An instant happiness lift could be just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Talk about happy feet! How you and your family members hold yourselves and move can actually affect your household vibe. A recent study at the University of Michigan found that subjects who performed movements associated with joy -- jumping, skipping, holding their shoulders open wide, standing tall, and being light on their feet -- experienced a boost in mood. "Our body is constantly sending signals to our brain that affect our feelings," says Tal Shafir, PhD, a specialist in dance movement therapy and neuroscience who worked on the study. And Shafir herself walks the walk (or skips the skip): "I love skipping and galloping and sometimes do them in the middle of a jogging session. Adults usually feel uncomfortable skipping, but they can do it with their kids." Moving in this fleet-footed fashion has been shown to make grown-ups feel as happy and free-spirited as children, she says.
Kristen Race, PhD, a psychologist and author of Mindful Parenting, encourages her family to get happy with a different kind of move. They kick off their shoes and groove. "Dancing reduces stress hormones," explains Race. To make it extra fun, "we all take turns choosing songs." They glide across the floor and get silly with their steps, and pretty soon they are howling with laughter. (The other classic stress reliever that gets them wiggling around: tickle fights.)
Make Happy Happen
- Turn it into a race. Hold a backyard skipping and hopping competition by placing pool noodles, garden hoses, and other low obstacles across the yard to be hopped over on one foot; the areas between them must be crossed by skipping. Anyone who runs is out.
- Try bouncy gear. Stock up on playthings that encourage joyful jumping. A pair of pogo toys that our testers loved: the Kidoozie Hop 'n Squeak Unicorn Pogo Jumper, $19.95, intplay.com, and the Go-Go-Pogo, $59.99, amazon.com.
There are no instant edible cures for the blues. But not surprisingly, scientists have found that maintaining a healthy diet with key nutrients can improve your emotional well-being. "Studies have demonstrated there's a decrease of between 30 and 50 percent in depression when people eat a more whole food-based diet," says Dr. Drew Ramsey, author of The Happiness Diet. For a family meal plan that's rich in feel-good ingredients, focus on foods with the nutrients below.
- Omega 3's: anchovies, rainbow trout, salmon, sardines
- B-12: beef, cheese, clams, eggs, yogurt
- B-9 (folate): broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, spinach
- Vitamin E: almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, swiss chard
- Magnesium: bananas, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, quinoa
App We Love
Cranking music with a buoyant beat offers an easy way to get rear ends off sofas and spirits on the upswing. Compile and share your own playlists with Spotify, or browse the app's "Mood" area to choose ready-made ones. And check out the "Kids" area, which offers fun playlists to fit common moments from "family road trip" to "bedtime stories." Free, iOS and Android
Originally published in the May 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.