The key to happiness

the key to happinessBeing happy is all the rage these days. It’s been reported with much fanfare that Singapore is the 30th happiest nation in the UN’s World Happiness ReportGallup wellbeing scores for local respondents, which have achieved a delirious increase from 46% to 70% between 2011 and 2012, have also received much media attention. Local newspapers are replete with tips for being happy (“You’re happy if you think you are”, Mind Your Body, 31 Oct 2013).

But as pointed out in various local news (e.g., “A measure of happiness in Singapore”, Asia News Network, 13 Oct 2013), the UN happiness index is about overall life satisfaction, whereas Gallup wellbeing scores are self-reported ratings for questions such as “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”, “Did you feel well-rested yesterday?”, and “Did you learn something interesting yesterday?” on a scale of 1 to 10. Crucially, the UN happiness index comprises among other things gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, years of healthy life expectancy, and perceptions of corruption (“Singapore the happiest nation in Asia: UN study”, My Paper, 11 Sept 2013). In light of that, achieving a ranking at the top 20th percentile is then perhaps not wholly remarkable.

Interestingly, the 1,000 local respondents in the 2011 Gallup survey included residents living in private housing, whereas the equivalent number of local respondents in the subsequent annual survey appeared to have no representation from this group, which make up 12% of the general population. It’s also noteworthy that the face-to-face surveys were conducted between 1st September and 30th October in the preceding year of 2011, but between 22nd December 2012 and 28th March 2013 for the 2012 survey.

But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we understand the factors which impact our mental wellbeing, and that we try out various ways to improve our mental wellbeing.

Here’s FOUR ideas to chew on:

  1. Nothing like exercise

    Findings from a cross-cultural epidemiological study of 17, 246 young adults (Grant, Wardle, & Steptoe, 2009) indicate positive correlations between life satisfaction and physical exercise (as well as eating fruit!). Although their findings appeared to suggest a mediating role for physical health, it is clear from those and other findings that exercise improves mental wellbeing. A recent study (Maher et al., 2013) with 253 participants found that young adults reported greater life satisfaction on days when they engaged in physical activity compared to other days, even after controlling for other factors such as gender, BMI, daily fatigue). So if that’s not persuasive enough, this blog on why we need exercise from The Dr Oz Show might help convince you to get up and out to the park.

  2. Assess your mental wellbeing

    Everyone experiences stress, anxiety, and feelings of sadness from time to time. But perhaps you or someone you’re concerned about is experiencing more stress than usual and showing signs of burnout at their workplace or as a caregiver. There’s no better motivation to engage in good self-care than when you’re convinced that you need it! This anonymous self-assessment tool will help you assess your mental wellbeing, while a burnout questionnaire can be insightful for not only employees, but caregivers. Once you’ve assessed your stress levels, you might be more willing to give the other things below a go!

  3. Get some zzzs

    Sleep is highly underrated when we’re young. Okay, we’re not that young anymore but nonetheless sleep quality has a profound effect on our daily functioning. Studies suggest that getting enough rest is essential to not only our problem solving abilities, but also closely related to our mood and mental wellbeing. A study (Dinges et al., 1997) found that an accumulated sleep debt equivalent to 33% less sleep than normal negatively affected psychomotor vigilance and working memory performance. Moreover, the removal of sleep deprivation produced a significant improvement in participants’ mood. And what’s more. The link between sleep problems and mood disorders including depression has also been well established in the literature (Breslau et al., 1996; Neckelmann et al., 2007; Weissman et al., 1997). So it’s important to get some good quality REM (and not the Shiny Happy People kind)!

  4. Relaxation is key

    Tips for managing stress always seem to revolve around a million things which should make us feel good. Tips often include things like having a bubble bath, taking the dog for a walk at Pasir Ris Eco Green, having brunch at Selfish Gene Cafe with friends, peering at migratory birds at Sungei Buloh, and spending the afternoon painting at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, as well as paying someone to press your head and shoulders, crack your knuckles, pull your toes, and fold your knee across your body. Other strategies include being thankful and forgiving, being encouraging to someone else, and being aware of one’s thoughts and emotions. The underlying notion behind most of these strategies is that chronic stress is harmful to our heath. It’s not only responsible for poor immune functioning, but has long-lasting negative consequences for our cognitive abilities. Prolonged exposure to stress damages our hippocampus – a brain structure responsible for consolidating short-term memory to long-term memory (Sapolsky, Krey, & McEwen, 1986). So, looking after yourself is the key to good mental wellbeing (and happiness). But more importantly, along with lowering one’s risk of vascular diseases, it plays a key role in protecting against dementia.

Advertisements