There are plenty of reasons to go looking for happiness. Research has shown that patients with arthritis that has a “good impact” will take more regular measures than their unhappy counterparts. During the flu season, happy people prefer to stop being sick, and they also live longer. Plus, it just feels amazing to experience joy.
So, here are 32 small, unexpected ways of feeling happier.
Keep a diary-and from time to time read it again. According to a 2014 study in Psychological Research, writing in a journal can make people happy, even though the papers are boring. We tend to miss the little things that bring us joy in life but, by catching those ordinary moments, we can rediscover them.
2. Find your purpose. It may be a big task, like getting involved in politics or being a more personal option, like being a successful relative. Either way, it should be one that motivates you and organizes events of your day around something greater than yourself.
3. Forgive (even if you can’t forget). It’s hard to hold a grudge and it can make you feel frustrated, sad, nervous and out of control. But forgiving someone who has hurt you is certainly not triggering negative emotions.
4. Think of an incentive about the negative feelings. We ‘re going to fight; we ‘re going to be heartbroken; we ‘re going to suffer setbacks — having them overcome is what makes us both human and content.
5. Acting extroverted — even if not. When people who were introverted recorded feeling outgoing, those appeared to be their happier moments. That means talking to strangers on the bus or speaking with a barista, even if they are usually solitary types, can improve people’s happiness.
6. You will get happier by having a cat. A new research by Washington State University showed that petting a furry companion for just 10 minutes contributed to lower levels of stress hormone cortisol. And dogs may have an advantage over cats—36 percent of dog owners ranked themselves as “very happy” in a recent American survey, compared to only 18 percent of cat owners.
7. A psychology study published in 2019 found that dads are happier than moms, possibly because they were more likely to report having played with their children rather than doing housework. The lecture, then? Split child care — and homework assignments alike.
8. Start going after the games. Rooting for a team leads to social interactions that provide a buffer against depression and loneliness, and boost self-esteem and self-worth. But wisely choose: losing teams doesn’t carry the same benefits.
9. Leave the house. If you’re a religious, you’ll be happier going to church, temple, or mosque. A recent Pew Research Center survey of 24 countries found that 45% of actively religious people in Australia , for example, said they were very happy, compared with 32% of inactively religious people and 33% of unaffiliated people.
10. 10. Being outside could improve your mood. People who spent 15 minutes outside showed around 60 per cent more positive emotions in a study than people who remained indoors. The theory is that people developed in nature, so we have some affinity for safe environments and respect for them. And while the effects are not quite as dramatic, simply watching a nature documentary will do in a pinch.
11. Stare at trees. In 2015, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked 90 students to look up at 60-metre-tall eucalyptus trees for one minute. After, the subjects reported feeling less self-centred, and they behaved more generously when given the chance to help someone.
12. Grab an early coffee with your co-workers. A 2018 study out of the University of California, Davis, found that colleagues who drink a cup of coffee together before starting their workday were more engaged, focused and receptive to one another’s ideas compared to those who shared a coffee with workmates later in the day.
13. Take care of your body. A 2015 Gallup poll of Americans found that if you’re sleeping less than six hours per night, you’re about 30 per cent less happy than people who get between seven-and-a-half and nine hours of shut-eye.
14. It may not feel that way while we’re doing it, but exercise makes us happier. Several studies have found that people who work out for at least 30 minutes five times per week were at least 30 per cent more likely to consider themselves happy than people who never exercised. And it may not even take that much; other studies found that just 10 minutes of exercise per day can make you more cheerful.
15. Stand up straight. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Biofeedback, people who slouched while walking felt more depressed—but when they stood in a more upright position, they reported a significant bump in their outlook and energy levels.
16. Eating lots of fruits and veggies can “enhance mental well-being,” according to a 2019 study in Social Science & Medicine. Aim for 10.5 portions per day—where a portion equals a cup of raw vegetables or fruits, or half a cup of cooked veggies.
17. Location, location, location. Live near water—and yes, a pool counts. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, water makes people feel positive emotions. And if you need motivation to book a beach vacation, a 2016 study found that ocean views are linked to lower levels of psychological distress.
