Traditionally the stuff of guacamole or a topper of salads, avocados have certainly shown their diversity over the past few years. As bloggers experiment more with capitalizing on the creaminess of avocados, surprising soups, smoothies, and even desserts have emerged featuring this humble fruit. Since it’s an excellent substitute for dairy, avocados work well when recreating traditional dishes in vegan and Paleo form.
In addition to lending velvety textures, avocados are great for overall nutrition. They are full of healthy fats and antioxidants, which are key on the Paleo diet, and also boast lots of natural fiber, Vitamin E, and folic acid. Believe it or not, avocados have over twice as much potassium as bananas!
Since these versatile treats are great for recreating chocolate dishes, here’s a little tip: use avocados that are barely ripe. Because very ripe avocados are a little more pungent, you’ll want to choose one that will blend easily but won’t overpower the chocolate with its own flavor.
If you’ve got a bunch of ripe avocados lying around and need something new to do with them, we know just how to help! We collected 36 recipes to give you salads, desserts, dips, smoothies, and dressings that are not only paleo-friendly but vegan as well. Whether you’re throwing a party for both paleo followers and vegans alike or just trying to stay away from animal products for awhile, these amazing avocado recipes will astound and amaze!
You’ll never believe that this rich, velvety dark chocolate frosting is made from avocados! Spread them on Paleo cupcakes for something truly amazing.
Recipe: Avocado Frosting
Tomato Avocado Salad
This fresh, crunchy salad of cucumbers, red onion, and cilantro is perfect as a side dish – or on its own!
Recipe: Tomato Avocado Salad
Whip up this dairy-free crema to drizzle on burrito bowls, salads, or anything Mexican-inspired when you aren’t up for mashing up a guacamole.
Recipe: Avocado Crema
Got perfectly ripe avocados and a hankering for something sweet? This easy, four-ingredient recipe can be rolled up and chilled in a jiffy!
Recipe: Avocado Truffles
Creamy Avocado Dressing
Blend avocados with pepitas, lime juice, cumin, and cilantro for a dip or dressing that’s even greener than Green Goddess!
Recipe: Creamy Avocado Dressing
Pink Grapefruit & Avocado Salad
This super fresh and easy-to-make salad is dressed with lemon zest for a nice complement to the juicy grapefruit.
Recipe: Pink Grapefruit & Avocado Salad
Vegan Key Lime Ice Cream
Avocado is the key ingredient in this silky smooth ice cream, made with key lime juice, maple syrup, coconut milk, and coconut oil.
Recipe: Vegan Key Lime Ice Cream
Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this healthy version of a seasonal favorite. The shaved chocolate on top makes it even better!
Recipe: Shamrock Shake
Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Garlic Sauce
Get your spiralizer and make these raw zucchini noodles – or zoodles – drenched in a creamy sauce of blended avocados, basil, and garlic.
Heirloom Tomato Avocado Caprese Salad
Recreate this summertime favorite with ripe avocado subbed in for mozzarella. This is the best way to showcase tomatoes in their prime!
Mango Avocado Salad
Mangoes and avocadoes complement each other perfectly in this colorful and sweet salad, great as a side or all on its own!
Recipe: Mango Avocado Salad
Cucumber Avocado Rolls
Become your own sushi chef and create these creamy, crunchy veggie rolls. Only minimal knife skills necessary!
Recipe: Cucumber Avocado Rolls
Cabbage Hemp Salad
Detox your body with this super healthy, hand-massaged salad for a creamy, softened taste you’ll crave.
Recipe: Cabbage Hemp Salad
Impress your dinner party guests with this healthy, gluten-free chocolate tart made with almond flour, cocoa powder, and maple syrup. Garnish with fresh raspberries and serve with a dollop of whipped coconut cream!
Recipe: Chocolate Tart
Coconut-Crusted Avocado Fries
Avocados, fried? It actually works, when you coat the outside of avocado slices with arrowroot and coconut. Dip them into your favorite vegan and Paleo dressings!
Recipe: Coconut-Crusted Avocado Fries
Chocolate Avocado Cookies
These rich, chocolatey cookies really show off the versatility of the avocado. You’ll never believe that these cookies are healthy and gluten free!
Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Cookies
Purple Kale, Avocado, & Blood Orange Salad
This simple, five-ingredient salad is balanced with crunchy seeds, sweet orange, bitter kale, and creamy avocado.
Creamy Broccoli, Avocado, & Berry Salad
Who would have thought to pair broccoli and raspberries? When topped with a sweet poppy seed raspberry vinaigrette, the whole thing comes together beautifully – and quickly!
