Happiness is a goal for all of us, in the short term and the long term. So often, though, it seems as though we sacrifice our happiness in that pursuit. We work extra hours for money we don’t have time to spend. We cancel plans and make more later, never bringing them to fruition. We eat our processed meals and forsake the organic, because it takes longer to prepare.
Happiness isn’t hidden, it’s right here in front of us, if only we can reach out to seize it. We can find happiness in big ways, through grand motions and major changes, but we can also find it in small ways, in a healthy snack or a change in diet.
Foods alone aren’t going to make you happy, but they can bring you a moment of happiness. Foods alone won’t cure what ails you, but you can live a healthier life with the right kind of diet. You can find your happiness in your own pursuits, but let these small meals and supplements provide you a foundation for your happiness to grow.
The array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, and other nutrients listed below can all serve to improve your mood in some manner. Whether it’s because your body is healthier so you’re worrying less, or because they stimulate the production of brain chemicals, or simply because they’re better for you than processed sugars and a barrage of fats and starches, getting these nutrients can help in a myriad of ways.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most commonly recommended vitamins for everything from general health to recovering from illness. It’s generally quite safe to take in supplements because the excess does nothing harmful and is evacuated easily.
Where to get it: Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, from rose hips to lemons to thyme.
2. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, also known as Pyridoxine, is important to your metabolism and to the production of red blood cells and neurotransmitters, including serotonin, the happiness transmitter. The body can’t produce its own B6, so it has to be obtained from foods or supplements.
Where to get it: Foods rich in B6 include turkey, tuna, and salmon. For those on the vegetarian end of the spectrum, you can get it from chickpeas, potatoes, and bananas as well.
3. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is also known as Cobalamin, and it’s another vitamin that your body needs to function but cannot produce itself. In order to get more B12, you need to get it from dietary sources, supplements, or in extreme cases injections. It’s necessary for nerve cell regeneration and function, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis.
Where to get it: Per-serving, the best source of B12 is actually clams. However, you can also get this essential vitamin from beef liver, rainbow trout and other fish, milk, cheese, and other dairy sources.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one your body can actually produce, but to do so, you need to be exposed to the sun long enough to stimulate it. Since sun exposure isn’t always healthy for other reasons, ranging from sunburn to skin cancer, you might want to consider a Vitamin D supplement, or an increased intake from food sources.
Where to get it: The easiest path is to simply bask in the sunlight for a while. A little bit of sun bathing goes a long way. Alternatively, you can get supplements, or find Vitamin D in many fish or fortified juices.
5. Vitamin A
Also known as Retinol, Vitamin A is a powerful nutrient that helps with immune function, fertility, vision, and other bodily functions. Too much isn’t great, but getting an adequate amount is important for your health, including healing and restoring your internal organs when they’re damaged.
Where to get it: Vitamin A is mostly found in foods. Some of the best sources include sweet potatoes, spinach, liver, and dairy. You can also find it in squash, fish, and carrots.
Magnesium is a potent mineral that is present in the body already, and is available in a variety of foods. It’s useful for protein synthesis and enzyme production, and it helps regulate nerves, muscles, and blood pressure. It’s required for your body to break down nutrients into energy, so having enough of it will definitely make you feel happier and more energetic.
Where to get it: Good sources of magnesium include almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, and other nuts. You can also get it from beans, avocados, rice, and yogurts.
Folate is the common name of another B vitamin, this time Vitamin B9, though it’s rarely called anything other than Folate or Folic Acid. Folate is important for the metabolism, as well as DNA synthesis and enzyme production. If your body lacks Folate, anemia is typically one of the symptoms.
Where to get it: You can primarily find Folate in leafy vegetables and greens, fruits, nuts, seafood, and more. A huge variety of products are also enriched with additional Folate, such as breads and cereals.
Selenium is a trace element, which means you don’t need a lot of it, but you do need some. It’s used by the body in reproduction, DNA synthesis, and for fighting off infections. It’s also a crucial element for regulating the thyroid, and thyroid conditions frequently affect mood.
Where to get it: The most consistent ways to get selenium are from seafood and organ meats. Muscle meats are secondary, as are cereals and grains. Brazil Nuts are an exception with their high levels. Selenium contents can vary, though, based on the soil conditions in which a plant is grown.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It’s a critical component in bones and cartilage, and is widely used for vascular contraction and dilation, nerve transmission, hormone production and signaling, and a wide range of other metabolic processes. In short, it’s absolutely essential to get enough calcium in your diet.
Where to get it: Calcium is most present in dairy foods, including yogurt, cheeses, and milk. It’s also often fortified into other products, including breads and cereals.
Chromium is another trace element that you need in very small amounts. It’s known to be a component in insulin effects, and may be a powerful component for regulating blood sugar, which is itself a factor that contributes to mood swings. Unfortunately, the full effects of chromium on the body are not fully understood.
Where to get it: Because Chromium is such a trace mineral, it is present in a wide variety of foods, ranging from vegetables to herbs to orange juice to turkey. You don’t need a lot, but you should make sure you’re getting enough.
11. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a range of different fats you can get from dietary sources and from supplements. What we call omega-3s are actually a whole category of amino acids that are used in the body for a range of different benefits. They help regulate blood pressure, they can have a beneficial effect on depression, and they lower inflammation.
