Smiling can make us feel better, but it's more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to a new study led by a Michigan State University. Smiling makes us feel good, which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically.
2.Exercise for as little as just seven minutes a day.
Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it is an effective strategy for overcoming depression. Intense vigorous all body exercise for 7 minutes can provide nearly as much benefit as the recommended daily 1 hour of vigorous walking. One study found that exercise alone was long-term more effective than medication alone or a combination of medication and exercise for overcoming depression.
It turns out sleep is also important for happiness. Studies show that 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. We perform better when not tired and we feel better about ourselves when we perform at our best.
4.Spend more time with friends and family.
Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it like this:
"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 just ways of getting more family and friends."
George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.
Vaillant was asked, 'What have you learned from the Grant Study on men?' Vaillant's response: 'That the only thing that matters in life are your relationships to other people.'" Need more proof. The Longevity Project found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives.
5.Go outside more often.
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:
"Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory ... "
6.Help other people.
One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. 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.
7.Plan a trip (even if you don't ever take it).
As opposed to actually taking a holiday, simply planning a vacation or break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as people enjoy the sense of anticipation.
Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity, and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it's also useful for improving your happiness: "Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness."
9.Move closer to work.
Our commute to work can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to commute twice a day at least five days a week makes it unsurprising that the effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.
According to the Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically: Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, "Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day." We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don't work.
This is a seemingly simple strategy. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you're grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, or going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.
The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:
"Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over three weeks. Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants' happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms."
As we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to naturally grow happier. There's still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have a few ideas:
"Researchers have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less."