Here are 10 of the best ways to be happier and, backed up by science, they actually work!
- Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough.
Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. But of course, you don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise. Exercise has also been proven to help you relax, increase brain power and improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight. This was proven in a study in the Journal of Health Psychology that found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies even when they saw no physical change.
- Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotion.
Getting an extra hour in bed can bring great benefits. Not only does sleep help our bodies recover from the day but it also helps us focus and be more productive. According to Po Bronson and Ashley (NurtureShock, 2009) sleep also affects our positivity:
“Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.”
How well (and how long) you sleep will also most likely affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day.
- Move closer to work – a short commute will lift your mood.
Our commute to the office can also have an impact on our happiness. Twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less happy.
According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realise will affect us so dramatically:
“… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
- Spend time with friends and family.
It is important to stay in touch with friends and family. Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.
As Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:
“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
- Go outside – get some fresh air.
It is a good thing to embrace the outdoors at times. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit into your commute or even your lunch break.
A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that:
“Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments”
- Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number.
Helping others is another way to help yourself. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.
According to Shawn Achor’s book, he says this about helping others:
“…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.”
Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:
Led by a Michigan State University business scholar –
“Customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.”
- Plan a trip – but don’t take one.
As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation.
- Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness.
Meditation is an important habit for improving focus and clarity. But it turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness: Meditation clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life.
- Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction.
This is a seemingly simple strategy, and there are lots of ways to practice gratitude, such as sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, as well as going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.