Five steps to winter happiness

Being happy isn’t a mood that is 100 percent achievable 24 hours a day. I like to think of happiness as something that comes and goes. The important thing about finding happiness is knowing it will always come back.

Being happy isn’t a mood that is 100 percent achievable 24 hours a day. I like to think of happiness as something that comes and goes.

The important thing about finding happiness is knowing it will always come back.

1. Friends

While I have a bias for actually having friends whom I can talk to in person, it appears that virtual connections do have a place in the search for happiness.

Time Magazine recently released a story referring to the effects of positive posts on Facebook. Basically, when something uplifting was posted, two posts with similar emotions would follow by other people.

The study also showed that “each additional positive post reduced the number of negative ones by friends by nearly two-fold, while each additional negative update lowered positive posts by 1.3 times.”

So when you get online, spread the love with puppies and rainbows and continue the flow of good vibes.

It doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t let positive emotions spread in real time. So next time you are at the Farmers’ Market, Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony or the Eastsound Art Walk, say something nice and watch the positivity spread.

2. Adventure

Exercise can be a dirty word, so I prefer the term “adventure” whenever I am getting my blood pumping whether it’s a hike up Turtleback, going for a jog, kayaking or backpacking in the North Cascades.

There are hundreds of ways to be active: rearranging your furniture, dancing or walking a dog at the animal shelter all count.

But if you are depressed it is often hard to get motivated to start an “adventure.”

“The problem with exercise is that people are often too depressed to get off the couch,” said Dr. Frank James, San Juan County health officer.

For people facing that level of lethargy, James recommends seeking medication or talk therapy first and then they should focus on getting exercise back into their lives.

The recommended dose of physical activity is 40 minutes a day. James said as long as you are slightly out of breath, but could still maintain a conversation, then you are at the right level of physical exertion.

If you can get outdoors during the day and combine light exposure while raising your heart rate, that is ideal, said James.

3. Comfort zone

Routine can be good. You read the paper in the morning, head to work and look forward to curling up with your favorite book in the evening, but can this pattern create stagnancy in your life?

According to an article on Life Hacker’s website, the anxiety that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone may actually be good for you. The article points to benefits like extended creativity and the ability to cope with unexpected change.

Of course everyone’s comfort zone is different and you have to find what is a healthy level of stepping out. For many of us, learning a new discipline like yoga or learning to play an instrument may be enough to jump start our lives. It’s important to gradually step out of your comfort zone and remember you can always come back to your creature comforts.

4. Probiotics

Any RadioLab podcast fans out there? In their episode “Guts,” hosts Jad and Robert refer to a study on mice that were given probiotics known as Lactobacillus. The question was: if you feed mice a lot of probiotics, would it change their personality?

Half of the mice were given probiotics and the other half were not. The mice were dropped in water in a bucket that they could not get out of. The mice that were not on probiotics swam for a little while, but within four minutes gave up and started to float. The mice that were taking Lactobacillus continued to swim for six minutes, which is when researchers removed the mice from the bucket.

Overall, the study, which measured the animals’ stress hormones, found that mice who had been given probiotics suffered less stress, anxiety and depression-related behavior. Conclusion: I keep a bottle of probiotics near my desk.

5. Meditation

Numerous studies suggest that meditation not only creates relaxation and stress reduction, but can also bring you general peace of the mind.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may improve certain medical conditions.”

If you want to dive into meditation, try a guided recording by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School at