Health

5 proven ways to boost your happiness

The "Happiness Wave" study from the University of Queensland sheds light on the contentment and happiness of older Australians, debunking the notion of middle-age blues. Carolyn Tate explains.

By Carolyn Tate

Could you do with some more happiness in your life? The over-50 age bracket covers a huge range of our lives, and it contains both the happiest and most unhappy years of our lives. According to a University of Queensland study, we are at our happiest around retirement age (55-75), and at our most unhappy between 80 and 90.

The age of peak happiness in Australia is 65.

Happiness levels over a lifetime in Australia, Britain and Germany from the University of Queensland research.

But regardless of statistics, we can all have moments in our lives when we’d like to give ourselves a happiness boost. There are 4 hormones that can contribute to our feelings of happiness. They are:

Dopamine: known as the ‘feel good’ hormone, dopamine is associated with pleasurable sensations, motivation, learning and memory.
Seratonin: helps to regulate your mood, sleep, appetite and memory.
Oxytocin: the ‘love hormone’ helps promote trust, empathy, and bonding in relationships.
Endorphins: natural pain relievers that are produced in your body in response to stress and discomfort.

How can you boost those hormones and raise your baseline happiness? We’re glad you asked. Here are 5 ways to boost your happiness, backed by science, that you easily can do every day.

There are 4 key neurotransmitters that keep your brain happy.

1. Go outside

Spending just 15 minutes outside a few times a week (without sunglasses if you can) is a great way to boost your serotonin levels and, if you do it first thing in the morning, promote healthy sleep patterns. If you’re somewhere with high UV levels, try to do it early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid too much of the damaging rays.

2. Move your body

You might have heard of the ‘runners’ high’, which is all about endorphin release – and any version of aerobic exercise can give that that feeling. But you don’t have to run to get your own version of it. Regular physical activity can increase your dopamine and serotonin levels, plus it can keep your body healthy at the same time. Combine it with your morning outside time (above) and you’re getting a two-for-one deal. Supercharge it further by walking with friends for an oxytocin boost, which has been found to help reduce stress and improve quality of life over walking alone.

3. Enjoy hormone-promoting foods

Who doesn’t feel good after a good meal, and there are certain foods that have been shown to boost hormone production, including those happy hormones. See how many you can fit into one delicious meal – and don’t forget to share the meal with a friend or loved one for the added oxytocin boost. Try:
• Spicy foods for endorphins
• Yoghurt, beans, eggs, low-fat meats, and almonds for dopamine
• Foods high in tryptophan (such as oats, bananas, prunes, milk, tuna, cheese, bread, chicken, turkey, peanuts and chocolate) for serotonin
• Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, which can contain probiotics for optimal hormone conditioning.

4. Pat your dog (or someone else’s)

Dog owners have been found to have higher levels of oxytocin than non-dog owners, thanks to those cuddles, pats and loving interactions. But even if you don’t have a dog, you can experience the same hormone boost from seeing dogs in the park, or patting a friend’s dog. If you want the boost but not the commitment, you might want to offer your services as a dog-sitter or a foster carer for dogs. Or you can find a spot in the park near a leash-free area and wait for them to walk by.

5. Have a laugh with a friend

We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, and while it doesn’t fix everything, it can definitely give you a real boost. Laughter has been shown to trigger endorphin release, and to relieve feelings of anxiety or stress, and improve low mood, by also triggering the release of dopamine. Adding a friend gives it that oxytocin bonus too.

The great thing about each of those 5 ways to boost your happiness is that none of them are hard, and they’re all pretty pleasurable experiences. Tailor each one to suit your likes and lifestyle, and you could lift your baseline happiness and find yourself feeling lighter. That’s something we can all enjoy at any age.

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