“…Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored…” – Earl Nightingale
Our #WellnessWednesday blog this week comes from our school psychologist Mrs Teresa Yell. Teresa looks at ways in which we can find elements of happiness in our daily lives. Although we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it is important that we never forget to pursue what makes us happy.
How many times have you opened an email that starts with the words “I hope this finds you well?” Guilty as charged!
I have found myself asking this whenever I write to someone, whether via WhatsApp or email. What, before 2020, may have seemed innocuous has become all important. We really do want to be reassured that people are well since the onset of Covid-19. On the other hand, how many times have you asked someone or been asked how happy are you? I have combed through my memory banks and despite being a psychologist, (therein lies the irony) no email or Whatsapp of mine has ever started with “How happy are you?”
You may be interested to know that happiness and health go hand in hand (Newman, 2015). The research shows that happiness reduces stress, is good for heart health, strengthens immune systems, lowers blood pressure and leads to longevity. It stands to reason then, if we are happy we should be healthy.
We can take it a step further, happiness and positivity, according to Professor Fredrickson (Newman, 2015) – Social Psychology Professor at the University of North Carolina- may be regarded as synonymous. Professor Fredrickson’s research suggests that positive emotions are essential to our well-being and survival. She apparently found that positive emotions improve flexibility of thinking, add to creativity and enable big picture thinking. She adds that because these emotions accumulate over time, they enhance resources like strength, wisdom, friendship and resilience, which we need to thrive. Positive emotions are key to resilience, especially in hard times because they help us to cope with stressors, challenges and negative feelings (Newman, 2015).
Professor Lauri Santos, (Yale University), is all to aware of the importance of happiness. We are, she says, given a road map of how to take care of our physical selves – wear masks, sanitise and maintain social distancing. Guidelines with regards our mental health are not quite as specific. This is surprising given that there is much evidence to suggest that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic mental health has deteriorated due to increased levels of stress and more and more people are showing symptoms of depression (Kretchmer, 2020). Therefore, to improve your health – both physical and emotional- try some of the following:
- Be present. Funny how this is a feature of all my contributions thus far. Mindfulness means you are aware of what is happening around you and that you know the extent of your locus of control. Stepping beyond that, just exacerbates stress. Again, I refer you to my previous ruminations on the power of being in the here and the now.
- Socialise. Oops, in this pandemic? Yes, we are social beings and we need to feel connected to our nearest and dearest. Dr Emma Seppala from Stanford University points out “people who feel socially connected have lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher self-esteem, which generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being” (Meyer, 2018). This is why we have technology. It allows us to have the almost full experience of connectivity (excuse the pun) with the added safety aspect of social distancing. Not only do we hear emotions in voices, we see the facial expressions that back them up.
- Helping others. Being “other orientated” (Santos in Kretchmer) is apparently an essential part of happiness. When we do for others, we improve our own wellbeing. So, get busy with random acts of kindness and other forms of pro-social action.
- Get active (Falcone, 2020). Go for a walk, run, do an old Jane Fonda Fitness Routine. When we are physically active, we release endorphins and improve our immune systems.
- Smile and laugh (Falcone, 2020). Fake it. Did you know “Faking a smile or laugh works as well as the real thing—the brain doesn’t differentiate between real or fake as it interprets the positioning of the facial muscles in the same way”(Smith, July 2020). This can also be a pro-social form of action as people respond to smiles with smiles.
- Stop procrastinating (Zaki, May 2020). Procrastination leads to lethargy as it slows us down and adds to our lack of productivity. As tempting as it may be, don’t sit around doing nothing. Try something new and challenging.
- Reframe. Derren Brown author of “Happy” (Park, 2020) augments the argument that being happy is healthy. He cautions however, that one should also not obsess about being happy as this can only intensify feelings of isolation and disconnection. According to Brown, the outcome is less important than the process. If we focus at all costs on being happy, when we fail to attain this, feelings of guilt and shame abound. However, the good news is that if “do the best that we can” we are less wounded by a negative outcome. This is really helpful in the face of this pandemic. It is more important to focus on doing your best to stay healthy i.e. following all PPE protocols, than it is on never getting sick. We certainly have more control over the former and less over the latter.
So, in the words of Bobby McFerrin: “In every life we have some trouble but when you worry you make it double, Don’t worry be happy”…and be safe by wearing your masks, sanitising and maintaining social distancing.
Who is Teresa Yell?
Ms Teresa Yell is Kingswood College’s Educational Psychologist and has practiced in the field for 15 years. She completed her postgraduate studies at RAU (Rand Afrikaans University) and her undergraduate degree at the UND (University of Natal, Durban). She is mother to two children, a daughter and son. She was the resident psychologist at both Dainfern College and Christ Church College in Johannesburg for nine years and ran a busy private practice from her home. They moved to Makhanda (Grahamstown) in 2016, and live on a small farm outside of town.
- Carter, C. (November 2009). Is happiness actually important. https://greatergood.berkely.edu accessed August 2020.
- Kretchmer, H. (August 2020). A professor of happiness explains how to deal with COVID-19. https://weforum.org accessed August 2020.
- Meyer, C. (November 2018). 5 science backed reasons why being social is good for your health. secondwind.com accessed August 2020
- Newman, K. (July 2015). Six ways happiness is good for your health. https://greatergood.berkely.edu accessed August 2020.
- Park, W. (March 2020). Tips for how to stay happy in troubling times. https://www.bbc.com accessed August 2020.
- Smith, J. (July 2020) 7 Benefits of Smiling and laughing that you didn’t know about. https://www.lifehack.org accessed August 2020.
- Zaki, Y. (May2020). 10 Science backed ways to find happiness during trying times. https://gulfnews.com accessed August 2020