What is your top feel-good habit?

Pexels/Andre Furtado

Source: Pexels/Andre Furtado

Many people mistakenly believe that happy and productive people are naturally happy and motivated to do certain things that make them feel good. Perhaps that applies to a lucky few.

For the majority of people, however, research suggests that it’s actually the other way around: The happiest people tend to do certain things that then bring them joy.

In fact, according to a study by Barbara Fredrickson, these individuals make a point of doing what she calls “prioritizing positivity.” In other words, they schedule specific activities and habits into their day that they know will bring them joy.

It’s important to identify your top wellness habit

It’s important that we recognize all of these activities that bring us joy, so that we can practice them regularly and incorporate them into our day to make them a habit.

For example, James’ #1 wellness habit is to get up early and tackle a challenging work project right away. And, as we mentioned in a previous post, exercise is Suzie’s best luck habit.

While none of these habits are easy—in fact, none of us often feel like doing something that can be challenging—we know that ultimately these habits will make us feel better after we’ve done them. Suzie likes to joke that she’s motivated to train because she always feels better, not worse, after a run. (Well, except for her last run, which we’ll get to in a moment.)

That’s why we do our best to make our #1 wellbeing interventions a part of our daily routine. We usually don’t feel so good on days when we skip these activities. James can attest to this when, instead of hopping out of bed and immediately diving into an exciting work project as he is used to, he wastes time dawdling or scrolling his newsfeed.

And Suzie feels pretty bad when she misses a run because she stayed up too late to have a few glasses of wine while mindlessly watching TV.

Do you have a backup plan for your well-being?

Sometimes, however, despite our best intentions and through no fault of our own volition, we are unable to engage in our best feel-good habit. And what if for some reason we can practice this habit not just for a day or two, but for quite a while?

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Unfortunately the following has happened to both of us in the last few weeks: James was quite ill and couldn’t wake up nearly as early as he wanted as he knew he needed extra sleep to boost his immune system. And Suzie had an unusual fall and severely injured a rib. It was the first time she felt worse, not better, after a run. The doctor told her she could not exercise for at least a week.

We both felt a bit handicapped by our circumstances. Although James wasn’t able to wake up as early as he would have liked, he did have the better end of the stick. At least he could still devote himself to his professional challenge. He just had to put up with having to start later in the day as his body needed rest.

Suzie, on the other hand, suddenly needed to find another feel-good habit that would not only help her get through the week, but would give her a similar boost of energy and the post-workout calm that her daily run offered.

At first she felt a bit frenetic because she couldn’t walk. She beat herself up because of her fall. James encouraged her to practice self-compassion and treat herself with the same kind of self-kindness she shows to her family and friends. She wouldn’t blame them for tripping over a loose rock on the sidewalk. He also reminded her that setbacks happen to everyone and that she should focus on what she could control.

Suzie realized it could have been a lot worse and was grateful she hadn’t broken anything. She did her best to stay focused in the moment and was grateful that her day had an extra 90 minutes. She immediately thought of something else that brought her great joy and how to spend this time, which is usually spent on training. That was a no-brainer: spending time with her 11-year-old son, Liam.

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Suzie and Liam, avid movie lovers, decided to turn their beloved movie night into movie week. For the next week, they spent every night watching an uplifting movie together. Every day they carefully researched inspirational films and chose one that was mutually attractive. By the end of the week, Suzie no longer felt bad about missing her workout.

In fact, she experienced a surge in oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, while snuggling on the couch with our son while watching some great movies. And a boost of positive emotions of joy, serenity and love while laughing and connecting with Liam. And the look on Liam’s face tells us he’s experienced them too, which is great news as research suggests positive emotions shared can strengthen our closest bonds.

On many nights, these films were also natural catalysts for deep, meaningful conversations about important issues. Suzie and Liam continued to bond and continued to experience spurts of positive emotions such as inspiration and awe long after the film ended.

Strong effects when watching movies together

Research on watching movies together shows many additional positive benefits, including increased empathy, understanding, and collaboration in young children.

In one study, researchers found that parents tend to discuss the negative things in movies, such as violence. And of course it is important that they do it. However, it’s also important to discuss positive themes, like how the characters worked together to use their strengths to overcome a challenge, they say.

“When you talk about the negative while embracing the positive, it can be a very productive discussion,” says Victoria Heasley, then at Penn State College of Medicine. In fact, she and her colleagues encourage parents to actively watch and discuss films with their children, with an emphasis on both positive and negative issues. Watching movies together in this way can be a powerful way to guide children through their developmental process, they found.

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Suzie learned this firsthand from Liams and her week-long movie marathon. The positive emotions experienced continued to have an effect long after the end of the films. And Suzie has felt even closer to her son over the past week.

Who would have thought that what was initially seen as a setback would turn out to be a blessing in the long run? Suzie wouldn’t have spent that extra time bonding with her son if it hadn’t for an inevitable change in her routine.

We recommend that everyone has a feel-good habit. This can be exercise, engaging work, meditation, or time in nature. Whatever it is, it’s important to do these activities regularly.

And it’s important to have a backup plan for your well-being if, for whatever reason, you are unable to participate in your chosen activity. Having one (ideally a couple!) in your back pocket is key so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.

Also, remember the importance of being flexible when the inevitable happens, rather than berating yourself.

Finally, don’t let an unfortunate circumstance hijack your healthy habit and happiness. Make sure you get back on track as soon as you are physically able to safely resume activity to reap the impact on well-being.

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