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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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