“But are you happy?”
That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer, which sometimes makes us squirm when people put us on the spot. I mean, the default answer is “yes,” but that’s not always true, is it?
We all have ups and downs; good days and bad, and it’s impossible to be happy 100% of the time (especially these days!).
But scientists and researchers point to something called “baseline happiness,” which is a consistent, long-term range of our positive emotional state. And the great news is that we can do things to improve our baseline happiness – there are tangible strategies to boost our mood, joy, and outlook in life.
If you want to feel happier TODAY, try these 10 techniques. Do these things regularly, and you’ll see a vast improvement in how much you enjoy your life!
1. Go work out
Exercise and physical activity are one of the most impactful ways to produce natural endorphins, or “good mood chemicals” in the brain. In one notable study, three groups of depressed individuals were treated with either medication, exercise, or both.
They found that all three groups showed short-term improvement in their levels of happiness, but the long-term prognosis was starkly different.
Six months later, those who just took medication relapsed into depression at a 38% rate. Even the medication + exercise group relapsed at a 31% rate. But only 9% of the group that treated their depression with exercise fell back into that state, a remarkable finding!
2. Spend time with a friend or family member
Did you know that one of the top regrets from seniors when they’re on their deathbed is that they didn’t spend enough time with family or friends?
Numerous studies point to happiness levels and the quality (not necessarily quantity) of our social connections, especially with family or close friends.
Men especially have a tough time connecting and forming meaningful relationships with friends. But research shows interesting data points on that topic, such as that a man’s relationships at age 47 are an accurate predictor of their health and happiness later in life!
3. Get outdoors
Most of us just feel better with a little sunlight and fresh air, but science backs that up. Studies show that even 20 minutes outdoors in pleasant weather boosts mood and other brain functions. And while you may guess that we get happier as temperatures climb, the American Meteorological Society discovered that the happiness-boosting effect of the outdoors is maximized at 57 degrees – positively brisk!
4. Practice gratitude
I said “practice” instead of just “be grateful” because encouraging a mindset of gratitude takes work and diligence before it becomes a habit. But the sunnying effect across just about every aspect of your life is profound.
According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat review, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
5. Meditate (and breathe deeply) every day
There’s an overwhelming amount of research that now proves that meditation and deep breathing literally rewire your brain, improving mood, clarity, focus, outlook, and yes, happiness. Meditation is also one of the best ways to treat anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness naturally.
A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found that after an eight-week course of meditation, the part of the brain associated with compassion, empathy, and self-awareness actually grew in size, while the part of the brain associated with stress shrank in size.
6. Volunteer and give back (according to this specific number)
One of the single most powerful ways to help ourselves feel better is to help others. Charity work, volunteering, or just performing a random act of kindness all go a long way towards boosting our own happiness.
But emerging research also points to an optimal amount of time for our philanthropic efforts: 100 hours, or approximately 2 hours per week. More or less than that, and we may still be helping others, but may not experience the same proportionate increase in our own joy.
7. Plan an epic vacation (even if you never hit the road)
We’d all love to hop on a plane (first class) and fly off to some tropical locale right now, taking the vacation of a lifetime. Whether it’s time, money, or this pesky pandemic, that may not be possible. But the good news is that we can launch our happiness just by planning that trip.
In fact, a study by the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that we feel the most joy just by planning a vacation before we ever say bon voyage, and those happiness levels drop sharply once we return.
8. Grow older
Yes, you read that correctly – we demonstrate higher levels of happiness as the birthdays add up. This isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence, but scientific studies where people of different age groups were shown photos of faces in both positive and negative situations. The researchers found that the older we are, the more we focus on the happy faces and tend to remember the negative details less.
Other research concludes that the simple things – like taking a walk or seeing a friend – will enhance our mood more significantly the older we are. Perhaps it’s because we learn coping mechanisms and techniques to lift our own spirits as time goes on, but we just need get older to be happier!
9. Step away from social media
We’re the first generation in the history of human beings who have had to deal with addiction to technology (unless you count Atari and cordless phones), and that’s taking a serious toll on our mental health.
If you don’t realize how much we’re slaves to our smartphones and social media, just watch The Social Dilemma, or consider this finding by clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, which she wrote about in her book, Alone Together “Online life tends to promote more superficial, emotionally lazy relationships, as people are drawn to relationships that seem low risk and always at hand.”
So, if you want a near-instant emotional pick-me-up, just turn off the smartphone and log off of social media for the rest of the day or make it a habit to scroll only once per day.
10. Smile more
Far from campy optimism, the physiological practice of smiling has been proven to improve mood, mental clarity, levels of optimism, and even reduce pain.
Called the facial feedback hypothesis, psychologists posit that even when we force a smile despite feeling less-than-stellar, it will make an almost immediate and moderate (yet significant) impact on our mood.
But the real trick is backing up that smile with positive thoughts simultaneously, as a University of Michigan study found that the combination was far more powerful.
Please try the items on this list and let me know how they improve your happiness – I’d love to hear from you!