18. Cities offer many things we associate with happiness, such as walking, culture and more employment opportunities. But they don’t make us happy. A 2018 survey by the Vancouver School of Economics and the University of British Columbia found that the happiest communities in Canada are all rural—Neebing, Ont., Shippagan, N.B., Channel-Port-aux Basques, N.L., Hope, B.C., St. Anthony, N.L., and Souris, P.E.I. Maybe that’s because residents of these towns don’t have many close neighbours. The same survey found that the happiest quintile of Canadians live in places with low population density.
19. And if you spend less time commuting. Researchers in the United Kingdom found that adding just 20 minutes to your daily commute has the same negative impact on life satisfaction as a monthly pay cut of $550. Of course, the best commute isn’t just short, it’s walkable. According to recent research by McGill University, pedestrians are the happiest, with 85 per cent saying they’re satisfied with their commute.
20. Spend money smarter. According to a 2017 study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, when people spent money on things that saved them time, they reported greater life satisfaction. So hire a housekeeper and shop at the grocery store that’s closest to home, even if it’s a bit more expensive.
21. Be generous. According to a 2008 study from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, people who spent money on others were happier than those who spent money on themselves. The study provided participants with a windfall of either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or on a gift or charitable donation; the more generous group reported higher levels of happiness, regardless of how much money they received.
22. If you’re looking for lasting happiness, spend your discretionary income on experiences. According to Waldinger, buying material items “makes us less happy for less time than using that money to buy experiences, especially those with other people, [such as] vacations or outings with family and friends.”
23. Don’t get too hung up on home ownership. A preliminary paper presented at the 2018 American Economic Association conference says people tend to overestimate how happy home ownership will actually make them— and while they do tend to report higher life satisfaction right after buying a home, the effects diminish over time.
24. Change your habits. It turns out, Wednesdays—not Mondays—are the worst day of the week, according to University of Vermont data scientists who studied patterns of web-based messages. The use of positive words peaks on Sunday, then steadily declines to its lowest point on Wednesday before rising again. To offset the impact, plan something nice for hump day.
25. Cutting back on screen time makes for happier people. In one recent study of teens, just one hour of screen time a day was correlated with greater unhappiness, and as screen time increased, happiness continued to drop. These findings likely apply to adults, too.
26. Eat at home. (Bonus points if it’s healthy food.) A 2011 study of 160 women found they felt more intense positive emotions and fewer intense negative emotions after a meal prepared at home. Although going to a restaurant feels like a treat, it’s easier to make healthier choices at home, which triggers good feelings—which, in turn, encouraged them to keep making healthy choices.
27. When it’s bright outside, we tend to squint, which activates the corrugator supercilii muscle in our foreheads. We also use this muscle to frown when we’re upset. So, what do our brains do? Get confused about just what we’re feeling. But donning sunglasses can stop that biofeedback loop.
28. When we think about the things in our lives that make us happy (like our families, hobbies and friends) and then imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have those things, it makes us appreciate them more, which makes us happier, says Kira M. Newman, an editor at the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley.
29. Do one thing at a time. Matthew Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the creator of the app Track Your Happiness, says we feel less content when our minds wander. His research showed that people are happiest when having sex, exercising or engaging in conversation—all things that require focus—and least happy when resting, working or using a home computer.
30. Yeah, think positive. A research published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology in 2016 found that happy people use humor in positive ways — for example, to amuse others or cope with stressful situations. In comparison, dissatisfied people use humor to exploit or ridicule others.
31. If it doesn’t come easily to practice gratitude, start by simply acknowledging positive things. You will still see positive things, even though at the moment you are not feeling grateful for them. When you pay attention, you really start to consider them more, and in a way, what we think about is our reality. It is a normal workout, much like strengthening the body.
32. And…don’t think about happiness too much. Obsessing over happiness can actually backfire. Instead, pursue other things, like relationships or hobbies, and happiness will be the by-product.
Check out my related post: What can you learn from happy people?