It’s not every day that we hear some eye opening advice about happiness, life purpose, and the education system from a 13-year-old. Even less often is the information wrapped up so succinctly in a mere 11 minute video.

However, Logan LaPlante, a speaker at a 2013 TEDx event in Nevada, manages all of this.

In 11 minutes, LaPlante challenges all of us to reconsider how we think about the goals of our education system and why a goal to just “be happy” isn’t enough for students. As he suggests in his talk:

“School is geared toward making a better living, rather than a better life.”

Happiness, he goes on, isn’t a part of the normal curriculum of the school. And, happiness, as we’ll see, is attainable only when it’s approached like a lifestyle and a practice, rather than something that just happens.

Therapeutic lifestyle changes

LaPlante bases many of his suggestions about happiness, and how it can be wrapped into a better model for our education system, on the teachings of Dr. Roger Walsh. Dr. Walsh promotes therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLCs) in his work. As he explains, the practice of key lifestyle components can result in better mental health and happiness.

In an article published in American Psychologist, Dr. Walsh writes:

“Health professionals have significantly underestimated the importance of lifestyle for mental health. More specifically, mental health professionals have underestimated the importance of unhealthy lifestyle factors in contributing to multiple psychopathologies, for fostering psychological and social well-being, and for preserving and optimizing cognitive capacities and neural functions.”

LaPlante uses these eight TLC categories to inform his own TEDx discussion. In order to cultivate happiness, LaPlante says that you must:

  • Exercise
  • Practice good diet and nutrition
  • Spend time in nature
  • Find a way to contribute and serve others
  • Foster meaningful relationships
  • Take time for recreation
  • Practice relaxation and stress management
  • Find some religious or spiritual focus

Exercise 

The benefits of exercise have long been established. Dr. Walsh writes that exercise:

“Reduces the risk of multiple disorders, including cancer, and is therapeutic for physical disorders ranging from cardiovascular diseases to diabetes to prostate cancer (Khaw et al., 2008; Ornish et al., 2008). Exercise is also, as the Harvard Mental Health Letter (“Therapeutic Effects,” 2000, p. 5) concluded, ‘a healthful, inexpensive, and insufficiently used treatment for a variety of psychiatric disorders.'”

We’ve discussed these same therapeutic benefits in our review of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD. Apart from fostering happiness, we’ve also discussed how exercise can be used to treat a number of medical conditions. With exercise, you can:

You can start out on your own exercise program by talking to your doctor, starting slowly, being consistent, having fun, bringing friends along, and properly rewarding yourself for your accomplishments.

Nutrition and diet

A therapeutic lifestyle change that confronts us every day is nutrition and diet. Dr. Walsh suggests that the dizzying array of food choices can be simplified by looking at food selection and supplements.

Basically, how can we eat a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and fish while also reducing excessive calories? Supplements like vitamin D, folic acid, SAME, and fish oil may be used to address deficiencies in certain areas.

Nature

In his TEDx talk, LaPlante discusses how he spends at least one whole day outside a week. If we could all manage this, or at least a few hours a day, Dr. Walsh writes that, “

[N]ature can promote improved cognitive functioning and overall well-being.” He also suggests that there are therapeutic benefits to getting time outside, from silence to refuge to escape from the techno-stress of our everyday lives.

Relationships

Though it doesn’t seem to have the same weight and actual practice aspect, relationships are an important component of overall happiness and well-being. Dr. Walsh writes:

“Rich relationships reduce health risks ranging from the common cold to stroke, mortality, and multiple psychopathologies. On the positive side, good relationships are associated with enhanced happiness, quality of life, resilience, cognitive capacity, and perhaps even wisdom.”

Spending time on and cultivating relationships with family and friends can bring along multiple benefits to your own happiness.

Recreation and enjoyable activities

If you look at the Faces of Pain community on Pain Doctor, you’ll notice one striking similarity between the majority of the submissions: many people have something they love doing that helps them face their pain. For some, it’s pets or family, but others find solace in quilt-making, singing, writing, or gardening.

Dr. Walsh writes:

“Recreation can involve play and playfulness, which appear to reduce defensiveness, enhance well-being, and foster social skills and maturation in children (Lester & Russell, 2011) and perhaps also in adults (G. Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2007).”

Relaxation and stress management 

As we’ve discussed multiple times on this blog, the active management of stress and relaxation can lead to big gains in both happiness and pain management!

Consider:

Religious and spiritual involvement 

As mentioned earlier, you can find many of these TLC components of happiness on the Pain Doctor Faces of Pain board. Kimberly, a contributor, writes:

I lead a very faith based life and try to live with gratitude and positivity. I am blessed everyday with an amazing hubby, family and an amazing life! I want to make sure I love enough and make a difference in others life that is positive!”

When life is lived this way, Dr. Walsh notes that there can be “enhanced psychological, relational, and marital well-being, as well as reduced rates of disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.”

Contribution and service 

Finally, once you’ve found happiness, how can you help others find the same? Dr. Walsh notes in his article that:

“Multiple studies, including those that control for prior health factors, suggest that people who volunteer more are psychologically happier and healthier, are physically healthier, and may even live longer.”

How do you find happiness in your life? How many of these eight TLC areas have you cultivated successfully in your life? 

Image by Kenny Louie via Flickr

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