Can seeing green boost your happiness?

davanti counselling green grass heart

Seek out scenes of green to soothe your stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Master isolated images)

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,

And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;

When the air does laugh with our merry wit,

And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”

William Blake

The poet William Blake had a strong sense of the power of green for joy and happiness. The colour green is often associated with peace, harmony, growth and balance, and symbolises the colour of the heart. Walking in nature, and enjoying the greenery, is often cited as a natural and effective remedy for alleviating stress and depression.

Yet new research suggests that it’s not just BEING in nature that can help with mood. Even LOOKING at green scenes can help people recover from stress and feel happier.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed the results of research that recorded participants’ stress responses during a series of tasks that asked them to view green and built scenes before and after doing some challenging mental arithmetic.

The researchers concluded: “The findings provide support for greater recovery in participants who viewed green scenes as compared to participants who viewed built scenes. Viewing green scenes may thus be particularly effective in supporting relaxation and recovery after experiencing a stressful period, and thereby could serve as an opportunity for micro-restorative experiences and a promising tool in preventing chronic stress and stress-related diseases.”

So, seek out green if you’ve had a stressful period and would like some respite and recovery.

How your local pub can make you happier

davanti counselling pubs

The friendship and community shared in pubs can boost wellbeing (pic courtesy of dan/freedigitalphotos.net)

If you’ve got a local community pub that you visit regularly for a social pint, you’re more likely to be happier and more trusting than people who don’t have a local. That’s according to research from the University of Oxford (carried out for Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale). While Camra – understandably – would promote research saying pubs are good for you, the findings of the study focus less on drinking beer and more on the emotional and mental wellbeing of people who often pop down their local.

The study was carried out by Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist known for his research into the limit on the number of friends any one person can have (it’s 150, in case you were wondering).

His report, Friends on Tap, says that the more friends you have and the more often you see them, the happier and healthier you’ll be. If you have a local pub and visit it regularly, you’re likely to have a better community network, and feel happier and more fulfilled with your life than, say, someone who might visit a larger pub now and again and who doesn’t know that many people there. People in city centre bars are said to have shorter conversations and feel less engaged with the people they’re out with. The research talks about social drinking, not people who regularly consume vast quantities of alcohol.

Professor Robin Dunbar said: Friendship and community are probably the two most important factors influencing our health and wellbeing. Making and maintaining friendships, however, is something that has to be done face-to-face: the digital world is simply no substitute. Given the increasing tendency for our social life to be online rather than face-to-face, having relaxed accessible venues where people can meet old friends and make new ones becomes ever more necessary.”

Couples who laugh together stay together

Shared laughter is a marker of relationship closeness (pic courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Shared laughter is a marker of relationship closeness (pic courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net)

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” Victor Hugo

Ask any couple what first brought them together, and it’s likely they’ll say a shared sense of humour was one of the clinching factors in deciding to give their relationship a go. Laughing at the same things helps create shared memories and, as in Victor Hugo’s quote, laughter puts sunshine on the faces of a happy couple. Yet, years down the line when a relationship might turn chilly, the lack of laughter can be the first thing to go – leaving to winter to settle into the relationship.

Yet the ability to laugh together is a marker of relationships that last, according to Laura Kurtz and Sara Algoe, psychologists at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, who researched this very topic and had it published in the journal Personal Relationships. They videoed 71 heterosexual couples, asking them to talk about how they first met, then coding the instances of spontaneous laughter and asking the couples to complete a survey on relational closeness. They concluded that “the proportion of the conversation spent laughing simultaneously with the romantic partner was uniquely positively associated with global evaluations of relationship quality, closeness, and social support”.

In terms of what this means for relationships that have gone cold: attempt to bring spring back by remembering what you both like laughing at, and attempt to reconnect through shared laughter.

Your ‘weekend effect’ could depend on how happy you are in your job

Happiness levels in your job will depict how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Happiness levels in your job will define how much you enjoy your weekends (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos/net/Mr Lightman)

Do you live for the weekend, counting down the hours and minutes until clock-out time from work on Friday? Or is the weekend merely a continuation of a socially complete, happy lifestyle? The answer to that will depend on how satisfied you are with your job, how well you get on with your boss, and how much social interaction you have during the week with colleagues and friends outside work.

