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

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!

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
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

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The move towards brave doesn’t have to be a leap. It can be a shuffle - lots of brave tiny steps, each one more brave than before. What’s important isn’t the size of the step but the direction.

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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #neuronurtured #anxiety #anxietyinchildren
You know who I love? (Not counting every food delivery person who has delivered takeaway to my home. Or the person who puts the little slots in the sides of the soy sauce packets to make them easier to open. Not counting those people.) You know who? Adolescents. I just love them. 
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Today I spoke with two big groups of secondary school students about managing anxiety. In each talk, as there are in all of my talks with teens, there were questions. Big, open-hearted, thoughtful questions that go right to the heart of it all. 
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Some of the questions they asked were:
- What can I do to help my friend who is feeling big anxiety?
- What can I do to help an adult who has anxiety?
- How can I start the conversation about anxiety with my parents?

Our teens have big, beautiful, open hearts. They won’t always show us that, but they do. They want to be there for their friends and for the adults in their lives. They want to be able to come to us and talk about the things that matter, but sometimes they don’t know how to start. They want to step up and be there for their important people, including their parents, but sometimes they don’t know how. They want to be connected to us, but they don’t want to be controlled, or trapped in conversations that won’t end once they begin. 

Our teens need to know that the way to us is open. The more they can feel their important adults holding on to them - not controlling them - the better. Let them know you won’t cramp them, or intrude, or ask too many questions they don’t want you to ask. Let them know that when they want the conversation to stop, it will stop. But above all else, let them know you’re there. Tell them they don’t need to have all the words. They don’t need to have any words at all. Tell them that if they let you know they want to chat, you can handle anything that comes from there - even if it’s silence, or messy words, or big feelings - you can handle all of it. Our teens are extraordinary and they need us during adolescence more than ever, but this will have to be more on their terms for a while.  They love you and they need you. They won’t always show it, but I promise you, they do.♥️
Sometimes silence means 'I don't have anything to say.' Sometimes it means, 'I have plenty to say but I don't want to share it right here and right now.' We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety are thoughtful, observant and insightful, and their wisdom will always have the potential to add something important to the world for all of us.

 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #heyawesome #mentalhealth #heysigmund #motherhoodcommunity #parentingtips #anxiety #anxietysupport #anxietyrelief #parentingadvice #anxietyinchildren #heywarrior #childanxiety #anxietyawareness #mentalwellness
Rather than talking to them about what they can’t do (and they’ll probably want to talk about this a lot - that’s what anxiety does), ask them what they can do. It doesn’t matter how small the step is, as long as it’s forward.
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The idea is to gradually and gently expose them to the things that feel frightening. This is the only way to re-teach the amygdala that it’s safe. Let them know you understand it feels scary - they need to know you feel what they feel and that you get it. This will make your belief in them and your refusal to support avoidance more meaningful. Then move them towards brave.
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This can be tough. To move our children towards the things that are causing them distress pushes fiercely against our instincts as a parent - but - supporting avoidance, overprotecting, over-reassuring, the things we do that unintentionally accommodate anxiety over brave behaviour will only feed anxiety and make it more resistant to change. (And as a parent I’ve done all of these things at some time - we’re parents, not perfect, and parental love has a way of drawing us all in to unhelpful behaviours in the name of protecting our kiddos). .
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The point is, moving our children towards brave behaviour can feel awful, but it’s so important. When they focus on the fear and what they can’t do, try, ‘Okay, I know this feels scary. I really do. I also know you can do this. I understand this step feels too big, so what little step can you take towards it? What can you do that is braver than last time?’

 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #heyawesome #mentalhealth #heysigmund #motherhoodcommunity #parentingtips #anxiety #anxietysupport #anxietyrelief #parentingadvice #anxietyinchildren #heywarrior #childanxiety #anxietyawareness #mentalwellness
We can’t decide the lessons our children learn and we can’t decide when they learn them, but we can create the space that invites the discovery. We can do this by making it safe for them to speak, and to wander around their own experiences so the lessons and wisdom can emerge.
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