Here are 11 ways that have been scientifically proven to make you happier:
1. Spend more time with people you love. One of the top five regrets of the dying is not staying in touch with friends. Studies have shown how significantly happier one becomes when they spend time with people they care about. One study says that as much as 70% of happiness comes from your relationships with other people. Nurture those relationships around you, and don’t forget that the only thing that really matters in life is your relationships.
Application ideas: Organize one day a week for you to see a friend face to face, have regular outings with someone from your family, write letters or emails to friends, particularly to those who live far away, have regular deep & meaningful conversations with someone.
2. Get active. I wish someone had told me that exercise is one of the most effective weapons to overcoming depression: studies show that exercise can reduce depressive feelings by up to a staggering 47%! It releases feel-good endorphins, is a super mood-booster and whether you do it for weight loss or to have fun, patients of a separate study were found to have felt better about their bodies even when they saw no physical change.
Application ideas: Try a boxing class (good for if you have pent up anger, and a few of them do free first class trials too), take a walk with a friend, do a hiking trail as a weekend activity, try one of Fitness Blender’s many free at-home workouts.
3. Give back. In his book, professor Martin Seligman proves that helping others can improve our own lives: “We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” The Longevity Project also found that those who helped their friends and neighbors, caring for them and advising them, tended to live to old age.
Application ideas: Adam Rifkin’s “5 Minute Favor”: Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Also, if you have the cash, pay for dinner with a friend. Money can make you happier if you spend it on others! Happy Money wrote: “By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.”
4. Get enough sleep. Sleep is so important. Even though I struggle with insomnia and have so for years, sleep is something I still place importance on because the benefits of it make a huge difference. Sleep not only makes you more productive and focused, it has been proven through several studies that it also makes you happier.
Application ideas: Avoid caffeine or exercise late at night, go to bed earlier than you normally would, switch off from your phone or laptop when you’re in bed, and play relaxing sounds to ease you into a comfortable sleep (you can download free sleep sound apps on your smartphone).
5. Be thankful. It’s amazing what it can do! The Journal of Happiness conducted a gratitude study and found that people who wrote three letters of gratitude over a three week period increased their levels of happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depression. Additional research says clearly that the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious or neurotic.
Application ideas: Keep a journal of things you’re grateful for, share good things that happen to you that day with a friend, go the extra mile to show gratitude to someone who has helped you.
6. Practice meditation. Meditation is known to improve clarity and calmness, but it is now also proven to make you feel happier. According to Achor, “Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.”
Application ideas: Take ten deep, meaningful breathes during the day, chant ‘Come back home, back to the present, back to happiness’ when you feel your mind wandering off, do yoga, take a long walk, write in a journal.
7. Give yourself something to look forward to. The How of Happiness puts it like this: “People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.”
Application ideas: Organize fun things you can do with friends, keep an eye out on concerts in your city that you can go to, plan a trip overseas, do a package exchange with a friend overseas.
8. Pay more attention. Really enjoy things. Really taste it, smell it and hear it. Savoring the moments that make up life and appreciating the little things is what makes the difference between happy people and the average Joe.
Application ideas: Practice mindfulness – when you eat, really savor the flavors of the food you’re eating and when you’re sweeping, focus on your movements and what you’re picking up. Next time you see a beautiful sunset, stop in your steps and watch it. Next time something wonderful happens to you, close your eyes and appreciate the moment. Walk slower and be more observant.
9. Find a lesson in the struggle. A study showed that the people who live longer and do better after problems are those who find benefits in their tragedies. Those who tended to blame others or their own emotions were in poorer health. The cliche is true: what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger – if you let it! In any adversity, ask yourself what you can learn from it.
Application ideas: Next time you’re facing a hard situation, acknowledge the feelings that come with it. Know that feelings are just visitors, and let them come and go. Remember that the journey in the struggle is what makes the victory so much more sweeter – don’t forget to embrace it. And at the end of the hardship, ask yourself what you learned in that season. You can draw from experience in the future, making yourself much more wiser and stronger.
10. Have goals. Psychologist Jonathan Freedman said that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves are happier. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson has also concluded that working hard toward a goal and making progress don’t just come with positive feelings, they also suppress fear and depression.
Application ideas: Where do you want to be in five or ten years time? Write down all the goals you have for yourself, both short-term and long-term, and then write down realistic and manageable steps you can take to work towards them. Create a vision board for yourself of what you want your life to look like to keep you focused on the bigger picture. Share your dreams and goals with supportive people so they can encourage and cheer you on when you feel discouraged.
11. Be present. Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life findings confirm that happiness is high during sex, exercise or socializing (anything that refocuses the mind on the here and now), and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering. They say that the happiest, most fleeting moment is in the here and now, so don’t forget to live in the present!
Application: Bring yourself to your present moment: What do you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? When you are with a friend, put down your phone and look at their face. Listen. Observe. Meditate. Breathe.