When you’re in the midst of your daily grind; to-do lists, work deadlines, cooking, cleaning, children’s activities and the like, you’re probably not thinking about what you could do to feel happier.
There’s no time for that, and your mind is probably occupied with more important or at least more pressing matters.
But if you do stop to think about it, few things are more important than happiness. If you’re living day to day simply by going through the motions, you’re missing out on living, you’re missing out on life. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to feel happier.
It’s a choice virtually everyone can make, and you can work toward it just like you would any other goal. The first step is making this choice go ahead, do it now. Next, try some of the simple happiness-boosting tips that follow.
Excessive sitting and lack of exercise increase depression symptoms while increased physical activity may alleviate such symptoms and possibly even prevent future symptoms.
On the other hand, anandamide, a neurotransmitter known as the bliss compound, increases during and following exercise and may be partly responsible for why exercise makes you happy.
Exposure to bright outdoor light is crucial for a positive mood, in part because regular exposure to sunlight helps to enhance your mood and energy through the release of endorphins.
Getting sun exposure outdoors will also help you optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as chronic depression.
One study found that it takes just 20 minutes outdoors to make most people happier, while other research showed that happiness is maximized when it’s 57 degrees F outside, so keep an eye on the thermometer.
If you can’t get outdoors, at least open your shades and let the sunshine in. A brighter living or work area will help to boost your mood.
Call a friend or even send a friendly email. This will help you build a closer bond with others in the long run, and strong social ties are key for well being.
One study even found that relationships are worth more in terms of life satisfaction, while actual changes in income buy very little happiness. Even better, give or get a hug.
Hugging is known to lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Hugging also activates the orbitofrontal cortex in your brain, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.
Often, the build-up to doing the aversive task is worse than actually doing it. And once you’ve crossed it off your to-do list, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and relief.
A cluttered, disorganized environment can lead to inner discord. Set your timer for 10 minutes and tackle one spot that you wish was clear of clutter like your kitchen counter or desk.
Helping others and doing good deeds provide a natural mood boost. Even a quick good deed, like letting someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store, is beneficial, but if you have more time volunteering is also great for your mood.
Volunteering can lower your risk of depression and anxiety, and even boost your psychological well-being. Not only does it keep you active and on your feet, but there’s a definite social aspect as well, both of which contribute to happiness.
Volunteering to help others also gives you a sense of purpose and can even lead to a so-called helper’s high, which may occur because doing good releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin in your body while lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Along the lines of doing a good deed, sign up to be an organ donor, donate blood or, alternatively, donate your time or skills where they’re needed most.
Putting on a fake smile can worsen your mood, but thinking positive thoughts and then smiling as a result can make you happier. A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to increased mood.
When you smile at others, they’re also more likely to smile back in return, creating an ongoing feedback loop that may lead to more positivity in your life.
What you eat or don’t eat can have a significant impact on your mood. While excess sugar has been linked to depression, certain foods are linked to positive emotions.
Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which helps your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. One 2012 study found people who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression than those who ate the least.
Not to mention, research from the University of Otago found eating fruits and vegetables of any sort (except fruit juice and dried fruit) helped young adults calm their nerves.
Mushrooms are rich in the antioxidant selenium, low levels of which have been linked to anxiety.
Mushrooms are also one of the better food sources of vitamin D, which supports healthy mood (however, your best option to optimize your vitamin D levels is regular sun exposure; if that’s not possible, a vitamin D3 supplement may be necessary).
Curcumin, the pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow-orange color, is thought to be the primary component responsible for many of its medicinal effects. Among them, curcumin has neuroprotective properties and may enhance mood and possibly help with depression.
Like exercise, chocolate may trigger your brain to produce the “bliss compound” anandamide. It also contains other chemicals that prolong the feel-good aspects of anandamide.
Chocolate has even been referred to as the new anti-anxiety drug. One study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology also revealed that drinking an antioxidant-rich chocolate drink equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily felt calmer than those who did not.
Research has shown that coffee triggers a mechanism in your brain that releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which activates your brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, thereby improving your brain health.
Interestingly enough, research also suggests that low BDNF levels may play a significant role in depression and that increasing neurogenesis has an antidepressant effect. One Harvard study even found women who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a 20 percent lower risk of depression than those who drank little or none.
Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and has psychoactive properties. Theanine increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and alpha wave activity, and may reduce mental and physical stress and produce feelings of relaxation.
Feeling happy isn’t only a matter of emotional health. Positive thoughts and attitudes are able to prompt changes in your body that strengthen your immune system, decrease pain and chronic disease, and provide stress relief. One study found, for instance, that happiness, optimism, life satisfaction, and other positive psychological attributes are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
It’s even been scientifically shown that happiness can alter your genes. A team of researchers showed that people with a deep sense of happiness and well-being had lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and stronger antiviral and antibody responses.
Interestingly, if you’re wondering how to maintain a state of happiness in the long run, self-acceptance appears to be one of the most important factors that can produce a more consistent sense of happiness.
In a survey of 5,000 people by the charity Action for Happiness, people were asked to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on 10 habits that are scientifically linked to happiness. While all 10 habits were strongly linked to overall life satisfaction, acceptance was the strongest predictor. In all, the survey resulted in the following “10 Keys to Happier Living,” which together spell out the acronym GREAT DREAM:
- Giving: do things for others.
- Relating: connect with people.
- Exercising: take care of your body.
- Appreciating: notice the world around you.
- Trying out: keep learning new things.
- Direction: have goals to look forward to.
- Resilience: find ways to bounce back.
- Emotion: take a positive approach.
- Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are.
- Meaning: be part of something bigger.