madge

Dignified wolf…

Over the bank holiday weekend, I said goodbye to the  world’s best dog. There’s almost certainly a shed-load of peer-reviewed research to back that up, but I can’t find it just now, okay? Just, you know, take my word for it that Madge was, objectively speaking,  the world’s best dog.

She was very old and creaky, and had recently started to get significant pain in her joints. She had a morning of eating her favourite treats, playing with squeaky toys and being treated like royalty, then she went to sleep in the sunshine, surrounded by her humans. Without a doubt, it was the right decision at the right time. Knowing that didn’t make it any less heartbreaking, however.

Being able to plan a peaceful end for her was an incredible privilege, but in the couple of weeks between making the decision and it happening, I was just deeply sad about it, as you’d imagine. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, actually, totally fortunately), I wasn’t able to indulge in any top quality moping because I was helping to run residential schools for our researchers, organising our Three Minute Thesis competition and planning this year’s Researcher Wellbeing Week, with my colleagues.

What I did do, from time to time, was scratch around on the internet for happiness hacks, even though I knew full well that feeling sad was an entirely normal and healthy response to what was going on. You’ll be astonished to hear that there are no quick fixes for grief. Who knew?

However, I did stumble across a couple of articles that, whilst not particularly useful in my specific circumstances, served as a really good reminder about what we can all do to help ourselves feel better and happier in our day-to-day lives.

Alex Korb, a neuroscientist at UCLA, has written about five neat “neuroscience tweaks” that I’m going to start paying more attention to. They’re all entirely sensible and, more importantly (for me, at least), backed by solid research; I’m not a big fan of empty, motivational quotes.

You can find the full text of Alex’s article here, but his  top tips are:

1. Get some sun – being outside during the day regulates the body’s internal clock and helps you get a better night’s sleep; sunlight absorbed through your skin also helps make serotonin, which lifts your mood.

2. Move your body – just moving around activates serotonin neurons; it doesn’t have to be anything too vigorous, although if you exercise more intensely, you’ll get benefit in the norepinephrine and dopamine systems, too.

3. Stretch your muscles – when your muscles are tight,your brain thinks that you’re stressed. Just stretching actually reduces stress (and releases neurochemicals similar to morphine. Blimey.).

4. Get a massage (or a hug!) – both release the neurohormone oxytocin, which reduces stress and anxiety and helps you feel more connected with others.

5. Take a deep breath – deep breathing affects the brain by modulating activity in the vagus nerve, and is a powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety.

All these feel like simple, sensible, low-effort things to try, so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off out to stretch in the sun.  😉

What are your “happiness hacks”? Let me know in the comments.