ARTICLE | How to be happy in 12 easy stepsSeptember 2, 2014
Happiness–it’s what we all strive to find and keep, even when it’s as elusive as ever. Nobody is jolly and elated all the time, but some individuals are definitely more fulfilled than others. Studies reveal that happiness has little to do with materialistic needs, goods, or wants, or high achievement; it boils down to your outlook on life, the quality of your relationships, and basic amenities like good governance and community resources. Check Step 1 and beyond for more tips and tricks on how to unlock the happier you.
1. Be optimistic. In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year afterward, they were no happier than people who didn’t. Thishedonic adaptation suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary, and we tend to revert to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that is due in part to genetics, but it’s also largely influenced by how you think.
- Add up all the little joyful things that happen to you during the day. Write them down. For example, if there was no traffic on the road, if you had a very decent and scrumptious breakfast, if your friend said something uproariously humorous that made you laugh, if you took your dog out for a walk in the park and played with it, add these together. Your outlook will change.
- Feel deeply grateful for the things you have. This is a very effective way to be happy. If you feel grateful for the things you have, you not only become more happy but it also helps you to bring more into your life.
- View the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. Your girlfriend/ boyfriend broke up with you? Now you have the chance to meet someone else! You lost your job? Now you can seize the opportunity to find a better one! Adjust your mentality so that, in everything that happens to you, there’s some kernel of good.
- Put yourself in situations where fabulous, fortunate things are likely to happen to you. It’s easier to remain optimistic if you set yourself up for success. Cheating on a partner, or stealing someone’s bicycle — while temporarily thrilling — rarely end well for any party involved. Ask yourself before you act: Am I setting myself up for success or for failure?
- Think of your current situation (however hard it may be) and then think of how much harder some other people have it. Just be happy that you are not in that worse situation. Learn to enjoy your life!
- Next time you have a decision to make, and you’re down to two or three options, just pick the one that feels right, and go with it. Never regret the decisions you make, though. Just live by the 3 C’s of life: choices, chances, and changes. You need to make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change.
3. Own yourself. This means accept and embrace your habits, your personality, mistakes, the way you talk, looks, your voice, and most importantly ‘You’. Try to be comfortable in your own skin and subconsciously communicate to others that, ‘This is me take it or leave it’. It means don’t apologize to anyone for something which is a part of you, like your personality, your voice, habits (good or bad), basically anything; remember there is always someone who likes you for the way you are. For example if you want to wear something which is weird but you find it cool, wear it, no one is stopping you. Its a deeper step towards building a good relationship with yourself.
- Your comfort may increase with your salary, but comfort isn’t what makes people happy. It makes people bored. That’s why it’s important to push beyond your comfort zone to fuel personal growth.
5. Treat your body like it deserves to be happy. It may sound cheesy to say, but your brain isn’t the only organ in your body that deserves to be happy. Researchers have found that exercise, healthy diets, and regular sleep are key factors in growing more happy and staying that way.
- People who are physically active have higher incidences of enthusiasm and excitement. Scientists hypothesize that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that elevate our mood.
- Eat right. Eating healthy foods — fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — gives your body and brain the energy it needs to be healthy. Some scientists speculate that unhealthy diets, especially those rich in processed carbohydrates, sugars, and industrial vegetable fats, is responsible for brain shrinkage and certain brain diseases like depression and dementia
- Get enough sleep. Study after study confirms it: the more sleep you get, the happier you tend to be. Getting just a single extra hour of sleep per night makes the average person happier than making $60,000 more in annual income, astoundingly enough. So if you’re middle-aged, shoot to get at least eight hours of sleep per night; the young and elderly should shoot for 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night.
6. Stay close to friends and family: Or move to where they are, so you can see them more. We live in a mobile society, where people follow jobs around the country and sometimes around the world. We do this because we think salary increases make us happier, but in fact our relationships with friends and family have a far greater impact on happiness. So next time you think about relocating, consider that you’d need a salary increase of over $100,000 USD to compensate for the loss of happiness you’d have from moving away from friends and family.
- If relationships with family and friends are unhealthy or nonexistent, and you are bent on moving, choose a location where you’ll make about the same amount of money as everyone else; according to research, people feel more financially secure (and happier) when on similar financial footing as the people around them, regardless of what that footing is.
7. Be compassionate. Compassion is all about doing something kind for someone in need, or someone less privileged than yourself. A brain-imaging study (where scientists peek into people’s brains while they act or think) revealed that people gain as much happiness from watching others give to charity as they do receiving money themselves!
- Think of effective ways that you can make your community or the world a better place by being compassionate. Compassion is a key part of sustainable happiness:
- Tutor, volunteer, or get involved in a church group. Countless children are looking for someone to teach them and act as a role model.
- Make a microloan. A microloan is when you give someone (usually in the developing world) a very small sum of money for an economic project of their own. Many microloans have 95%+ repayment rates.
- Give a person in need food, clothing or shelter. It’s so basic we often forget to think about it, yet so easy to do.
- Increase the happiness of those around you by giving gifts. This will increase your happiness as well – in fact, the one giving the gift usually feels a larger pulse of dopamine (the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling happiness) than the person receiving the gift! .
8. Have deep, meaningful conversations. A study by a psychologist at the University of Arizona has shown that spending less time participating in small talk and more time in deep, meaningful conversations can increase happiness.  So next time you’re beating around the bush with a friend, instead cut right to the chase. You’ll be happier for it.
9. Find happiness in the job you have now: Many people expect the right job or career to dramatically change their level of happiness. But research makes it clear that your levels of optimism and quality of relationships eclipse the satisfaction gained from your job.