At least, that’s the conclusion from analysis of the ‘weekend effect’ on seven emotions – happiness, sadness, enjoyment, laughter, worry, anger and stress – of thousands of US workers in the Gallup/Healthways daily poll 2008-2012, carried out by John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang and published in an NBER paper.

They found that while stress levels were lower all round, there was no significant ‘weekend effect’ in terms of happiness or laughter for people who felt satisfied in life and work during the week. Their happiness remained pretty much constant across the span of seven days.

However, there was a marked difference in happiness levels for people who were miserable in their jobs, especially for those with micro-managing bosses and an environment where there was little trust. Their happiness levels were three times higher compared with people who had fulfilling work lives.

If five days out of seven are making you miserable, it could be time to look at why, and what you can do about it. If there’s a payoff for you at weekends, then fine. But if deep down you know you’re not living your potential or achieving what you’d always set out to achieve, then it might be time to explore some options that might just make you happier.

Can we be happy without feeling guilty?

Why does your happiness get judged, criticised or called selfish? What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

As it’s the International Day of Happiness – a time for us all to reflect on what happiness means – I can say that the predominant aim of clients coming for private therapy is to feel happy. There is a lack in their lives, or a block, and if only that lack or block would move out the way – or, if other people in their lives would change – then they’d be happy. Yet very often that lack or block isn’t because of other people. It lies within.

I see it in clients who would love to do something creative – like write, draw, sing, dance, cook, paint, colouring in. Whatever makes them happy. Yet they say they’re “not creative” or “it won’t lead anywhere”. And so the potential happiness they could gain – from creating something unique that wouldn’t exist had they not created it – remains lost, unsaid, unwritten, unpainted, unsung.

People who yearn to feel happy can often feel selfish if (more…)

What entrepreneurs can teach us about happiness

Finding your own compass can be key to happiness in life (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/David Castillo Dominici)

Finding your own compass can be key to happiness in life (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/David Castillo Dominici)

Is happiness about following your own way in life? A thought-provoking article by Luke Johnson in the FT suggests it is. If so, then people seeking their purpose and potential in life could learn a lot from entrepreneurs.

People who choose to run their own businesses aren’t just doing it for the money – though that can be a benefit. They’re doing it to make their own choices in life, and to be in charge of their own destiny.

Even though the first years of being an entrepreneur can be tough – financially and personally – running their own show is preferable to being given orders by someone else. They know the link between reward and success, and they work hard to achieve what they really want. They get where they are through their own efforts, rather than jumping through hoops to impress a boss they don’t like to gain a promotion they may not particularly want. Even when they achieve higher status at work, this can bring additional pressures to impress a new boss, who may end up stealing their ideas and leaving the person feeling lost, frustrated and wondering what life is really all about.

If that’s how we’re feeling in life, then perhaps entrepreneurs have a lot to teach us. (more…)

Keep enjoying life to the full if you want to live longer, says report

The mobility of older people is linked to their wellbeing. (pic: istockphoto.com/Lisafx)

The mobility of older people is linked to their wellbeing. (pic: istockphoto.com/Lisafx)

Walking briskly into older age is a key sign of vitality and wellbeing in the over-60s, and improves the odds for living longer. That’s the key finding of a study published by the Canadian Medical Association that researched enjoyment of life and declining physical function among 3,199 men and women aged 60-plus.

Researchers found that people who enjoy life to the full and feel happier are likely to be healthier, fitter and more active. Happier people also walk at a faster pace when they get older compared with people who are unhappy or depressed. Pensioners who felt good about life had fewer problems getting out of bed and getting ready in the mornings. Unhappy people, however, were 80% more likely to have problems with their daily functions, and were twice as likely to suffer from serious illnesses and impaired mobility.

So, putting a spring in your step could lead to a healthier, happier, longer life.