How can we be happy and flourish as human beings? To be clear, I am not talking about the momentary sense of joy or excitement which may come from winning the lottery. But rather long-term sustainable happiness and well-being, resistant to life challenges and obstacles.
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” (Socrates)
Well, after our basic physiological, safety, social and esteem needs have been met (according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) the answer to the question of long-term and persistent happiness may be right in front of us living here on the Sunshine Coast of BC. But before I get to the Sunshine Coast connection, a quick primer on (some of) the important factors which contribute to sustained happiness and well-being.
Strong social ties and quality personal relationships are one of the strongest predictors of happiness. And the use of “social” media technology does not count UNLESS you use social-media in a positive manner. Such as avoiding passively scrolling through content, endlessly complaining online or only engaging with negative and sensational material. Instead, actively engaging with family, friends or strangers and balancing positive content with the negative content we are more psychologically drawn to, can not only reduce the negative effects of social-media, but even boost happiness and well-being.
Regular exercise or other forms of physical activity (including sex) have also been consistently linked to greater happiness and well-being. We are not talking about running a marathon here (although a state of “flow” during such activities is also linked to happiness). Just getting out daily for a walk, bike ride or hike is enough to get those endorphins flowing, leading to an elevated sense of well-being and reduced stress.
Life meaning and a sense of purpose are also strongly linked to happiness and long-term well-being. Although finding your calling in life, your passion, the thing you simply cannot not do, is certainly one way to experience a sense of purpose, there are other ways like service to others or some greater cause.
Wilderness, Awe & The Blue Mind
The psychological states of awakening and awe are most commonly experienced in wilderness settings. There are even studies which have shown that those living on or close to the water are statistically happier than those not living on or close to the water. An effect known as “The Blue Mind”. The state of awe has also been linked to a reduced sense of self/ego, increased pro-social attitudes and behavior as well as increased feelings of connection to others and humanity as a whole.
Tying all these scientific findings together, I can now put together a few practical suggestions which can collectively contribute to a greater sense of happiness and well-being, while also taking advantage of our most fortunate wilderness and ocean environment living here on the Sunshine Coast.
1 (Social): Keep in touch with and nurture social relationships in your life. Spend (productive) time with your partner, kids and friends. Reach out to family or friends that you may not have been in touch with for awhile.
2 (Technology): Schedule regular breaks (even entire days) away from social-media (and other technologies). And when you are on social-media, rather than passively scrolling through content, actively engage with friends, family, strangers and try to balance your sharing/posting/reading of negative content, with more positive content and posts.
3 (Physical): Get out for a walk, short hike or a bike ride every single day. And if you can’t get outside, find some physical activity like stretching or yoga which you can do at home. YouTube is a great source for some basic tips around stretching or yoga.
4 (Existential): If you do not have a hobby or other passion to absorb yourself into, then one of the simplest ways to increase meaning in your life is in the service to others, or some cause which is important to you. And by volunteering service to others or a cause, both you AND the cause/person/group benefit.
The Sunshine Coast Benefit
Since we are surrounded by wilderness and ocean settings, each of us has everything we need to simultaneously take advantage of multiple factors related to happiness, well-being and connection. By taking a long walk (or run) along the beach with a friend and without any technology, you can benefit from the wilderness, ocean, exercise, social and technology factors all linked to happiness, awe, well-being and connection. And if you are into meditation (also linked to happiness and well-being), stopping half-way through or after your walk/hike for a 20-30 minute meditation on the beach will provide an additional boost towards improving, and sustaining, a positive state of mind.
Along with implementing this practice along the beach multiple times a week, I personally try (almost daily) to take a motorbike ride, hike and meditation up Soames Hill. This one single outing – Soames or the beach – provides me with a daily does of wilderness, beauty, awe, exercise and often supplemented with a motorbike ride (My “Zen Chariot”) and/or meditation.
We are truly blessed to be living on the Sunshine Coast surrounded by both wilderness and ocean beauty, not to mention a very small population! Try to get out as often as possible to appreciate what we have, what YOU have all around you every single day. It just might make you happier!