How to get happier and healthier despite adversity

by Judith Coulson-Geissmann

Especially when times are getting though, and the world is bombarded with bad news, it is essential to keep a positive outlook. The Science of Positive Psychology is addressing the human mindset and behaviour that can lead people to recover, grow, and flourish despite adversity. 

There is power in positive thinking. Positive emotions are linked with better health, longer life, and greater wellbeing. On the other hand, chronic anger, worry, and hostility increase the risk of developing chronic & heart disease.

Simple steps to get happier and healthier 

Being grateful, doing things for others, and improving your health will pay off. 

The New Year usually brings the resolve to eat better and exercise more. But here’s another resolution for the list: improve your wellbeing. That’s your overall emotional and physical health. Here are some tips to help you boost both. 

Get happy 

About 40% of what determines happiness is under your control, according to Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and faculty editor of Positive Psychology, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. In contrast, only about 10% has to do with good and bad fortune. “It’s not events, but our responses to events that determine our level of wellbeing,” says Dr. Siegel. He offers several steps you can take to improve your emotional wellbeing: 

1. Live in the moment. When you’re fully engaged in activities, you will enjoy them more and be less preoccupied with concerns about the past and the future. While your life is restricted, enjoy the small things in life like quality time with the people that exercise social distancing with you. 

2. Be grateful. Keeping a daily gratitude journal promotes positive feelings, optimism, life satisfaction, and connectedness with others. Even when things fall apart around you, you can be grateful for what you have. 

3. Do things for others. Happiness comes most reliably from connecting with others and not being overly self-focused. Try to do things that benefit someone or something other than yourself. Check on your neighbours, does anyone need help with shopping or some household chores. 

4. Take inventory of your strengths, then apply them in new ways in your daily life. For example, if you count curiosity as a strength, read about a new subject. If you consider yourself brave, try something that makes you nervous, such as public speaking. 

Don’t know what your strengths are? Try the free VIA Character strength survey: You will get your top five strengths and some explanation to it for free. 

5. Savour pleasure. Reminisce about good times; celebrate good moments with others (online at the moment); be happy when you accomplish something. If you are confined in your home, savour the ability to read some of the books to left for later finally, sign up for that online course you wanted to do or listen to the podcast or webinar you had not time for so far. 

Get healthy 

In the last couple of weeks, we have seen how important your health and the strength of your immune system is in protecting you from viruses. Overall wellbeing also includes physical health. If poor health or unhealthy behaviours are dragging down your wellbeing, addressing these issues will improve your wellbeing. That may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. 

“Two-thirds of all illness is the result of our lifestyle choices,” says Dr. Edward Phillips, founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

  1. Apply your personal strengths to your health. For example, if you’re creative, come up with a healthy menu that won’t bore you. If you’re adventurous, try a new exercise such as tai chi or yoga. 
  2. Come up with reasonable and small first goals. “Find something that’s a small change, like walking 10 minutes a day. Go for a walk at lunch, walk while you’re talking on the phone. What’s the smallest change you can make and be confident you can do it? 
  3. Be accountable for your changes. You’ll do much better if you track and report your progress to a loved one or friend, or a website or smartphone app. You’ll accept your effort as something you must do, not something optional. 
  4. Pay attention to the benefits. The value of the change, such as sleeping better from exercising, can become the motivation to continue that change and make others. When you see that change is possible, you’ll be encouraged to make more changes. 

How to stay motivated 

Want to make a change but wondering how to stay motivated? Dr. Srini Pillay talks about the things that can impact personal motivation and the power of a sense of meaning to help you stick with your goals. See video here 

Adapted from Harvard Health Publishing 2020 

Judith Coulson-Geissmann is a Positive Psychologist and Coach, Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist and the Head of Learning & Development for Hirslanden Group of Clinics in Switzerland. She is specialised in positive people development and organisational flourishing.

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