11 Tips to Boost Happiness and Health
It’s easy to think of happiness as something that’s incidental to your well-being. After all, what effect could happiness really have on your weight, your heart, your A1C, or any other health concern? A pretty profound one, as it turns out. Research shows that happiness and good health have an unmistakable connection. Happy people tend to be healthier than unhappy people and—no surprise—healthy people tend to be happier than those who are unhealthy. Studies show that joyful, positive people have robust immune systems, exercise more, choose more nourishing foods, and even live longer.
Paying attention to this mind-body link is especially important for anyone with a chronic disease such as diabetes, says Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program. “This includes focusing on creating a positive attitude and finding those things that bring joy to your daily life, even in the midst of challenges,” Bauer says. “Being joyful alone won’t solve all the issues people with diabetes face, but it does give you the best chance to achieve optimal health and healing.”
Not sure how to begin? Try a few—or all—of the following tips.
1. Practice Positive Thinking.
While it’s normal (and good!) to be vigilant about managing your diabetes, anxiety about things such as hypoglycemia can actually affect blood glucose levels, says Pamela Martyn-Nemeth, PhD, RN, FAHA, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Adopting a positive perspective may mitigate your fears and, in the process, lower your A1C. Of course, that’s easier said than done. When worries begin to take charge, try this deep-breathing trick: Inhale slowly to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for eight.
2. Do Good.
Whether you lend a hand at a local soup kitchen or make a habit of checking in on a housebound neighbor, helping others not only feels good, but research suggests it’s also good for your health. A study published in 2017 in the journal BMC Public Health found that people who volunteered enjoyed better overall health than those who didn’t. But motivation matters: Volunteering with a goal of helping people leads to greater benefits than doing good for the purpose of boosting your network or furthering your career. Find volunteer opportunities with an American Diabetes Association office in your area, or browse opportunities at volunteermatch.org.
3. Get a Pet.
Animal companions aren’t just cute, they’re good for your health, too. A 2019 University of Michigan poll found that adults over 50 who had furry, feathered, or scaled friends were less stressed, more physically active, and had stronger social connections. (Elliott Joslin, MD, the pioneering diabetes researcher, “prescribed” dog walking to patients as a way to get them to exercise regularly.) Don’t have a pet? Try volunteering at your local animal shelter or offer to walk your neighbor’s dog.
4. Ditch The Diet.
Yes, really. Strict diets can zap your happiness and aren’t always effective. Instead, try eating only when you’re truly hungry and stopping before you’re too full (something called “intuitive eating”). Enlist a registered dietitian (visits are covered by most health insurance plans with a doctor’s referral) to help you recognize how certain foods and portion sizes affect your mood, energy, weight, and blood glucose management.
5. Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Counting your blessings counts as a healthy habit. A study published in a 2019 issue of Diabetic Medicine found that adolescents with type 1 diabetes who wrote down the positive aspects of their lives had lower A1C levels than kids who didn’t journal. You don’t have to be long-winded—just a phrase or two helps, says study coauthor Anna Serlachius, PhD, director of the Health Psychology program at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. To get into the habit, keep a journal on your nightstand or add a reminder on your phone.
6. Enjoy the Great Outdoors.
People who spend at least two hours a week in nature are happier and healthier than those who stay indoors, according to a study published in 2019 in Scientific Reports. It might be because green surroundings, quiet spaces, and fresh air are natural mood boosters and lots of outdoor activities (think hiking, skiing, even spending your lunch break in an urban park with coworkers) involve stress-busting fun with loved ones, says study coauthor Mathew White, MSc, PhD, a social and environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Medical School. Be sure to log at least 120 minutes per week outdoors. That’s the number researchers associate with an uptick in well-being.
7. Socialize Offline.
Research shows that people who spend more in-person time with friends are generally happier, have better mental health, and are more physically active than those who spend more time on social media.
8. Have Sex.
Regularly. A review of studies published in 2015 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that couples who had sex at least once a week were happier than those who didn’t.
9. Get Some Shut-Eye.
Slipping between the sheets doesn’t just feel amazing—it’s essential for health and happiness, says David Dinges, MS, MA, PhD, chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. He recommends snoozing for at least seven hours per night. Any less and you’re setting yourself up for weight gain (sleep deprivation increases cravings for sweets and high-fat foods), more sick days, and mood dips. Having a hard time falling (or staying) asleep? Try going to bed at the same time every night and journaling right before you turn out the lights.
10. Join a Team.
Regular exercise burns calories and improves your mental health. Chances are, you know that. But a study published in 2019 in The Lancet Psychiatry suggests team sports provide the biggest mood boost. Researchers compared self-reported daily moods among more than 1.2 million adults. Regular exercisers reported fewer “bad” mental health days over the prior month than those who didn’t exercise, and people who took part in team sports saw the greatest benefit. Want in on the action? Your local YMCA may offer adult team sports; visit ymca.net to find a Y in your area.
11. Bond With Your Doctor.
A 2019 Annals of Family Medicine study suggests that people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes who see an empathetic doctor in the first year of treatment have a 40 to 50 percent lower risk of dying over the next 10 years than those who don’t. Why? A compassionate doctor may motivate you to manage your diabetes. Step 1: Let your health care provider know what really matters to you.