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January 20, 2015

How Older Adults Can Take Control of Their Happiness at Any Age

Humans have a unique and powerful trait: they are largely responsible for their own happiness. This means that while there are tragedies and disappointments in life that affect the way you feel, you still have the power to be happy. You just need to know where to start. 

To begin, you must alter your attitude and cultivate positive emotions like gratitude, hope, inspiration, and love. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s research demonstrates how experiencing positive emotions on a regular basis can “undo” some of the physical effects of stress, build skills we can draw on in stressful times, and find meaning in ordinary and difficult events.

Additional research from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) shows a positive attitude may reduce older adults risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke. And according to Jennifer Brush, M.A., CCC-SLP, director of healthcare research and education at the Brush Development Company, a positive attitude may lessen your chances of developing cognitive difficulty.

With a new positive attitude, take control of your happiness by trying any (or all!) of the following:

  • Engage in Physical Activity: Physical activity, especially when done in novel ways or with others, releases dopamine in a safe, healthy way.
  • Spend More Time in the Company of Positive People: Research shows simply surrounding yourself with happy, positive people can have a positive effect on your own happiness. (Happiness is, indeed, contagious.)
  • Switch Up Your Routine: Altering your routine to break out of the familiarity of everyday life can lead to unexpected moments of joy and positivity.
  • Practice Mindful Meditation: Meditation and conscious breath control—two practices anyone can do anywhere—calm the body and mind and are thought to be happiness boosters.
  • Linger on Small, Positive Moments: Taking a few minutes or even a few seconds to recognize and appreciate positive everyday experiences can help us overcome “negativity bias,” a phenomenon that causes us to form stronger bad memories than good ones.
  • Find Something Bigger Than Yourself to Care About: Giving time and energy to something we believe in, whether that’s structured religion or a charitable cause, helps us find a deeper level of contentment.
  • Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Inflammation has destructive potential on the mind as well as the body. According to Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Spontaneous Happiness, excessive or inappropriate inflammation may underlie depression.
  • Do More of What You Love: If you have the time and the ability, try not to limit yourself from doing more of healthy activities that make you feel good.
  • Interact with Animals: Interacting with animals is a proven alternative medicine treatment to help beat stress and battle depression.
  • Count Your Blessings: At least once per week, write down five things you are grateful for in your life. In doing this, you’ll slowly begin to appreciate everything you have rather than what you are lacking.

To an extent, happiness is a choice. By better understanding the things that really have an effect on happiness, and then making conscious mental, physical, and emotional changes, you can take control of your happiness for a healthier and more fulfilling life. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

Ready to “catch” your happiness. The first step lies within our free guide, “Be Happy: How to Take Control of Your Happiness as You Get Older.”

Download the Happiness as You Get Older Guide


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