How can happiness be increased?
Since most of us want to be happy, what practical steps does psychological research suggest we can take to increase our happiness? Here are some practical steps you can take to enhance your optimism and be more satisfied with your life on a day-to-day basis.
Smell the roses – Fourteen simple things to do proven to increase happiness:
- Count your blessings
It’s human nature to want more. Often wherever you’re at our natural instinct is to want more and we forget to appreciate what we have. A proven method to increase our levels of happiness and well-being is simply to count our blessings.
One way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal and at the end of each day reflect on three things that you are grateful for that day – these could be anything, from little things such as a smile someone gave you to bigger things like a child’s first steps. You’ll find by keeping a journal that you’ll also start to feel grateful for things at random times during the day, further increasing your levels of happiness.
Taking the time to consciously count your blessings can significantly increase your overall satisfaction with life. Gratitude exercises have also been shown to improve physical health, raise energy levels and even relieve pain and fatigue in people with neuromuscular disease.
People who benefit most tend to elaborate more on their list and have a wider span of things they’re grateful for.
- Practice acts of kindness.
Practicing acts of kindness enhances positive feelings. Try doing a small act of kindness every day – these can be simple gestures such as sending someone a nice message, holding the door open for a stranger, offering your seat on a packed train to someone or simply asking someone how their day was and taking the time to really listen to their answer. Try and have one systematic and regular act of kindness such as checking on an elderly neighbour or calling an elderly relative once a week.
Genuine kindness triggers a cascade of positive effects – it makes you feel generous and capable, gives you a great sense of connection with others and wins you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness – all of which are happiness boosters. Don’t underestimate how powerful kindness is. Give it a try and enjoy the rewards.
- Savour life’s joys
We can all be guilty of complacency. The saying ‘You don’t know what it’s got until it’s gone’ can apply to many things in life including health and relationships. The next time you do something that gives you pleasure, reflect on it and really savour it – enjoy those momentary pleasures and wonders. By slowing down and not always taking daily pleasures such as the taste of your morning coffee for granted you’ll be amazed at how more pleasure you get out of them. It could be taking a mental photograph of the nice flowers you have and drawing on this image on them when you’re not feeling as happy.
- Thank a mentor or good friend
Most of us have a friend or someone we look up to, or who has supported us when we needed it in the past. If there’s someone whom you owe a debt of gratitude for guiding you when you needed it, don’t wait to express your appreciation, do it soon, and it’s better in person too!
- Learn to forgive
Holding on to anger and resentment can be quite detrimental to you both psychologically and physically and does nothing to improve well-being. By letting go of these emotions, you’ll put yourself in a better place, bolstering more positive feelings. Writing a letter of forgiveness can be beneficial, as can simply forgiving and forgetting in your own mind and moving on.
- Invest time and energy in friends and family.
Strong personal relationships seem to be the biggest factor affecting satisfaction with life. The value of connecting with other people is huge, almost everyone feels happier when they’re with other people; we’re social beings and being with people is good for our soul. Whether its friends, family or social groups like a walking, volunteer or church group, mixing with people is good for you and you need to invest time and effort into making this happen – it’s just too easy to sit in front of a TV and stay isolated – especially when you’re feeling low and being around others will give you a boost. Make sure you take time to engage with people you like and nurture these relationships.
- Take care of your body
We all know how beneficial exercise and healthy eating is. If you don’t take good care of your body it will end up catching up on you. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising and stretching can enhance your mood in the short term as well as your health in the long term.
Doing aerobic exercise at least three times a week for at least twenty minutes at a time is ideal. As a minimum, walk as much as you can – even better try combining walking with your gratitude exercise for double whammy happiness.
- Treat yourself.
Review (or write) your list of the things that make you happy. Do at least one of the things on your list every day, and take the time to really savour and enjoy it. The simpler the better –talking to loved ones, listening to some nice music, reading and spending special time with people.
Laughing’s good for you. The film Patch Adams was based on the real-life Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams who wrote the book, Good Health is a Laughing Matter; following patients’ positive response to drug-free therapy. Smiling and laughing releases hormones that make us feel good. Spend time with people that make you laugh, try laughing yoga or make time to read or watch something funny even if it’s just a quick favourite Youtube clip. Lighten up, and prioritise laughing every day – deep belly laughs are the best!
- Smile or say hello to a stranger.
Smiling is contagious. Try watching a smiling baby or child and not smiling back.
This works well with adults too. A simple good morning to someone serving you at the coffee shop or train station can go a long way to making you both feel good.
- Cut down your TV Viewing
Research findings clearly show that watching too much TV is not good for you. If you are watching TV for more than 3 hours a day you’re wasting valuable ‘increase your happiness’ time. TV viewing, as well as scrolling through social media on a mobile, tablet or PC, can absorb so much time and not give any real satisfaction in return. In fact, it can make us feel less satisfied and lethargic. Try being more pro-active, meeting a friend for a coffee or going for a walk and listening to a podcast. Nobody on their death bed looks back and wishes they watched more TV.
- Phone a friend.
Earlier we saw how socializing is good for you. Unfortunately, time and geography don’t always allow us to meet all of our friends regularly so make sure you give them a call. Ask how they’re keeping and what they’ve been up to and really focus on listening to ensure you don’t make the conversation revolve around you.
- Plant something
Even just a small window box or pot plant can give you a surprising well-being boost as you nurture your plant and see it grow.
- Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships
Stress is an inevitable part of life however there are ways to minimize the impact of life’s difficulties. Understand that difficulties and problems are very much part of life. Don’t expect an easy ride or you will be disappointed and this will enhance feelings of stress. Recognising when you’re starting to feel stressed and developing strategies or even little mantras that you use when a problem arises will put you in a better position to deal with stress and move on quicker.