4 small changes to boost happiness and memory

When making change for healthier habits, focusing on one small change at a time is a much more manageable approach than trying to make major overhauls.

Here are some favorites from my book “52 Small Changes for the Mind,” that can make a lasting impact to increasing happiness, improving memory, boosting productivity and managing stress.

1. Forget the Joneses: It is human nature to compare ourselves with others.  Comparing, however, robs us of joy. The need to compare stems from a belief we aren’t good enough as we are, and so, we look outwardly to define what we want, feel and how we should live. Stop the cycle of comparison with the following;

Raise Awareness: Recognize the habit and try to identify why you’re doing it.

Shift Thinking: Focus on the positive in your life, and be grateful for the good, instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

Make Choices Predicated on You. Seek out what you deeply want and need instead of looking externally.

Realize There’s More Than Meets the Eye: Acknowledge there’s always more to a situation or a person than meets the eye.

2. Eat Brain-Boosting Fruits and Vegetables: As shown by their deep and rich red and purple pigments, berries contain high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are important to anti-aging and fighting free radicals linked with age-related mental disease. Garlic, onions and leeks have been shown to promote proper blood flow to the brain, and are rich in chromium picolinate, which positively affects mood.

Berries: Whenever possible, choose organic to avoid unhealthy pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. Toss them into cereal at breakfast, on top of a salad for lunch, or enjoy a cup of blueberries with some walnuts for a healthy snack.

Garlic and Onions: Garlic and onions are easy adds to side dishes, main dishes, pizza, pasta, soups, and salads. They’re also delicious grilled, baked, or roasted on their own.

3. Be a Lifelong Learner: Unlike many other organs, the brain can constantly change— a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity.” Studies show we are capable of neurogenesis, a process wherein we create new neurons in certain parts of our brain. These ongoing biological processes directly result in improved cognitive function, a slowed aging process, and enhanced memory. Consider the following:

Enroll in Classes: Many communities, local colleges, and high schools offer adult education programs. Sign up for a class that interests you.

Attend Lectures: Schools, hospitals, museums, theaters, bookstores and other retail outlets, frequently offer lectures for the local community.

Learn a New Language: Studies show bilingual individuals tend to have greater structural changes in the brain than monolinguals. It can improve creativity, problem solving, analytical skills, and other brain processes.

Get Creative: Create something visual, learn to play an instrument, or take a dance class. When we are creative, we engage our brains in a more robust way, boosting benefits.

4. Place Value on Doing: Studies show spending money on an experience tends to make us happier than when we spend money on material possessions. The joy possessions provide is finite and fades over time, while experiences take longer to digest and become more significant over time. Further, when we share experiences with others, it increases social connectedness and strengthens relationships, which contributes to our happiness, as well. Some ideas:

Be Inclusive: Share experiences with others to boost connection and strengthen personal bonds.

Plan in Advance: The planning and anticipation of experiences brings joy, too. Plan in advance so you can look forward to them and anticipate the happiness they’ll bring.

Memorialize Experiences: Document what you do through photography, journaling, or videoing, to keep experiences alive after the fact.

Create an Experience Fund: Although many experiences are free or low cost (a concert in the park, a picnic at the beach, etc.), some experiences may require more money. Start an experience fund and contribute regularly so you can work towards the end goal.

If you’re anxious to learn about other small changes you can make to increase happiness, productivity, and memory while minimizing stress, go to www.52smallchanges.com.

Brett Blumenthal is bestselling author of “52 Small Changes for the Mind,” “A Whole New You: Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life,” “52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You” and “Get Real and STOP Dieting!” She speaks at conferences, spas and wellness centers on topics of change and wellbeing. Brett has been featured on Huffington Post, Yahoo and Intent, as well as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Guess Magazine and Stuff Boston. She has appeared on NBC, FOX and CBS, as well as on Martha Stewart’s “Whole Living Radio Show.”

More on this...