Updated: May 27, 2020
That's a weird headline, right? It's assuming two things:
1. That we aren't happy.
2. That happiness is a nutrient (?!!)
We live in a strange world now. Something as essential and important to life, such as being happy, is now considered frivolous or second to long work days, exercise, eating "clean" and being "successful". It's also often considered selfish to want to be happy.
But today, I want to make it CLEAR that happiness is not a luxury - it's a necessity. Happiness is not selfish, it's essential.
This isn't some esoteric, intangible concept. This is something that can be measured and explained with alllll the science-y deets (as you know that I will obviously rant on below 🤓). Today I'm going to make the case for why you are probably "deficient" in this vital nutrient - happiness - and how you can get more of it.
Why should we consider it a "nutrient"?
A nutrient by definition is:
A substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.
Take a look at that last part: "essential for growth and the maintenance of life". This means that a nutrient by definition is something that is necessary to live, grow and THRIVE.
Let me pose a question to you. When do you feel like you're in more of a state of growth...
1. when you're grinding away at work, limiting your time spent with friends, getting horrible sleep and stressing over eating "clean" food all. the. TIME.
2. when you are happy at your job, spending time with your loved ones, enjoying meals that you love AND that make you feel good, and getting deep, awesome sleep?
There's the esoteric part of this case. Now let's get to the science.
Happiness boosts your immune system
One of the best ways to determine if something is the CAUSE of a reaction is with a study that imposes a treatment (as compared to those that simply observe correlations). In one of these types of studies, scientists took 334 volunteers and exposed each of them to two different cold viruses. The scientists then assessed their positive vs. negative emotions to determine how "happy" each volunteer was. The study found that those who experienced more positive emotions were less likely to get sick and developed less symptoms if they did get sick compared to those who experienced more unhappy emotions.
It also lowers your cortisol levels
As #AENpeeps, you know that high levels of cortisol leads to weight gain around the belly, decreased immune system, increased anxiety levels, increased insulin resistance and increased risk of heart disease (among many other issues). Well, one study found that those who rate themselves higher as "happy" have a 22% decrease in their cortisol levels compared to those who rated themselves less happy. Not only are they less stressed as a result of the decreased cortisol, they are also HAPPY.
AND decreases your risk of heart disease
MULTIPLE studies (like this one, this one and this one) have found amazing correlations between happiness and heart health. These studies are finding that those who rate themselves higher on the happiness scale have lower blood pressure, reduced fibrinogen stress response (an indicator of heart disease) and reduced heart rate... INDEPENDENT of socioeconomic status, smoking, age and body weight (factors that usually are linked to increased risk of heart disease). This means that even if the individual smoked or had a high BMI, they STILL had a decreased risk of heart disease because they were happy.*
*Side note, this does not mean you should smoke or eat foods that aren't nourishing. Remember, all of these factors are equally as important - however happiness is something that we often forget to prioritize.
What's going on here?!
How is it possible that something so seemingly simple as being happy can result in all of these amazing health benefits? The answer isn't quite as simple, and researchers are still attempting to determine mechanisms of action (meaning, how this actually works in the body). But what we do know is that when you are happy, your body is at ease. You may be experiencing gratitude, bliss, calm or joy. All of these emotions force your body out of the sympathetic state (fight or flight mode) and switches your body to a parasympathetic state (rest and repair).
I often talk about the importance of rest and it's because we aren't getting enough of it. Whether it be via sleep, workout recovery, GI rest via Intermittent Fasting or rest from a state of high cortisol. Rest is something our body inherently needs in order to be in a state of growth and healing. We can't heal while we are in the sympathetic state (fight or flight mode). We need to shift our body to a parasympathetic state (rest and relaxation) in order to feel GOOD again.
And you can't address this parasympathetic state with just one avenue. You need it all. You need the gut rest, you need the mental rest, you need the body rest - and you need a lot more of it than you probably realize.
Another perk ~ when you're happy and rested, you're actually more productive too. That's why researchers in Sweden suggest a 6 hour work day as compared to our U.S. 8 hour (or longer) workday.
