Natural ways to boost happiness
Today is the International Day of Happiness. Happiness can be defined as a sense of well being, joy or contentment. Did you know that good gut health can have a major impact on your brain, mood and therefore happiness? Recent research has demonstrated a major connection between our gut and brain health. Your brain and gut are in constant communication, connected by an information highway known as the vagus nerve. If you’ve ever heard the gut called ‘the second brain,’ there’s a good reason: the number of nerves in your gut outnumbers your spinal cord!
The majority of our ‘feel good’ or ‘happy neurotransmitter’ serotonin, is produced by cells that line the gut wall. The production of serotonin requires beneficial bacteria to ensure we have enough of this happy chemical. Your gut microbes also produce a neurotransmitter called GABA which helps reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.
5 natural ways to boost happiness
We know the importance of beneficial microbes on making chemicals such as serotonin and GABA. Antibiotic use, the consumption of refined foods or high stress can cause an imbalance of microbes in our guts. This term is known as ‘dysbiosis’. Consume foods such as yoghurt, kefir or sauerkraut or consume a high quality Probiotic to promote a healthy gut-brain axis.
Inflammation in the brain reduces the production of our happy chemical, serotonin (1). Consume foods that reduce inflammation and heal our bodies to promote feelings of happiness. Try to eat oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or anchovies 3 times per week. Increase your intake of organic fruit and vegetables and consume moderate lean protein daily such as chicken, grass fed beef, chickpeas or lentils. Protein is required for optimal brain and neurological function. When we eat protein, it is broken down into amino acids which are essential for neurotransmitter synthesis, including serotonin.
Supplement with Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is important for bone and immune health but it also plays a major role in supporting our mood and boosting happiness. We have all heard of the term Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, where moods can plummet during winter – lack of sunlight and Vitamin D is thought to be a major contributor to depressive symptoms. Consume 1000iu daily over winter to help support mood.
Exercise has shown time and time again to boost energy, mood and feelings of self worth. A study in 2013 found that exercise reduces symptoms of depression. Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes per day.(2) This can be interval training, a gym or yoga class, dancing to music or a simple walk in nature. Do not underestimate the power of exercise in boosting happiness.
Schedule in time to ‘do nothing’
In today’s world we are constantly switched on. We are spending more time connected to our phones, screens and televisions and less times forming real relationships with others and ourselves. An alarming study published in the Journal of BMC Psychiatry saw a positive link between smartphone usage and a risk for depression (3). Aim to spend 60 minutes before bed without screens. Instead read a book, have a bath or meditate. This precious time can reduce stress levels and have a profound effect on levels of happiness.
Disclaimer: If you are suffering from depression and want to use these recommendations to help boost your mood, do it under the care and guidance of your health care provider.