Watermelon and Avocado Salad
In this recipe, cucumbers and watermelon combine for a juicy and flavorful salad that screams summer. The dollop of coconut kefir on top adds some staying power!
Recipe: Watermelon and Avocado Salad
Avocado Lime Pudding
This is one of the few avocado-as-dessert recipes out there that really lets the avocado shine! Blended with lime juice, salt, vanilla, and a little sweetener, this simple recipe proves that you don’t have to hide the avocado when you make it for dessert.
Recipe: Avocado Lime Pudding
Coconut Avocado Grasshopper Bars
These no-bake peppermint bars are quite the treat! Just whip up a minty avocado mixture, top with melted chocolate, and store in the freezer for a dessert far superior to anything you’ll find in the supermarket’s frozen aisle.
Recipe: Coconut Avocado Grasshopper Bars
Throw together this healthy mayo replacement in about sixty seconds flat. Just blend avocados with olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt for a dip or dressing that can be made up to a day in advance!
Recipe: Avocado Mayonnaise
Spinach and Avocado Dip
This easy, organic five-ingredient dip is raw, gluten-free, and comes together much quicker than guacamole!
Recipe: Spinach and Avocado Dip
Roasted-Chili Mango Guacamole
Want to elevate your go-to guac? Add a little more zip with hot chili, cubed mango, and a little apple cider vinegar. You’ll never have to test your guacamole for blandness again!
Recipe: Roasted-Chili Mango Guacamole
Grilled Pineapple Salsa
This sweet and smoky salsa is boosted in flavor with bell and jalapeno peppers, red onion, cilantro, and lots of cumin for a salsa you’d happily eat with a spoon!
Recipe: Grilled Pineapple Salsa
Orange Avocado Smoothie
Take your avocado smoothies in a new direction with this recipe, which combines frozen bananas, orange juice, and orange zest.
Recipe: Orange Avocado Smoothie
Avocado Pea Green Bean Salad
This simple, lovely salad is garnished with fried onions and fresh mint and heated with a minced chili for a fresh, flavourful, and surprising side dish.
Recipe: Avocado Pea Green Bean Salad
Chocolate Banana Avocado Pudding
This sweet and chocolatey pudding is sweetened with vanilla seeds and topped with shaved coconut for a Paleo and vegan treat that’ll please everyone in the family.
Recipe: Chocolate Banana Avocado Pudding
Avocado Caesar Salad
Toss your next romaine lettuce salad with this decadent “Caesar” dressing, which includes garlic, apple cider vinegar, and just a little nutritional yeast.
Recipe: Avocado Caesar Salad
This thick and velvety soup can be served hot or cold, and is great as an appetizer or light lunch. The homemade mint olive oil drizzled on top makes this dish shine!
Recipe: Avocado Soup
Green Goddess Cauliflower “Rice”
When you’re tired of grating down cauliflower for yet another “rice” dish, try this refreshing version topped with a dressing of basil, avocado, and lemon juice.
Recipe: Green Goddess Cauliflower “Rice”
Avocado Ice Cream
You don’t even need an ice cream maker to churn out this one! Just blend avocados, sweetener, coconut milk, and salt, and freeze for at least two hours.
Recipe: Avocado Ice Cream
Avocado Fudge Bites
This easy recipe heavily recommends dipping the five-ingredient fudge balls into melted chocolate before freezing them. Because why wouldn’t you?
Recipe: Avocado Fudge Bites
Berry Avocado Salad
Show off the flavors of summer with this bright and fruity salad, topped with a homemade ginger-lime dressing. It easily doubles as dessert!
Recipe: Berry Avocado Salad
Creamy Key Lime Pie
Craving a cool and rich dessert? Although key lime pie is traditionally filled with sugar, gluten, and eggs, this Paleo and vegan dessert tastes just as good as the original — it’s just a whole lot cleaner!
Recipe: Creamy Key Lime Pie
Avocado Lime Cheesecake
Whoever thought avocado would be the star in a cheesecake recipe? This version amps up the green color and flavor with lime juice and zest, and is topped with a pureed chia-strawberry mixture.
Recipe: Avocado Lime Cheesecake
Your life path number can tell you A LOT about you.
10 Quick & Nourishing Smoothie Recipes That Taste Great
- The Facts:
Smoothies are a great way to pack a lot of nutrients into a filling, delicious meal any time of the day. In our fast-paced world, they help provide a great way to stay healthy on the go.
- Reflect On:
If you find combining sugars and fats bloat you, keep them separate. Sugar that comes from eating whole fruit is not the same as added sugar!
Have you ever compromised on a nourishing and filling breakfast because you are running late for work? Well, it has happened to all of us, especially women with kids.
