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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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