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How to Live Happy

Did you know that there is a proven connection between happiness and inflammation? I have talked before about the link between stress and poor health, which is now well documented, but new research is showing that the wrong kind of happiness can also be a cause of inflammation.

This article takes a closer look at happiness, its relationship with your health and which kind of wellbeing has been shown to reduce inflammation. We will also look at some techniques for increasing your happiness to stay in peak health, something that is more important than ever during this global pandemic.

Hedonic vs Eudaimonic Happiness

The concept of hedonic and eudaimonic happiness may be new to many, or even most, people. However, the idea was first put forward by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (388 - 322 B.C.) in his Ethics. Aristotle believed that people are at their most content when working to acheive their natural potential. So, a musician will feel most fulfilled when composing or performing, while a mechanic may feel at peace while working on a car engine. Aristotle called this type of happiness eudaimonic, from the Greek words '_Eu_' (good) and 'daimon' (spirit). This concept of fulfilling one's potential has been adopted by many psychologists, most notably Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987) who is known as the 'father of person-centred counselling', which influences much modern counselling theory and practice today.

Psychologists and researchers studying happiness often contrast this subjective wellbeing with the objective happiness that involves more tangible pleasure such the aquisision of money or possessions, or physical pleasure such as exercise, sex or massage. These types of pleasure are often referred to as 'hedonic', after the term coined by another ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus (c.435 - 356 B.C.), who argued that a good life could be measured by the amount of physical pleasure a person experienced.

So which type of happiness is better, or are they just different paths to the same destination? After all, isn't happiness just happiness? Well it turns out that there is a real difference in how your brain and body respond to these different situations. Studies have shown that, while there is some overlap in the benefits derived from meditating and the benefits derived from, say, buying a new pair of shoes, there are also differences. Most researchers agree that it is important to have a balance of hedonic and eudaimonic happiness in your life, however the benefit derived from hedonic pleasure can often be short-lived, owing to a concept called 'hedonic adaptation'. This basically means that you have a base level of happiness and any hedonic pleasure you add to it will feel great for a while, but you will soon become accustomed to it and will return to that same starting point. For example, somebody who usually flies economy and is given a first-class air-ticket is likely to experience a lot more excitement and pleasure than another person on the same flight who flies first class every time. The first person is experiencing hedonic happiness, while the second, through hedonic adaptation, is now accustomed to all the luxuries on offer and merely expects these to maintain their base-level satisfaction.

Eudaimonic happiness, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. The satisfaction derived from helping others, from working hard at one's passions, or from practising regular meditation and mindfulness, is unlikely to become jaded and will continue to instill positive feelings that translate into reduced inflammation and better overall health.

Tips for Pursuing Eudaimonic Happiness

Focus on your food - Take the time to learn to cook healthy, balanced meals. While we are not out at social dinners and pubs, now is a great opportunity to redefine what dinner time means. Instead of opting for quick ready meals (these are hedonic pleasures and may have a place when you are feeling stressed or tired), enjoy the process of preparing your ingredients from scratch and that satisfaction of knowing that your culinary skills are growing and that your health is improving at the same time. Feel free to browse the website for meal ideas and nutrition tips. The recipes page and the freebies section are good places to start for healthy meal ideas.

Establish a routine - Remember that while hedonic pleasure diminishes with repetition, eudaimonic well being tends to increase. Set aside some time each day for the things that you know will bring you satisfaction and make that time sacred. Ideally this should include some gentle exercise each day but may also involve pursuing your hobbies, learning a musical instrument, reading, meditating, doing a course online etc. Focus on 'innerstanding' - This is a time to start incorporating more spiritual, healing modalities such as yoga, meditation and Qigong into your life. Studies have shown that these practices help reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood and more positive thinking. Trying to understand what is going on in the world today is often frustrating and fruitless. Focusing more on 'innerstanding,' (introspection), compassion and helping others during these trying times, gratitude, real wisdom and even prayer, all contribute more to a sense of eudaimonic happiness. Focus on connection, community and purpose - Eudaimonic happiness is about discovering a purpose in your life. It may well involve figuring out ways of being of service to others. It may be as simple as asking an elderly neighbour if you can help with shopping, or calling someone a few times a week who is lonely, to offer support and communication. It may be closer to home, making sure your own family and friends have you to support them as they navigate these challenging times. Find out what you really want to do with your future now that you have stepped off the conveyor belt of life that was taking you in a direction you did not have time to think about. This is your time to realise your dreams and connect with people (remotely) who have shared goals or interests. People tend to feel a much greater sense of trust and belonging when they join communities with shared values and interests. People who have a purpose are also more likely to engage in healthy behaviour. Grow, evolve and move forward - According to Dr Bryan Walsh , once we find true happiness we become more resilient. We often read about how to bounce back from challenging times like these. However for many of us this can be a time to move forward to something different and better than our pre-lockdown existence. Use this time to grow, evolve and move forward. Acknowledge that pain and challenges are a part of life. Rather than trying to run from them, focus on fortitude, growing, learning and evolving through life's inevitable trials. And while we cannot travel, shop, go to football games, clubs, restaurants, social gatherings etc, it is more important than ever to understand and pursue eudaimonic happiness which is more permanent and long lasting.

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