And the good news is, smoothies! That’s right! Smoothies are nutrient-rich, delicious and can be made within minutes. You can replace it with your coffee on-the-go as it is much more healthy, filling, and tasty.
Here are 10 such smoothies prepared using a variety of fruits, veggies, and other ingredients. Some of the ingredients are rich in antioxidants, some are protein packed, and a few others are the best anti-inflammatory foods. So indulge in a smoothie marathon and try out one of the below smoothies each day; either as a fully-loaded breakfast or as a filling snack.
This is a protein-rich breakfast which is clean and detox-friendly. It consists of,
- 180ml of coconut milk
- 1tsp cacao 1tsp coconut oil
- 120 ml coconut water
- 25 grams of oats
- half a banana (either fresh or frozen)
- 1tsp almond butter
- 3 ice cubes
Blend everything together and you are ready to kick start your day on a super healthy note. It contains protein, fibre and all the essential nutrients required for a wholesome breakfast.
Peanut Butter Banana Apple Smoothie
Another protein packed smoothie that is just delicious! This recipe is as easy as it comes.
- Add two tablespoons of peanut butter
- a banana
- some sliced apples and
- a few ice cubes
There you go! Banana will give you instant energy, protein from peanut butter, and loads of vitamins and minerals from apple. Nothing can get better than that!
Watermelon Basil Smoothie
Another simple and quick smoothie with just three ingredients. It is healthy, quick and delicious. This smoothie includes watermelon, basil and coconut water. It is super-hydrating and healthy. Watermelon is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and many other nutrients. It aids conditions such as inflammation, obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. Basil is an amazing source of vitamin K, magnesium, copper, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids. What more do you need?
Cherry Vanilla Protein Smoothie
Cherries are the best summer fruit ever! Put one cup of cherries along with one cup coconut milk and one scoop of protein powder. It is naturally sweet, creamy and full of deliciousness. This will fulfil your daily dose of protein in a single gulp! Cherries are packed with antioxidants and cancer-preventing elements. Studies show that it also promotes sleep by increasing melatonin levels, relieve arthritis pain, reduce belly fat and is an excellent post-workout snack that can reduce muscle pain.
Strawberry Banana Smoothie
With just two ingredients, it is possible to have a tropical beach experience at home. Don’t know how? This pineapple smoothie is just what everyone needs. Frozen or fresh pineapple and almond milk are the only ingredients in this. It is quick, easy and a perfect after workout drink. This combination can never go wrong. Pineapples improve bone strength, eyesight, delays muscle degeneration and aids in digestion. Having this smoothie first thing in the morning can help with smooth bowel movement.
Banana Blueberry Chocolate Smoothie
Who doesn’t love chocolates? This smoothie can fix the craving for chocolate and in a healthy way. Adding sugar and other sweeteners can ruin the whole purpose of having a healthy smoothie. Cocoa powder is a perfect substitute that can solve this issue. And blueberries offer a myriad of benefits such as regulate cholesterol and heart diseases. It has fibre, potassium, Vitamin C and other essential nutrients.
The ingredients are
- 1 sliced banana
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- Water or crushed ice can be added.
Mint Chocolate Smoothie
This is a nutrient-packed smoothie with simple and easily available ingredients. Simply put 1 avocado, 1 banana, 1 scoop of green powder, one tablespoon vegan yogurt, two handfuls of spinach, some almond milk, few mint leaves and 1tsp cocoa powder. The greens offer plenty of vitamins and minerals along with the benefits of avocado. Mint acts as a palate cleanser and improves digestion and bowel movements. It also reduces the symptoms of inflammation, depression, asthma, respiratory diseases, promotes oral care, cures nausea and headache and even prevents cancer.
Tired of the same old peanut butter? Try this smoothie recipe with non-dairy milk, almond butter, bananas, one tablespoon of flaxseeds, natural oats, and honey. It is packed with protein, dietary fiber, omega 3 fatty acids and plenty of other nutrients. Needless to say, extremely delicious. Makes up for an excellent post-workout snack that promotes muscle strength, repair of damaged cells and provides energy.
Beetroot Cinnamon Smoothie
The ingredients are,
- 1 small raw beetroot
- 1 handful of almonds
- 1 handful of baby spinach
- ripe banana
- ripe avocado
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon raw honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
This smoothie can be customized by adding more fruits or greens. It is perfect for breakfast or as a snack option. Beetroot is a good source of iron, nitrates, magnesium and other antioxidants. It also improves skin health and glows, lower blood pressure and prevent dementia. This smoothie is an ideal option for a pre-workout meal.
So what are you waiting for? Try out these incredibly easy and healthy smoothies and pamper yourself with a great breakfast that nourishes your soul. It’s time for some self-love!
