Top tips to live a happy and healthy life

Finding happiness in life doesn’t always follow a standard or linear pattern. In fact, many people experience a U-shape of life satisfaction – with high happiness levels in our youth, a dip in our midlife, and then some of our happiest days in older age.

Thanks to the global disruption caused by COVID-19, many Australians are spending more time thinking about what actually makes them happy. Is it having a great career? Is it all about having a healthy family? Do exercise and a good diet directly influence our happiness levels? There are many considerations, which is why this helpful guide will walk you through what you need to consider for living a content life!

The future looks bright: Why we actually get happier as we age

It’s easy to get obsessed with seeking out happiness at every turn – whether it’s with our job, our family, our hobbies or our potential to create wealth. But what really makes us happy in the long term? There have been many studies on happiness, and a very famous piece of research done by Harvard followed a group of people over 80 years and found that building strong relationships was key, amongst other things, including a sense of belonging and community.

The quest for happiness could be why Australians in their 30s and 40s are the biggest consumers of the self-help industry, spending their money on well-being retreats, travelling, online happiness-boosting activities or pop psychology books, according to The Conversation. The good news is that research shows happiness fluctuates at different life stages, and as we move beyond middle age our happiness levels see a natural upturn.

If you’re ready to give your happiness journey a push, here are five key considerations that many people say enrich their lives and make them happier:

1. Friends and family: Surround yourself with positive people

Surrounding yourself with positive people and engaging in their happiness can actually make you happier yourself. According to a 20-year study by the Harvard Medical School, “When an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year.”

So surrounding yourself with people who make you happy and – importantly – are generally happy themselves can have a remarkable effect on your own happiness levels.

2. Incorporate exercise and a healthy diet

When we work to keep our body healthy through good diet and exercise, our body rewards us with greater satisfaction about ourselves. This can have a myriad knock-on effects that range from greater productivity in our day-to-day lives right through to a general happier self.

Start by adopting a wholesome diet with a good balance between all three essential macronutrients – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Most of us are getting our daily carbs in without much thought (thanks to all the easy snack options available), however it’s easy to overlook our daily intake of healthy fats and proteins. You can get these from avocados, nuts, seeds, lean meats, tofu, and fish.

Also, avoid indulging in sugary treats, processed snacks, or salt-laden fast food. While these may give you a temporary mood boost or comfort rush, it’s usually short-lived and often makes you feel even worse in the long run.

Adopting a work-out routine can also do wonders for your health, even if it’s as little as 20 minutes a day. In fact, a joint study by Yale and Oxford found that exercise is more important to your mental health than money, and that people who stay active regularly are generally happier people.

3. Continual learning is incredibly fulfilling

From the moment we are born, we humans are constantly learning about the world around us. That fascination with learning doesn’t stop when we finish school or university. In fact, people as old as 90 are interested in learning new activities and still have the faculties to retain new information.

More importantly, learning is linked with happiness – researchers have found that it’s one of the things all people need to be happy. So whether it’s taking a short course, learning about something you’ve always been interested in online, or simply trying out a new sport or learning to play a fun and complicated board game, education and learning can feed your happiness levels.

4. You’re never too old to explore a new hobby

Much like educating yourself and embracing lifelong learning, there’s something about exploring a new hobby that can ignite a fire within you. That passion is exhilarating, especially in the early stages, and once you start to master a new skill or hobby it can lead to higher levels of happiness.

Not only does it make you feel good about yourself for gaining a new skill, but depending on the hobby it may open you up to a potential new friendship group – and the well of happiness you can draw from others is almost infinite!

5. Your job isn’t everything – but it can still fill you with joy

It’s true that you don’t need to be a CEO or at the peak of your industry to have a job you like – although that can certainly make some people very happy. The key is finding balance in all things. Work too much so that you never see your family and you may experience lower levels of happiness. Conversely, if you can’t find a job that satisfies you mentally then that can negatively impact other parts of your life.

Even if it doesn’t pay an incredible amount of money or doesn’t have a career path that will see you at the very top in a decade’s time, finding a job that slots into your life while also being fulfilling on a day-to-day basis can make you much happier than grinding 24/7 just to get that end-of-year bonus.

When we’re young, life seems like it will last forever. But as we grow older we start to realise that our time in this world is limited – and so we need to make the most of it! Finding happiness will depend on your unique personality and biological makeup, but hopefully these tips can start you on your journey to living a happier, healthier and more enriched life as you get older.

Whether it’s spending more time with loved ones, giving thought as to how we can help improve the environment, or setting our personal ambitions and goals, you can read more about what truly makes Australians happy in the Unlocking the 2020 Real Wishes of Australians report.