We all know that a veg(etari)an lifestyle has a positive impact on the animals and the environment – not to mention the benefits that choosing plant-based might have on your health. Due to films like Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives, the number of people adopting a plant-based diet is skyrocketing (recent research by the Vegan Society shows that nearly half a million people in the UK are currently vegan).
But there are (even) more reasons to adopt a veg(etari)an lifestyle. Interestingly enough, the bigger impact that living a cruelty-free life will have is perhaps on yourself. Yes, you.
We’re not talking about subjective feelings and beliefs here – this is cold, hard science. Psychologists, neuroscientists and academics are diving into what is a relatively new field of study: Positive Psychology – a science that has roots in an ancient practice (think Aristotle and the Epicureans for example): the pursuit of happiness.
How does positive psychology work?
Positive Psychology has proven that certain aspects of our life such as: our personality, personal finances, relationships, activities and our social life have a direct impact on life satisfaction levels and conversely on our happiness, enabling individuals and communities to thrive.
You might be thinking that of course a wealthy, financially stable person will be more satisfied than the average young woman in her 30, waitressing and struggling to pay her rent. But things are not quite that trivial. Positive Psychology demonstrates that being wealthy will have a positive impact on our happiness, but only until we reach a certain peak. After this cut-off point, which some have stabilised at $75k, no further gains to your overall contentment will be made.
Positive Psychology also explores the notion that we tend to be happier after spending money on experiences rather than material things (in other words, put that Falabella back on the shelf and treat yourself and your best friend to a kick-ass holiday instead). Work-wise, apparently being surrounded by nice colleagues and enjoying what you do will lead to greater satisfaction than having a bigger salary.
Other factors contributing to a happier life are skills such as the ability to meditate and practice gratitude, as well as creating positive relationships in your life and engage in the social sector (hear that? Get volunteering).
Get in the flow
When was your last time you experienced “the flow” – meaning that you were so immersed in a task you didn’t notice time passing, feeling energised and fulfilled? Maybe while painting, gardening, cooking, working on your last financial report? Literally any activity that you enjoy can take you into this state of bliss. The more you experience this state of flow, the more your happiness level will rise.
So, what does veganism have to do with it?
Believe it or not, a diet rich in fruits and veggies is proven to improve your mood, enhance your creativity and encourage your curiosity. Several studies published by the British Journal of Psychiatry and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, just to name a few, have demonstrated that individuals choosing a plant-based diet rich in fruit, vegetables and soya were associated with fewer depression symptoms. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that increasing your portions of fruit and veg from 0 to 8 each day could lead to an increase in overall life satisfaction equal to the level you would obtain if, from being unemployed, you were to find yourself with a job.
In particular you will be pleased to know that bananas are rich in vitamin B6 – a supervitamin responsible for increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels alongside tryptophan, a mood-regulating amino acid. Spinach is a big source of magnesium, a natural anxiety reliever. Olives can lower your aggression levels and berries will give you more energy and decrease your irritability.
A meaningful life
Being involved in something valuable to society and feeling that you are doing your part in making the world a better place can play a vital role in your sense of gratification. Living a cruelty-free life is probably one of the best examples of how to apply these findings in your everyday life to improve your overall wellbeing.
By choosing not to wear, eat and use animals for your own purposes, you will naturally feel in harmony with your environment (as Brooke share with us here). You will likely experience this physically, e.g. your chest will expand or you will feel a tingling sensation on your skin or inside your stomach.
Positive psychology is usually assessed by taking into account 6 virtues and 24 personality strengths (you can test your own here) that are proven to have an impact on your life satisfaction and that, if recognised and nurtured, will massively assist your pursuit of happiness. And as humanity, love, kindness, social intelligence, justice and fairness are just some of the few strengths and virtues widely (not solely) found within people who choose to live a cruelty-free lifestyle (be it by not eating meat, choosing not to wear leather or using makeup tested on animals) is easy to imagine the positive change this life-style can bring for ourself and our wider community.
An individual able to value other living beings’ rights so much as to be willing to look for options and alternatives rather than going towards the most obvious choices is therefore more likely to live a happier life. As if we needed one more reason to choose cruelty-free.
– Peterson, C. (2009). Positive Psychology. Reclaiming Children and Youth. Vol.18, Issue 2 Conner,
– Tamlin S.; Brookie, Kate L.; Richardson, Aimee C.; Polak, Maria A. (2015-05-01). “On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life”. British Journal of Health Psychology
– Seligman, Martin E.P. Doing the Right Thing: Measuring Well Being for Public Policy. International Journal of Wellbeing Vol. 1, No. 1. (2011).
Header photo by Drew Coffman via Unsplash