We all want to be happier, but how does one increase happiness? Scientists have spent many years trying to figure it out and so far they’ve come up with some interesting suggestions:
Go to the park regularly
Ideally you should find a park where you can’t really see or hear much of the surrounding traffic for at least fifteen minutes every day. This simple practice will help your body absorb more sunlight, which helps in the production of vitamin D (sometimes called the happiness vitamin). It also helps you reconnect with nature and slow down your constantly busy life. A study from the University of Prince George showed that increasing time outdoors—even if you’re not at the actual park—can dramatically improve your mental health.
Add a little bit of exercise to your day
You’re probably tired of hearing about how working out will make you happy, but here’s something you’ve probably wanted to hear for a long time: you only have to exercise for a few minutes a day to improve your happiness. The Journal of Health Psychology released a study showing that even when people don’t see any physical changes after exercising they still feel better about their bodies.
Get to bed
Staying up until all hours of the night marathonning shows on Netflix may be fun at the time but getting a good night’s sleep will do a lot more for your mental (and physical) health. One study in the BPS Research Digest showed that people are more sensitive to negative emotions when they haven’t slept enough. Even missing just a couple hours of sleep more than two nights in a row can seriously alter your mood and your performance.
Learn something new
Learning new skills is a great way to build confidence and therefore increase your happiness. The more challenging it is to learn, the prouder you’ll feel when you’ve accomplished it—but remember not to take on a challenge so big you become overwhelmed and burn out before you reach the goal. That will only bring your confidence down.
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to improve your happiness and your overall attitude towards life. The most powerful way to do this is to start a gratitude journal and write down at least one thing you’re grateful for every day. Yes, you really only need a sentence a day to see results.
Make plans with friends
When people at the end of their lives are asked what they regret one of the most common answers is not spending enough time with friends and family. Humans are social animals and strong social connections can provide more happiness than a $100,000 raise. And even if you don’t feel like talking to anyone right now you’ll probably feel better after you’ve gone out.
Plan a trip – it doesn’t matter how far in advance
A study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that people actually have the most marked happiness increase when they’re planning a trip thanks to the anticipation. So even if you have to put it on the calendar a year from now because you’re broke, plan a nice trip for yourself, give it a date and remind yourself about it every time you’re feeling down.
Stop the self criticism
You might believe that all the nasty things you tell yourself when you make a mistake are inspiration to do better but the truth is beating ourselves up just makes us more unhappy and often saps away the motivation we already have. When you make a mistake focus on what you can learn from it rather than how you failed. Every time you have a mean thought about yourself or one of your past failures stop and force yourself to think a positive thought instead. If this is something you really struggle with create a list of your accomplishments and tape it up somewhere where you can see it every day.
Most people don’t really believe this is an option but the truth is you can choose to be happy. No, you don’t have any control over external circumstances, but you do have a choice in how you react to them (unless you have an untreated mental illness). It’s hard, but you can choose to forgive the people who have harmed you and move on with your life. You can choose to believe setbacks are temporary and to have faith that the universe will take care of you. You can choose to remove toxic relationships and other sources of stress from your life. You are the master of your own mind.
There are many things people do to make themselves happy—and different strategies work for different people—but the main thing to remember is this: real happiness isn’t just a feeling, it’s a lifestyle. And you can start living it today.