5 small changes you can make to lead a happier life

There are many small changes to our lifestyles that will pay dividends in the form of happiness. Here, we explore minor tweaks that we can all make to our daily routines that will lead us to more emotional fulfilment and, ultimately, to greater satisfaction.

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writer

Staff writer

Everyone aspires to live a happy life. For a lot of people, that means focusing on big-picture goals – things like raising a family, owning a home, and finding the perfect job. While these ambitions are valid, they’re all on the macro scale of life and tend to take time. Meanwhile, there are many small changes we can make to our day-to-day to raise our happiness quotient right here and now. While there’s no sure-fire path to personal fulfilment, here are five evidence-backed methods that could help to lead you in the right direction.

Look at what’s on your plate

In times of stress or hardship, it can be tempting to reach for ‘comfort’ foods as an emotional crutch. Research shows that eating certain types of dark chocolate in times of stress can have a positive effect on mood, partly due to flavonoid antioxidants, which benefit brain and cardiovascular health.

Similarly, sugar activates the brain’s reward system – triggering the release of dopamine – creating feelings of pleasure. However, these are fleeting experiences that can’t be sustained long term. Research has emerged that explores potential links between excessive sugar consumption and depression and low-moods, although this is an area that requires further study.

Perhaps a more fulfilling strategy is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. A local study that tracked the diets and moods of 281 young adults over a three-week period found that subjects reported positive moods the day after eating increased levels of fruit and vegetables. Moreover, ‘meaningful changes’ were associated with the daily consumption of 7-8 serves of fruit and vegetables.

With that in mind, try to follow the New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Foods you should limit or avoid entirely include refined cereals, fried snacks, cakes, biscuits, and alcohol.

Go for a jog

Exercise comes with a myriad of benefits, but we tend to focus on the physical side of the equation. While this is a significant component of wellbeing, physical activity greatly benefits the mind, too.

A 2018 international study found that physical activity and exercise can decrease the chance of developing depression in youths, in adults, and in the elderly.

So, exactly how active do you need to be to start seeing results? Mental Health NZ recommends 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day as an achievable goal.

Unplug before bed

Statistics New Zealand has revealed that there are 3.8 million mobile phones in New Zealand with an active internet connection. On average, Kiwis are spending 18 hours a week staring at their phone screens, and almost 40% of us are concerned about the amount of time we, or those closest to us, are spending mindlessly tapping and scrolling. Is all this time peering at our phones taking a toll on our happiness? It seems likely.

One area of concern is the impact that screen exposure is having on sleep quality. The blue light emitted from a phone screen hinders the production of melatonin (the hormone that induces sleep) in the brain. Poor sleep is linked with anxiety and depression, while the inverse is also true – good sleep promotes positive wellbeing and happiness.

For a restorative night’s rest, try to avoid using any screen-based device within an hour of your planned bedtime.

Make your #onechange

Start a rainy-day fund that you can spend on things that will save you time, like a babysitter, a cleaner, or food delivery services.

Connect with your community

Loneliness is a growing concern in modern society. Feelings of social isolation are on the rise, with 25 per cent of Australians reporting that they feel lonely at least once per week. These emotions are tied to anxiety and poor quality of life, in turn leading to negative health outcomes.

One strategy for combating loneliness is by re-engaging with your community – and volunteering is a great way to do that. In fact, volunteering has been linked to decreases in feelings of depression as well as lowered blood pressure.

If you’re interested in getting involved with your local community, Go Volunteer by Volunteering Australia is a great resource.

Spend money on things that save you time

Research has suggested that there’s a ‘ceiling’ to the happiness that can be derived from money once our daily needs are met. In Australia, that figure aligns to a combined household income of $125,000. Above this figure, increased income is no longer a predictable indicator of happiness.

Although, there is one area where money can indeed buy happiness – and that’s when it’s spent on time. A study of adults in America, Canada, and The Netherlands found that individuals who spent more money on timesaving tasks reported greater overall life satisfaction than those who didn’t. Researchers theorise that money spent in this way helps to mitigate the stress of daily life, which leads to cumulative gains in happiness levels.

So, if you don’t feel like cooking, there’s no need to feel guilty about ordering takeaway now and then. After all, it’s an investment in your wellbeing.

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writers come from a range of backgrounds including health, wellbeing, music, tech, culture and the arts. They spend their time researching the latest data and trends in the health market to deliver up-to-date information, helping everyday New Zealanders live healthier lives.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.