- If you have a positive outlook, you will make the best of any job; and if you have good relationships, you won’t depend on your job for a sense of meaning. You’ll find meaning in interactions with the people you care about. You’ll use your job as a crutch instead of relying on it for meaning.
- This is not to say you shouldn’t aspire to get a job that will make you happier; many people find that being on the right career path is a key determination in their overall happiness. It just means you should understand that the capacity of your job to make you happy is quite small when compared to your outlook and your relationships.
10. Smile: Science suggests that when you smile, whether you’re happy or not, your mood is elevated.  So smile all the time if you can! Smiling is like a feedback loop: smiling reinforces happiness, just as happiness causes smiling. People who smile during painful procedures reported less pain than those who kept their facial features neutral.
11. Forgive: In a study of college students, an attitude of forgiveness contributed to better cardiovascular health. You could say forgiveness literally heals the heart. While it is unknown how forgiveness directly affects your heart, the study suggests that it may lower the perception of stress.
12. Make friends. In a 2010 study published by Harvard researchers in American Sociological Review, people who went to church regularly reported greater life satisfaction than those who didn’t. The critical factor was the quality of friendships made in church. Church-goers who lacked close friends there were no happier than people who never went to church. When researchers compared people who had the same number of close friends, those who had close friends from church were more satisfied with their lives.
- The difference is the forming of friendships based on mutual interests and beliefs. So if church is not your thing, consider finding something else you’re deeply passionate about, making friends with those who share similar interests.
- When you interact with people who share your interests, you feel happier due to sensations of reward and well-being. This is because during such interactions, serotonin and dopamine — neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and relaxation — are released into the body. In other words, your body is designed to feel happier when engaged in social interactions.
The following video shows what researchers have found that can make you happier.
- Think of something that made you laugh or smile, even if it’s from a long time ago. It’ll still have the same effect.
- Be content with who you are because nobody’s ‘the perfect one’.
- Try to love yourself a little more. Happiness stems from feeling good about the things around you and how that affects you. Look in the mirror and feel happy that who is looking back at you is a survivor. Keep reinventing yourself. The only person on earth who shouldn’t be bored with who you are is yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re down and need a lift. Conversely, if a person is a negative influence who drags you down, don’t be afraid to remove such a person from your life. However, it is even better when you can see the potential in people, and help them. As with charity, this is beneficial to both you and them; and you have a valuble friend afterwards who is grateful of your aid.
- Finding time for you is important. Relaxation and meditation or even getting a massage are all ways of taking just a bit of time out for yourself. A way to reward yourself for all that you do.
- If you find yourself unhappy frequently, talk to a trusted friend or family member, or get a diary and write down emotions and experiences you feel have caused you to be unhappy, sad, agitated, etc.
- Be happy! Always look on the bright side. The past is the past you can’t change it. No one can. Just be cheerful!
- When you’re purposely trying to be happy or cheerful, but just can’t seem to achieve it at the moment, do something crazy. Stupid, crazy, weird actions seem pointless, but could actually lift your mood — just because you’re glad you did it. Most fundamentally, recognize that happiness is a state of mind, not something to be defined objectively. You can change your state of mind in many ways including these suggestions:
- Turn your favorite music up loud and do a dance to it. Talk to yourself in the mirror.
- Write a funny or inspiring quote on your mirror/wall/locker.
- Scream as loud as you can (warn your family first!) and bounce up and down; jump all around.
- If it’s a hot day, get your swimsuit on, go outside and turn the hose on yourself.
- Always assume that what is done is done. Don’t feel regret due to past mistakes. Instead, learn from them and move on.
- Sit and figure out what makes you happy, and make one step at a time to get there. As long as you are working toward your own personal goals you will move forward instead of procrastinating.
- If you are constantly unhappy or depressed, seek professional help.
- Happy people are not happy all the time. Everyone has times when they feel sad, frustrated, guilty, angry, and so on. Happy people are just more resilient and better at maintaining a state of ubiquitous happiness. We may all feel negative at moments in our lives, but try to bounce back and live in the moment, and be content with everything you do.
- make sure you have a friend that you trust that you can talk to.
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill
- ↑ The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson
- ↑ http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2004/08/01/you-only-need-40000-to-be-happy/
- ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/exercise-happy-enthusiasm-excitement_n_1263345.html
- ↑ http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/exercise/
- ↑ http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1776.abstract
- ↑ http://www.parenting.com/Common/printArticle.jsp?articleID=1000059778
- ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/sleep-challenge-2010-slee_b_436341.html
- ↑ http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/AN01487
- ↑ http://www.powdthavee.co.uk/resources/valuing_social_relationships_15.04.pdf
- ↑ http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/05/21/how-to-decide-where-to-live-2/
- ↑ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201211/the-best-kept-secret-happiness
- ↑ http://www.kiva.org/about/risk
- ↑ http://www.pnas.org/content/103/42/15623.abstract
- ↑ http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/talk-deeply-be-happy/#more-25743
- ↑ http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/01/16/the-connection-between-a-good-job-and-happiness-is-overrated/
- ↑ http://nutritiondietnews.com/85634/
- ↑ 18.018.1http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=smile-it-could-make-you-happier
- ↑ nih.gov, PubMed, “A change of heart: cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict.” Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., Jones, W. H., Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2003 Oct;26(5):373-393.
- ↑ http://news.discovery.com/human/religion-happiness-social-bonds.html
- ↑ The Neuroscience of Sharing