Happiness is interesting because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it.
FastCompany recently carried a great article on 10 simple but scientifically backed ways you can be happier:
1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough
Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression.
You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though.
It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.
2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions
We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.
Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day.
3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house
Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness.
The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.
We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work.
Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.
4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying.
Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts.
Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.
Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it this way: 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.
5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C
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 others – 100 hours a year is the magical number
You can make yourself feel happier, by helping 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.
In his bookFlourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:
…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain
Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study.
A smile is also a good way to alleviate some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:
Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation.
Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis.
8. 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, 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.
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.
If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar – even if it’s a month or a year down the road.
Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.
9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness
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.
The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation may be surprising but it’s somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.
10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction
This is a seemingly simple strategy will make a huge difference to your outlook.
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, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.
Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier
As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally.
So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.
Read the complete article at FastCompany.
Also published on Medium.