Skip to content
0891 Key Happiness FTR

Three Keys to a Happy Life

If you’re looking for Trudy Shiemke, check the vegetable plot she tends on the Wayne State University campus or the flower garden at her townhome in suburban Detroit.

Or you might see the spry 86-year-old at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, where she works 20 hours a week coordinating events for high school students and their teachers. Or she could be at her inner city church, playing cards or attending a book club meeting.

Clearly, Trudy likes to keep busy, and she credits that for her sunny outlook. When she wakes up in the morning, she tells herself, “There are things to do.” Even when she doesn't feel upbeat, she acts as though she does and that improves her mood.

According to Heather Fritz, Ph.D., assistant professor of occupational therapy and gerontology at Wayne State University, Trudy is doing what’s most important to maintain a positive outlook:

1. Nurturing a strong network of family and friends

2. Eating healthy

3. Exercising regularly

Supportive social networks

Being around people reduces anxiety and depression in older adults, and the most important relationships are with family and friends, Fritz says. Trudy, who was widowed 21 years ago, has four children, three of whom live nearby, and 10 grandchildren – so she has plenty of day-to-day support. She has lost several longtime friends, but she makes new ones through work, church, her book club and her monthly card game.

A healthy menu

People who eat more fruits and vegetables are more likely to have an upbeat attitude than those with a less healthy diet, Fritz says. Eating too much sugar can highlight the symptoms of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression because of sugar’s pro-inflammatory properties and what she calls a “boom and bust cycle – a sugar high followed by a letdown.” Unhealthy fats in foods such as french fries, bacon, cakes and doughnuts are linked to anxiety and impaired memory.

Trudy feasts on the vegetables she grows: eggplants, cucumbers, green peppers and “delicious homegrown Michigan tomatoes.” Her typical menu:

• Juice, raisin toast and a banana for breakfast

• Soup, yogurt and fruit for lunch

• Fish, chicken and vegetables for dinner

“And chocolate,” she adds.

Walking on sunshine

Physical activity is so good for our mental health that our mood can change within the first five minutes of a walk, Fritz says. She recommends getting in at least 20 minutes daily of moderate-level intensity physical activity and doing strength training at least two days per week.

But, she adds, do what you are able: “You can get a benefit from a small amount of physical activity.”

Trudy has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so she can’t walk as fast or as far as she once did, but she uses her stationary bike religiously for 20 to 25 minutes daily.

And she gets out in the sun as much as she can, sometimes while sitting in the park and watching the boats on Lake St. Clair: “It can’t help but perk me up to look up at the blue sky. I am truly blessed.”

Come on get happy!

Exercise and sunshine can do wonders for our moods. According to the American Association of Retired People:

• Walking just 30 minutes can improve your mood for up to 12 hours.

• The happiest people watch less than 1 hour of TV per day.

• Our happiness grows by 9 percent for each happy friend we add to our life.

• Each unhappy friend causes our happiness to drop by 7 percent.

• Happy folks spend at least six hours a day with friends or family.

• People who attend religious services at least once a week live up to seven years longer than those who don't.

Lose the attitude: Five thoughts to quit thinking

1.  Assuming the worst. If you think it’s going to be a bad day, you’re setting yourself up for just that.

2.  Comparing yourself with others. Your neighbors' lives might seem so much more fulfilling but you probably have no        idea about the battles they're fighting.

3.  Stewing about the past. You know that stupid decision you made in 1986? Forget it. You can’t change it now, but you        can change its effect on you.

4.  Finding fault. Judgmental people who constantly blame others are setting themselves up for misery.

5.  Seeking perfection. Life is flawed, but unhappy people keep expecting a happy ending that never comes the way they      expect it. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Learn more about how you can get happy by exercising, eating right and staying connected with HAP Community Wellness Programs

Categories: Get Healthy