary group for example can give you a renewed sense of purpose to fill the void you are unsuccessfully trying to fill with comfort food.
- Going to the gym can make you feel fitter, stronger and more positive about life in general, making you more motivated to go to social gatherings and more upbeat company when you do.
- Doing yoga and meditation can improve your sleeping so that, whist your work may be a drain, you wake feeling refreshed with more energy and motivation in your job search.
Simple joys. It can be easy to think of happiness as requiring bigger (and often materialistic) joys such as a nice holiday or new purchase. Very often however it’s the simple joys that give us pleasure: a walk in nature, a catch up with a good friend or even a much needed clear-out!
Gratitude. A little overhyped perhaps but so true – the simple act of being thankful for what you have can improve your happiness and wellbeing.
In my own case, I have a strong awareness of the link between my health and happiness (not surprising given my work!):
- I feel better when I eat well.
- I feel better when I make time to exercise.
- I feel better when I sleep well.
- Similarly, when I’m happy and life is good, I’m more likely to want to eat well, to want to exercise and to prioritise my self-care.
This is not to say that other factors won’t ever affect my health or happiness. It simply recognises the part they both play in relation to each other.
Sometimes in winter, especially during a continuous cold and wet spell, I can quite enjoy the Swedish concept of Hygge. Snuggling up on the sofa with a cosy throw and comforting hot chocolate – what’s not to like! What starts as occasional could easily become the new norm – it feels good at the time, doesn’t it!
Similarly, I don’t have a high sugar intake in general. As anyone who doesn’t consume much sugar knows, the less you take it, the less you want it. Birthday season in our house with four birthdays in ten days means cake, cake and more cake (we’ve got better at it over the years and now start the birthday season with a pitifully small cake to avoid being all caked out after the first!). Being oblivious to it before, by the end of the birthdays my taste buds have got used to that sweeter taste and could merrily continue. This is when my own internal compass kicks in as I’ve likely begun to feel sluggish in the morning, lacking energy and constantly wanting to snack (and not on broccoli!). Healthy reset required!
Would you rather…?
A fun game here is ‘Would you rather…’, highlighting the consequence of our choices in terms of our health and our happiness:
- Would you rather binge watch boxsets late into the night knowing you’ll be extra tired for the next few days or go to bed at a reasonable hour so you feel good on rising.
- Would you rather go to your regular fitness class and feel good from the endorphins after it or skip it and feel niggling tight muscles and joints from too much sitting and too little movement.
- Would you rather buy your favourite biscuits for visitors (knowing that, you will… – and not just one!) or choose a pack that you can happily pass on given you feel better sticking to healthier foods.
I’ll leave you by sharing a couple of quotes on health and happiness:
Happiness is the highest form of health, Dalai Lama
Health is not valued until sickness comes, Thomas Fuller
If you or someone you know would like to improve their health or happiness, get in touch today by emailing me to fix a short telephone chat to see how I can help.
Photo courtesy of Garon Piceli