Your life path number can tell you A LOT about you.
8 Comics Showing How Much Today’s Childhood Differs From Ours
- The Facts:
The childhood experience today is inevitably affected by--and sometimes even centered on--technology.
- Reflect On:
What is technology giving to our children, and what is it taking away? Should we be more proactive about our children's exposure to technology?
When I was a child, there was no shortage of getting told by our parents and other adults about how much better we had things than they did when they were children. Stories of having to walk for miles to go to school, sleeping in the same bed until they became an adult, having the same food all the time, and having only a few simple toys to last them several years were not uncommon at all. There was a definite sense that as society modernized, things were getting better for children.
And as children we certainly didn’t disagree — hearing our parents’ stories did indeed make us feel that we were better off than they were. We certainly would not be inclined to exchange our childhood for their more rugged, austere version. And yes, to some extent these stories gave us a bit more ‘appreciation’ for what we had, despite not showing enough of it to satisfy our parents.
How About Today?
Today, I’m not sure that familiar line of conversation that has spanned many generations is going on anymore between parents and children. As the father of a 4-year old, the most immediate difference I notice is that we seem to have less time for our children than our parents did, especially if both parents are working full-time, which is just about a requirement these days.
The other major difference is the level of technology children have access to. And in some ways, technology has come in and ‘filled the gap’ where a parent’s attention is absent. Now, undoubtedly, there are some benefits to technology for our children. But when we take time to reflect on it, we might recognize that we have come to a particular stage in the modernization of our society where most of us are not sure that ‘newer, bigger, faster, more convenient’ is necessarily better, especially with regards to the type of childhood that serves as a foundation for a happy and prosperous adult life.
Here are 8 pictures comparing childhoods then and now, where technology has become ubiquitous in the lives of our children. Do you think our children have it better than we did?
Are they having more fun?
Are they being more creative?
Are they more ambitious?
Are they healthier?
Are they understanding consequences better?
Are they feeling things more deeply?
Are they experiencing more frustration?
Is their sense of wonder being cultivated more?
How Did You Score It?
How you answer these questions might give you some insight into how much you want your children’s early experiences to be influenced by technology. As everyone knows, childhood is the most formative time of a person’s life, which is why, as parents, some of the choices within our control that we make about our children’s exposure to technology might have a significant impact.
Drawings courtesy of Sergey Raskovalov.
Your life path number can tell you A LOT about you.
10 Simple Life Hacks You Can Start Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science
It seems everyone is seeking happiness. For me, I prefer to look at it as the search for peace and joy in life, as I find happiness can be too conditional, and anytime we have to look for or chase something, we are looking outside of us. Surely some of this is just semantics, but happiness is, in my view, a state of being that comes from within and doesn’t shift with circumstance.
I came across this great article about the science of happiness and how researchers have been able to discover that we can adjust various things in our daily lives to bring more happiness to our state of being. Though, again, I believe happiness happens over the longterm. It’s not short spurts of emotion that we chase, but something that is born within and sustained naturally in our being.
1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough
You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.
Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow-up assessments proved to be radically different:
The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!
You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.
A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes:
Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 mins exercise and 6 × 40 mins reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.
We’ve explored exercise in depth before, and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier, as you can see in the image below.
2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions
We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.
In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:
Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.
In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”
The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger.
Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.
Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day. Especially this graph showing how your brain activity decreases is a great insight about how important enough sleep is for productivity and happiness:
Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.
Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.
And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.
Sleep is another topic we’ve looked into before, exploring how much sleep we really need to be productive.
3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house
Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.
According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:
… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long-term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:
Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.
4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.
Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.
I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:
We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.
George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.
In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how the men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:
The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:
Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.
I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as if we increased the strength of our social relationships.
The Terman study, which is covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:
We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest.
Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.
5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:
Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…
This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes are a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.
A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:
Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.
The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.
The connection between productivity and temperature is another topic we’ve talked about more here. It’s fascinating what a small change in temperature can do.
6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number
One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.
If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:
…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.
The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:
Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.
So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. What about spending our time on other people? A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:
Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.
In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:
…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain
Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:
A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.
Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. It’s very easy to spot the difference:
Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.
A smile is also a good way to alleviate some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:
Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).
One of our previous posts goes into even more detail about the science of smiling.
8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one
As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:
In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.
Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.
If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.
9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness
Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:
In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life. I believe that this graphic explains it the best:
According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:
Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.
The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.
We’ve explored the topic of meditation and it’s effects on the brain in-depth before. It’s definitely mind-blowing what this can do to us.
10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction
This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.
In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:
The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:
Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.
Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.
Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier
As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend togrow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:
Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.
Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over un-achieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.
So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Your life path number can tell you A LOT about you.
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