Where to get it: Omega-3 Fatty Acids primarily come from fatty fish, including anchovies, herring, salmon, tuna, and trout. If you want non-fish sources, you’ll be looking at walnuts, soybean oil, and chia seeds.
Iron in the body is a component of healthy blood. It helps carry oxygen throughout the body, to keep muscles healthy and to restore connective tissue. Iron is also necessary for growth and for hormone synthesis. Iron is also a contributor to avoiding anemia.
Where to get it: Iron is another common mineral found fortified in a range of different foods, from lentils to cereals to bread. You can also get it from chocolate, tofu, tomatoes, and beef.
Zinc is another mineral that contributes to a variety of different health benefits. It’s often used as a cold suppressant, but it’s more useful in the body as part of wound healing, cell division, and childhood growth. Zinc is also required for the proper functioning of your senses of taste and smell. Your body also doesn’t store zinc, so you need to have a consistent intake to get the most benefit from it.
Where to get it: The best dietary source of zinc is oysters, but it can also be found in beef, crab, pork, and chicken. Non-meat sources include cereals, beans, pumpkin seeds, and chickpeas.
Potassium is a natural element that is abundant in the body and necessary for proper cellular function. Without it, you may have sodium issues, fluid retention problems, and anemia. You don’t need a ton, and too much can harm the kidneys, so be cautious with combining dietary sources and supplements like multivitamins.
Where to get it: May foods have potassium in them, including apricots, lentils, prunes, and potatoes. Bananas are historically high, though not topping the list by any means.
Betaine is a name for a kind of chemical compound found in chemistry, but in nutrition it’s a different name for TMG, or trimethylglycine. This betaine is a useful nutrient for vascular health, can help with digestion, and has benefits for organ function, including the heart and the liver.
Where to get it: Betaine was first found in beets, but can also be found in wheat bran, spinach, and some other grains. It’s also a common supplement powder.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol, which is a chemical similar to an antioxidant. It is thought to protect against cellular damage and metabolic problems that can lead to heart disease and other health issues. Though little study has been done with it compared to other nutrients on this list, it’s not actively harmful so far as we know.
Where to get it: Resveratrol is commonly found in the skin of dark-colored fruits, like grapes, but can also be found in sources like peanuts.
Lycopene is a chemical found in many fruits and vegetables, and it is responsible for the red color found in, well, anything red. It’s an antioxidant with powerful cellular protection effects, and it is being researched for any possible anti-cancer properties and other benefits.
Where to get it: The vast majority of Lycopene intake today comes from tomatoes. You can also find it in just about anything red, like watermelon, blood oranges, grapefruits, and rose hips.
Glutamine is an amino acid, a building block for protein synthesis, and is a natural element in the body. It helps with specific diseases like sickle cell, as well as wound healing, recovery from chemotherapy, and other forms of recovery. If you’re sick or have had surgery, glutamine supplements can help get you back on your feed.
Where to get it: Most of the time, Glutamine is a supplement given to a patient after wound care or surgery. It can also be found in foods like chicken, fish, dairy, beans, and spinach.
Honey isn’t strictly a nutrient, but it is a type of sugar. While we tend to think of sugars as bad, some sugars are better than others. Your body also needs sugar to survive, though likely in far lower amounts than we eat on average. Honey is a healthier alternative to processed white sugars.
Where to get it: Bees!
Probiotics are bacteria, not nutrients. Your body needs a certain concentration of healthy, symbiotic bacteria in your gut to aid digestion. When your gut flora is thrown out of balance, all manner of different problems can occur. There’s even research to suggest that gut flora are responsible for brain health, and that poor gut flora can be a contributing factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Where to get it: Probiotic sources include fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
Tryptophan is another amino acid that is necessary for adults in regulating nitrogen in the body. It’s also important as a nutrient for growth in children. It’s not synthesized in the body and thus must be found from dietary sources or supplements. It has even been used to help quit smoking and for various emotional disorders.
Where to get it: You can find Tryptophan in salmon, poultry, and eggs, as well as spinach, seeds, and soy products.
Iodine is another essential trace element for the body. It helps regulate the thyroid and is required for nervous system development.
Where to get it: You will typically get enough from iodized table salt. If you don’t use iodized salt – such as sea salt or Himalayan salt – you may want to look for it in foods like seaweed, milk, bread, and shrimp.
Tea has a wide variety of health benefits, because it contains a lot of the above nutrients, while also forcing you to drink plenty of water to get them.
Where to get it: You probably have a tea store locally that can introduce you to the wide world of delicious teas.
Dietary fiber is important because of how it feeds your gut flora, how it helps process the food you eat, and how your body uses it to help absorb nutrients. Without fiber, many of the other nutrients simply pass through. Many dietary fibers are now thought of as "prebiotics" now.
Where to get it: Fiber can be found in a variety of healthy foods, including pears, avocados, artichokes, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, and other nuts.
Many of the above ingredients can be thought of as antioxidants, and antioxidants have a still-being-studied beneficial effect on preventing cellular damage. It never hurts to get more of them.
Where to get it: You can get antioxidants from a wide range of sources, including dark chocolate, pecans, berries, artichokes, and kale.