Today marks the fourth International Day of Happiness, an event set up by the United Nations in 2012 to recognise the importance of happiness and well-being. On Thursday, the 2016 World Happiness Report was released, which Denmark topped. Hong Kong came 75th out of 157 countries, the lowest position since the survey began in 2012, when it reached 46th place.
We know how stressed you are, with homework, exams, sports meets, and extra-curricular activities, let alone trying to have a life outside school. And so we’ve put together our top tips on being happy - and staying happy.
Physical activity produces all sorts of chemicals which boost our mood. These include seratonin - aka the happy hormone - and endorphins, chemicals which are designed to minimise pain and create feelings of euphoria. Exercise can also make us feel more confident, which definitely makes us happier.
You don’t have to be a future Olympian, either. Everyone can benefit from moving a little bit. If you hate PE, find something less competitive: go for a walk, dance around your room, take a neighbour’s dog for a run, hit a trampoline park or head to a children’s playground (maybe not when it’s full of toddlers!). You can increase the happy effects if you exercise with a friend - social interactions, especially with those who care about us, help us to relax and feel good.
We’re lucky in Hong Kong to have a short winter; seasonal affective disorder is a condition suffered by many particularly in Europe and North America, where short days and long nights mean there’s little sunshine, and people get the blues. Exposure to sunlight helps the body create vitamin D, which has been proven, among other things, to help fight depression.
While the grey skies continue to reign (and rain) in the 852, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D by eating foods that contain it: fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
Just eat it
Speaking of vitamins, studies have shown that low levels of vitamin B6, which helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and B12 can lead to depression. Make sure you’re getting enough; they’re found mainly in red meat and seafood, so if you are vegetarian, you may want to ask your parents if you can take a supplement.
While we’re on the topic of food, while it’s unclear whether eating a particular food can actively and directly increase happiness, sugar, refined carbs and processed foods have been shown time and again to lead to the blues. While it’s fine to treat yourself occasionally to a donut or Big Mac, your mood will be far more stable if you choose a wide variety of brightly coloured fruit and veg, whole grains and lean protein.
Some studies have shown that being hugged and giving hugs releases the chemical oxytocin, the “love hormone” into your brain. Whatever the science behind it, hugging makes you feel loved and protected, feelings that definitely contribute to increased happiness.
It’s easy to take the good things in life for granted. But studies have shown that being actively grateful and giving thanks can make you happier. An easy way to do this every day is to make a mental or written list before bed of five things you’re thankful for. They can be big things, like your family and friends, or little things, like having the courage to speak to the cute student in the year above, or a good hair day.
Some days, laughing is just about the last thing you feel like doing. But research has shown that a good giggle reduces stress, improves immunity, increases oxygen intake and, even if you start by forcing yourself to fake laugh, improves your mood.
Get enough zzzs. In your teens especially, you need at least eight hours. A lack of sleep can make you angry and sad, so leave your mobile phone outside your room, turn off the lights and let yourself drift off without distraction.
If you’re feeling blue, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to your parents, siblings, friends or teachers. If you really can’t work out how to tell people you know, reach out to these organisations:
The Samaritans: 2896 0000
The Samaritans Befrienders: 2389 2222
HKFYG Counselling Service: 2777 8899