You need the right TYPE of happiness
Happiness isn't something that is brought to you by any situation - this is a recipe for crazy ups and downs and reliances on "the next big thing". Yes, you may be STOKED when you get that promotion or lose the weight, but if you focus your happiness on something that is external, it will always fade and leave you without that happiness again.
Happiness is something you CREATE. And yeah, it can take work sometimes (all the time). Nobody wakes up every single day happy. That thought can be daunting, but also empowering. Just like you choose a nutrient packed smoothie over a McDonalds breakfast sandwich, you can choose to be happy too. It just takes practice.
How do you get more of it?
The answer is with s mall changes made consistently everyday. This doesn't require a radical shift to get your daily nutrient of happiness in. Just small acts that add up to making you feel awesome. Here are some things I do:
Absorb Negative Ions. This is 100% free and has been found to significantly reduce your cortisol levels. All you have to do is take off your shoes. Learn how HERE.
Plan and LOVE your morning/night routine: These are two critical times for helping to improve your happiness and outlook for the day. This doesn't have to take a long time either. Even if you only have 10 minutes to spend in the morning on your routine, make it something you love. For example, I love reading. I'll spend 10 minutes each morning reading something that lights me up. Find something in the morning that inspires you and something at night that helps you wind down. Note: At night, don't rely on TV as your outlet. TV is a great source of entertainment, but watching it too close to bedtime causes your body to reduce your sleep hormone production which leads to poor sleep. Instead, try taking a bath, journaling, meditating, going through a skin care routine or... reading! :)
Plan a DIY Wellness retreat. There's a reason people spend thousands of dollars for a 4-5 day retreat in Costa Rica or Bali... you come back feeling so. freaking. happy. But you can achieve the same results without spending anything by planning a DIY wellness retreat at your own house. Plan yours with THESE tips.
Eat something you LOVE once a week. Clean eating is FANTASTIC. We need whole, real food to feed our body the nutrients it needs to thrive. But you also need to eat food that makes you happy, even if it's not necessarily in line with your wellness goals. For example, every Friday you can find me at my house making a big bowl of homemade pasta or throwing a homemade pizza on my pizza stone in the oven. Plus, planning one "treat" day a week actually helps you to achieve your weight loss goals too. Get the science-y deets with THIS article.
Get better sleep. Your body needs sleep in order to rest and recover. When it isn't allowed to get the full deep sleep it needs, your body produces more cortisol the next day (that's why you may feel more anxious or stressed after too little sleep). Get awesome sleep with THESE tips.
Take a walk outside. Walking has been found with numerous studies to lower your stress hormone levels. Pair that with walking outside and absorbing negative ions at the same time and you're experiencing pure zen. Learn more with THIS post.
Say 5 things that you're grateful for each morning. Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It essentially erases all feelings of stress and anxiety and shifts your body to the rest and relaxation (parasympathetic) mode. Plus, it only takes a few minutes each morning to say 5 things you're grateful for out loud. Easy peasy.
Smile BIG for 10-30 seconds. Yes, you'll feel weird and probably a little creepy... but the body begins to produce the happiness hormones when you smile - even if you don't really feel like smiling. So smile BIG, let it reach your eyes. Then your body will do the rest of the work.
Try a Digital Detox. This may sound scary... but ditching your phone for a few hours (or days) may be something that your cortisol levels need in order to feel happy. Every time your phone alerts you with a notification (no matter if it's positive or negative), a small amount of cortisol is released. Get the Digital Detox deets HERE.
Switch your coffee to mold-free coffee. You DEFINITELY have heard/read me say this a million times. But one more reason why mold-free coffee is so important is because exposure to mold toxins puts your body into that sympathetic, fight or flight state. Using a mold-free coffee will shift your body away from that high stress state. Get more info on mold-free coffee HERE.
There is no right or wrong option here. Whatever you do to increase your happiness each day is the right option for you - as long as it actually is making you feel happier.
Experiencing happiness and joy is something I'm extremely passionate about, so stay tuned for even more articles on happiness and how to achieve it through lifestyle and your food choices in posts (and YouTube videos!) to come.
Until then, try incorporating just ONE of these things (or something else!) into your daily routine to boost your vital happiness nutrient. Results come from consistency, my friend.
Autumn Elle Nutrition