I've spent most of my adult life trying to be happy. And while I've written about overcoming depression and improving my mental health, there's one factor I haven't often discussed: my diet.
Since I went vegan almost two years ago, my overall mood has significantly improved. That really wasn't my intention — my choice was based on ethics alone. I knew that eating plant-based has been shown to be better for animals, the environment, and your body. But making me happier? That was a pleasant surprise.
Here are the ways a plant-based diet has made me a happier person.
1. A healthy body means a healthier mind.
Eating more whole, unprocessed, natural foods is the ideal way to eat to avoid illness, obesity and most of the chronic health issues so many Americans face. Medicine is finally starting to acknowledge that mind and body are inexorably connected. Assuming that, your physical well-being obviously impacts your mental well-being.
2. The diet embodies kind living.
Research has shown that practicing kindness actually helps people get happier, and a vegan diet is a major expression of kind living. By opting to eat plant foods you're minimizing your impact on the planet, eliminating the suffering of sentient beings for your benefit and caring for your body. These all contribute to greater overall wellness and happiness.
3. It connects like-minded people.
Feeling a sense of community is a key factor in overall happiness, and the vegan community is incredibly welcoming. Despite all the rumors about overzealous, judgmental vegans, I've had nothing but positive experiences meeting people who share these values (and the same was true even before I made the decision to go vegan). It's not always easy to be a vegan in a non-vegan world, but connecting with those who have similar goals makes life a lot smoother — and undeniably happier.
4. Science backs it up.
A Nutrition Journal study showed that after two weeks on a vegetarian diet, participants showed significant mood improvements (versus omnivores). Researchers connected the findings to arachidonic acid (AA), a substance that's higher in omnivorous diets versus veg diets. AA is tied to brain changes that can negatively affect mood.
5. It connects people to the earth.
It may seem odd, but eating garden-grown foods and minimizing personal environmental impact has really helped me feel closer to our precious planet. In modern society, we tend to be completely disconnected from our environment, but that's doing the earth (and ourselves) a huge disservice. We can't be truly happy if we ignore nature and the ecological interconnectedness of everything around us. We come from the earth and go back to the earth, and having a strong relationship with the planet can have a powerful influence on our lives.
6. It's progressive.
It's often said that vegans are from the future, and frankly, we are! While it's clearly not a vegan world today, people are starting to wake up to the damage we're doing with our unsustainable lifestyles. Just looking at the last five years and the acceptance of veganism in mainstream culture, it's clear that we're making progress.
Eventually, I believe humans will embrace a plant-based lifestyle on a large scale (frankly, our survival as a species depends on it). In the meantime, going vegan means you're WAY ahead of the curve — and that feels pretty damn good.