Savvy Psychologist's 100th Episode: 5 Tips for a Happier, Healthier Life

I can’t believe it either! After two years, a Best New Podcast iTunes award, and millions of downloads, the Savvy Psychologist podcast has reached episode 100. And believe me, I’ve learned a lot along the way. So join me, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, for a 100th anniversary special of five best tips to be both happier and healthier.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #100

Tip #3: Wake up at the same time every day. OK, fine, the same time every day give or take an hour.  

You’ve probably heard of your body’s master clock, the group of cells in your brain that controls your circadian rhythms.  But did you know that other parts of your body have their own clocks? Your organs, your skeletal muscle, even your fat has its own clock. And all the clocks in your body want to be in synch.  

Imagine a store full of grandfather clocks—you want all of them to strike the hour together. Without synchronization, you risk cacophony. So it is with your body. When your body clocks are synchronized, your body is free to regulate your body temperature, metabolism, hormones, the list goes on. But when you throw off your rhythms by flying across time zones, accidentally conking out on the couch in the late afternoon, or yes, sleeping in on Saturday morning, you throw those clocks out of synch.  Your body prioritizes getting them realigned, but in the meantime, you feel jet-lagged—groggy, tired, not to mention the headache and GI problems. And that doesn’t make you healthy or happy.  

So set your alarm for the same time every day, or at least sleep in on the weekend for less than an hour—the equivalent of one time zone—past your usual wake-up time.

Tip #4: Take a hike.  Or a walk, or a stroll—it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re surrounded by nature, and not the concrete jungle kind. Taking a walk on a beach or through the woods is  intuitively good for your health, but also boosts your happiness in a surprising way. In the Overthinking episode of my Toxic Habits series, we learned that rumination, or focusing repetitively on upsetting situations in your life, puts you at risk for depression and drives away those who try to support you.  

Luckily, a 2015 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a 90-minute walk reduced rumination, but only if it was in nature.  By contrast, a 90-minute walk through the city didn’t reduce rumination at all.  And it wasn’t just a perceived difference: all the participants got their brains scanned before and after their walk.  The result?  Only the nature walkers showed less post-walk neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that gets particularly active during rumination.

So while the exercise in either the city or nature was surely beneficial, it’s worth it to head for the hills.  Shifting one’s gaze from navel to nature may reduce your rumination, which in turn lifts your spirits.

Tip #5: Put in the time to learn skills.  Aristotle put it best when he said, “Happiness is a state of activity.” Put in the time to learn how to do activities that give you pleasure.  

Put in the time to learn how to do activities that give you pleasure.  

Skills are the opposite of consumption. It’s easy to buy stuff and watch stuff on a screen, and heaven knows I like to do both those things (damn you, Amazon Prime one-click button!) By contrast, learning how to do something—ice skate, barbecue, scrapbook, bowl, geocache, windsurf, make a scuba diver costume for your catis hard, especially when you’re just starting.  

But a 2015 analysis in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin reported, among many other things, that learning skills helps you build what’s called mastery. Mastery is belief in your own ability. Mastery helps determine whether or not you feel competent and in control, or in other words, captain of your own ship.  And it’s this mastery—of playing the flute or learning French—that not only influences your happiness, but crucially, empowers you to make lifestyle changes that affect your health and know you’ll be able to meet those health goals.

That’s it!  Five super-specific double whammies to boost your health and happiness. With this 100th episode, I want to say a big thank you to all of you.  Over the last two years I’ve been so privileged to discover such a smart, engaged, and compassionate group of listeners—this show would be nothing without you.  I love interacting with you on Facebook and over email.  You always request the best episode topics—I look forward to seeing what the next 100 episodes will bring.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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