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Nourishing Happiness

We all long for happiness in life. Some may think that we need to be healthy in order to be happy. Psychological research into the relationship between health and happiness has revealed the following:

  • While health can affect happiness, happiness can also have a positive effect on health.
  • Those who are happier can better sustain their level of health and self- independence in later life.
  • Those who are happier have a higher tolerance of pain, and thus perceive less pain caused by illness compared to less happy individuals.
  • As stress can impair our body’s immune system, positive emotions can support our immunity, thus help fend off illnesses.

While we all have a longing for happiness, some people feel that it is difficult to achieve. Indeed, happiness does not just fall from the sky, but is the fruit of persistence and hard work. To nourish happiness in life, not only should we seek to enjoy pleasant day-to-day experiences, but also to cultivate a sense of contentedness, and to find meaning in living up to our values.

Enjoying pleasant day-to-day experiences

There are many different types of positive feelings, and it is not difficult to find little life pleasures to experience these positive emotions. For example, you may feel:

  • A sense of accomplishment when you learn to cook a new dish
  • A sense of warmth and love when family shows kindness to one another
  • A sense of gratitude from someone keeping a door open for you
  • A sense of excitement when you look forward to the next gathering with friends
  • A sense of relief when you know “everything will be okay”
  • A sense of calm and serenity in a quiet moment
  • A sense of curiosity from seeing something new
  • A sense of pride from having overcome adversities in your life
  • A sense of inspiration after learning something new

You may consider writing down these little life experiences every day in order to build a sense of gratitude, practice living in the moment, and continue to enjoy the life journey.

Cultivating contentedness from life experiences

Sometimes we may feel that certain aspects of our lives are inadequate, such as being unhappy when we feel a lack of wealth. It is often said that "money cannot buy happiness", and indeed, research shows that once our wealth is sufficient to meet our basic needs, having extra wealth will not have same effect on our happiness as before. Research also shows that those who view money as a life goal tend not to be as happy as those who do not. Thus, we should take a broader perspective to examine our past experiences and derive a sense of pride and contentedness.

Can you look back on your life and feel content and satisfied?
You can remind yourself of these things that have happened in your life:

  • The many hardships and challenges you have overcome
  • The friendships and interpersonal connections you have built
  • The life goals you have achieved
  • The people you have helped
  • The positive changes you have made to improve yourself
  • The inspirational and wonderful things you have seen

In addition to reflecting upon our past, we can also enrich our present, cultivating new hobbies or resuming past interests, participating in social groups, volunteering to help others, greeting our neighbours or the security guards, or exercising every day. All these can help cultivate a sense of contentedness to live a happy life.

Finding life meaning and living up to your values

Have these thoughts crossed your mind before?

  • “I have retired and don’t know how to contribute to society. What should I do now?”
  • “I have so many illnesses and disabilities. I am useless.”
  • “My children have all grown up. Am I still valued and needed?”
  • “My partner / close friends have departed this world. Is life still meaningful?”

Although changes and losses are inevitable in life, it does not mean that life itself has no value or meaning. Let's look at examples of how some seniors identify their life values and how they continue to fulfill these values to find meaning in their lives:

Ms. A When Ms. A was young, she had spent effort to make sure her family was well looked after. For Ms. A, looking after others is very meaningful. Therefore:
After retirement, Ms. A continues to express care towards others by spending time with neighbours, listening to their needs and concerns, and making them feel less lonely and isolated.
Ms. B When Mr. B was young, he continuously learnt new skills both out of interest as well as to earn a livelihood. For Mr. B, personal growth is very meaningful. Therefore:
After retirement, Mr. B continues to learn new skills for leisure. He is always willing to try new things and participate in leisure activities.
Ms. C When Ms. C was young, she strongly believed in “Example is better than precept”. She was a role model of a good citizen to her children and a role model of a good boss to her employees. For Ms. C, being a good role model is an important life value. Therefore:
After retirement, Ms. C continues to be a good role model to her children and grandchildren, showing them how to adopt a positive mindset and lead a happy, healthy life.