The Simple Change That Science Says Will Make You Happier

The Simple Change That Science Says Will Make You Happier

The search for happiness is an endless one, and not always an easy one. Now, new research has found that happiness really does grow on trees. Or from the dirt. (Now who would have thought to look there?) 

According to researchers, if you want to be happier, look to the fruit and vege patch, or for the more modern-day hunters and gatherers, the fruit and vege aisle. The effect is a substantial one. For each extra serving of fruit and vegetables each day (up to 8 portions) there is an obvious increase in happiness, well-being and life satisfaction.

The effect is so strong, researchers established that people who increase their intake of fruit and veges from none to 8 serves a day, would experience an increase in life satisfaction that is equivalent to moving from unemployment to employed.

The research.

The study, published in the prestigious journal, American Journal of Public Health, was a collaboration between the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Warwick in England.

It involved more than 12,000 people who kept food diaries and had measurements taken of their psychological well-being. So they could be sure the results were because of the fruit and veges, and not from anything else that could put blips on our human happiness radars, researchers accounted for any changes in income or personal circumstances. 

‘Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health. People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.’ Professor Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick, England.

These findings are in line with earlier research that tracked 281 people over a three week period. The study found that found that on days when people reported feeling happier, they’d eaten higher levels of fruit and vegetables the day before. Again, 7-8 servings was where the magic happened. 

But how does it work?

It’s not yet clear why fruit and veges have such a strong effect on psychological health, but researchers have a few clever ideas.

The first is the possibility that vitamin B12 might have some sort of influence on the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that passes messages between nerve cells. Serotonin plays a role in mood.

Another way fruit and veges might work is by doing something special to the microbiata in the gut. We know there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain. When microbiata in the gut are happy, they influence brain chemistry in lovely ways.

Finally, there is some evidence that suggests antioxidants might by the key. Antioxidants are abundant in fruit and veges. A powerful type of these, carotenoids, have been found to be at higher levels in the blood of people who are more optimistic.

So 7-8 serves hey? How much is a serve? 

According to government guidelines, a serve of veges is 75g and a serve of fruit is 150g. Here are some examples. Each of these counts as one serve:

  • ½ cup of cooked green orange veges (broccoli, spinach, carrots, pumpkin)
  • ½ cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad veges
  • ½ cup sweet corn
  • ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato)
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (skip the added sugar)

And finally …

More research is needed to understand exactly how fruit and vegetables influence mood. What we do know is that we humans have minds and bodies that weren’t designed to live on processed foods. Thousands of years of evolution hasn’t changed that. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something processed sometimes (because it can be delicious!), but what’s important for our minds, bodies and spirits is that we keep the balance. 

5 Comments

E'Leana

I’m so happy I “stumbled” across this website! I really did need the extra motivation to do what’s best for me?

Reply
Linda Watts

I don’t question the merits of eating fruits and vegetables. But for low income/poverty level folks, the cost of those items may surpass their food budgets. Another manifestation of inequity.

Reply
Delia Rusu

I’m so happy that you posted this! (no pun intended 🙂 ).

I absolutely agree and can actually feel it myself that I’m more energetic and upbeat when I had fruit and veggies in abundance for snacks and meals.

And I’d add that drinking plenty of water can really help too. I certainly hope that more and more people try to add fruit and veggies to their diets to reap the benefits.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Thanks Delia! I’ve noticed this myself too – I can so easily slip away from healthy eating especially when I’m busy or stressed (comfort food and I tend to be inseparable some days!) but I notice the difference when I start taking care again. And I absolutely agree with you about water!

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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