Being Happy is Cool
You know, being happy feels pretty cool. Most people would like some more happiness in their life. It doesn’t take some long, spiritual quest (though you can if you like). You can have more happiness in your life by doing a few simple things. Here are 7 ways that smart people have known for centuries and science has now confirmed that you can be happier in your life.
Move Your Tush
Physical activity, including formal exercise, can help you be happier. Exercise increases endorphins and other “feel good” chemicals and reduces stress hormones. It improves learning and mental clarity, and the mood effects can last up to 12 hours. Just 20-30 minutes of exercise a day can provide tremendous benefits to your physical and mental health. Some studies even suggest you can get measurable benefits from just 7 minutes of formal exercise per day.
Trade the Gimmes for the Thankees
Gratitude is a great happiness booster. Research shows that feelings of gratitude block toxic, negative emotions, increase resilience (making it a fantastic stress guard) and provide a higher sense of self worth. Making gratitude a habit can be easy. One simple method is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day sit down and list all the things you are thankful for. Don’t just regurgitate your previous list; find something new each day. Another way to practice gratitude is to express it to someone else. The handwritten thank you note may be a dying art, but that doesn’t mean you can’t send an email or text, make a phone call or actually speak to a human face-to-face to express your thanks for something they have done.
According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the receiving the kindness. Kindness and altruism – giving of yourself to others – enhances happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, and physical health, and reduces depression.
Meditation is beginning to see the widespread acceptance it deserves. Far from being some esoteric magic, meditation has clear effects on health and well-being. Meditation has been shown to improve brain functioning and focus, reduces stress and anxiety, and increase the sense of peace and well-being. There are different types/practices of meditation, such as mindfulness and compassion, which each have different effects. Find a style of meditation that works for you. For an easy starter, try this simple 7 minute meditation.
Trick Your Brain with a Smile
It is possible to trick your brain into being happier. You can do it with a simple smile. As smart as your brain is, it can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile, particularly if you let the smile reach your eyes. The brain reads that physical state and thinks, “I must be happy about something” so it becomes happier.
Sing Along With Bobby (McFerrin) or Pharrell
(Almost) everyone knows that music has a powerful effect on mood. One way it does this is by triggering the release of dopamine, which is associated with feelings of reward. To really make music an effective happiness booster, you need to tell yourself the music will make you happy. Actively try to “lose yourself” in the music. Humans are predisposed to rhythmic movement – you feel happier when moving to the beat – so don’t be afraid to get down and boogie!
Give Someone a Hug
Touch produces oxytocin – that awesome brain chemical associated with bonding and relationships. Humans need relationships – we feel more secure and happy when we have them. A (non-offensive) touch, even from someone who is not close to you, can increase that sense of happiness and reduce stress. The same effects can come from shaking hands, a high five, a pat on the back, getting a massage, more intimate relations, even rubbing your own feet. I do not recommend hugging random strangers. That could get you arrested (or a punch to the face), which would be counterproductive to your happiness.
Here are a few other resources you might want to check out.
Anik, L, Aknin, L.B., et al (2009) Feeling good about giving: The benefits (and costs) of self-interested charitable behavior
Sibold, J.S., Berg, K.M. (2010) Mood enhancement persists for up to 12 hours following aerobic exercise: a pilot study. Perceptual and Motor Skills.
Hyde, A.L., Maher, J.P., Elavsky, S. (2013) Enhancing our Understanding of Physical Activity and Wellbeing with a Lifespan Perspective. International Journal of Wellbeing.