Since happiness can majorly impact health and longevity, behavioral scientists have spent much time studying what makes people happy.
Not only that but happiness scales have also been used to measure the success of public policies and even social progress.
If you are pursuing happiness, you have likely asked yourself the following questions:
- What will make me happy?
- What can make me happy?
- What are the things that make people happy?
- What things to do to be happy?
However, happiness is not something that happens to you.
It is reassuring to know that if you are one of those who claim you need happiness or someone who wants to be happy every day, you have the option to engage in activities that make you happy.
Moreover, you can also make small changes in your behavior, relationships, and surroundings that can help set you on a course for a happier and more fulfilling life.
Things to Do to Make You Happy
Surprisingly, many things that make you happy are simple and easy to accomplish. Below are some of the most effective ways of achieving happiness in your day-to-day life:
Conquer Negative Thinking
Many humans tend to focus more on bad experiences than positive ones.
Many see this as an evolutionary adaptation where humans learn from hurtful or dangerous situations that they encounter throughout life (betrayal, trauma, bullying, to name a few).
It is believed that it helps them react more quickly in times of crisis and avoid similar situations effectively in the future.
Understandably, conquering negative thoughts will not always be easy.
The good news? It can be done.
Below are some of the ways you can train your brain to focus on the positive and banish negative thoughts and thinking for good:
Don’t Try to Stop Negative Thoughts
Telling yourself, “I have to stop thinking about these negative things,” will only make you think about them more.
Rather than constantly telling yourself to stop thinking about the negative things, focus on owning those things.
In other words, when you find yourself in a negative cycle, it would be best to acknowledge and own it rather than think it does not exist.
Treat yourself like a friend.
When thinking of negative things about yourself, ask yourself what advice you would give to a friend who is experiencing the same thing.
Now, use that advice yourself.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
The process of changing and challenging negative and irrational thoughts is called Socratic questioning.
Some studies have indicated that this method has been proven to minimize depression symptoms significantly.
Your primary goal should be to move from a negative mindset (I’m a loser and a total failure) to a more positive one (I’ve experienced a lot of successes. This is nothing more than a temporary setback that I can learn from. This will make me better.).
If you want to challenge your negative thoughts, follow the process outlined below:
Write down the negative thoughts. Let’s say it’s something like, “I am experiencing problems at work and doubting my abilities.”
From there, ask yourself the following important questions:
- Is there any evidence that proves these thoughts?
- Am I basing these thoughts on facts or just feelings?
- Is it possible that I am just misinterpreting the current situation?
- Is it possible for other people to view things differently?
- How would I view the situation if it happened to someone else and not me?
The bottom line is this: negative thinking can happen to everyone.
However, if you recognize and challenge it, you will have a more rational perspective of the situation.
More importantly, challenging negative thinking is a huge step towards a happier life.
Practice Controlled Breathing
Science has been providing solid evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real.
For instance, some studies have shown that controlled breathing can help drastically minimize symptoms commonly associated with anxiety, depression, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit disorder.
For centuries, yogis have used pranayama (or breath control) to improve vitality and enhance concentration.
Buddha even advocated that breath meditation is one of the ways you can achieve enlightenment.
Rewrite Your Story
Here is something very interesting: writing about yourself and your personal experiences and then rewriting your story can result in behavioral changes and improve happiness.
Expressive writing has also been known to help improve mood disorders.
Expressive writing has also been known to help reduce symptoms among cancer patients.
Some research indicates that writing in your journal for just 15 minutes a day can already greatly boost your overall happiness and well-being.
The benefits expressive writing brings can be attributed to the fact that you can express your emotions and become mindful of your circumstances.
Expressive writing can also help you see, acknowledge and resolve your inner conflicts.
You can also take the practice to the next level by focusing on a specific challenge you are facing, writing about it, and then rewriting the story.
Undeniably, everyone has a personal narrative that helps shape their views of the world and themselves.
However, your inner voice sometimes won’t always get it right.
When you write and edit your own story, you can effectively change your perception of yourself and identify obstacles standing in your way.
The process is very similar to the Socratic questioning referenced earlier.
Want to give this writing exercise a try? Here’s how you should go about it:
Write a short story about your struggle (i.e., I have money problems. I will never find love. I am constantly fighting with my significant other. I am having a hard time making friends and adjusting to this new city in).
Now, write another story. This time, write it from the viewpoint of a neutral observer. You can also include kind encouragement you would give to a friend if they were in a similar situation:
- Money can be a challenge, but you can always take steps to get better financially.
- People always struggle in their first few months in a new city. Join some groups and give yourself ample time.
- Don’t focus on finding love. Instead, focus on having fun and meeting new people. The rest will fall into place.
- Couples argue. It helps them make adjustments that can help strengthen their relationship.
Many studies have shown that writing and rewriting stories of your life that you are not happy with can help you move out of the negative mindset and into a new, more optimistic view of life.
The idea is to get people to understand where they want to go and who they are.
For James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has spearheaded much research on expressive writing, expressive writing is a life course correction.
Some studies have shown that those who move are happier than those who are constantly still.
A study that tracked the moods and movement of cellphone users found that most people report feeling happy if they have been moving for at least 15 minutes rather than just lying down or sitting.
Surprisingly, you don’t always need to engage in rigorous activities.
Even a few minutes of gentle walking can leave you in a much better mood.
Practice Optimism and Positive Thinking
Optimism is partly learned and partly genetic.
Even if you are born into a family of negative thinkers, it is still possible for you to find your inner ray of sunshine.
Contrary to popular belief, optimism is not about ignoring the reality of a dire situation.
For instance, after experiencing a job loss, feeling defeated and thinking you won’t recover from the situation is normal.
An optimist, however, will acknowledge the situation and take it as a challenge saying, “This is going to be challenging, but it allows me to rethink about my life goals and find work that will truly make me happy.”
Thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people can make a difference.
Just like its opposite, pessimism, optimism can be infectious.
That said, hanging out with optimistic people would also help you a lot.
A study revealed that smiling will not only make you feel better, it is more effective when you back it up with positive thoughts.
A study led by a Michigan University business scholar indicated that customer service workers who fake smiles throughout their day worsen their mood and withdraw from work.
This also affects their productivity significantly.
On the other hand, workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts improved their mood and withdrew less.
This emphasizes the importance of practicing real smiles.
Smiling can also help improve your focus and attention and helps make you feel good.
When the idea was tested, the results indicated that those who smile more performed better on attentional tasks that require seeing the whole picture rather than just a few details.
Smiling is also a great way to minimize pain when experiencing troubling circumstances.
Psychologists refer to this as the facial feedback hypothesis.
Even forcing a smile even when you don’t feel like it can already lift your mood slightly.
Incorporate Exercise in Your Schedule
If you think exercise is something you don’t have time for, think again!
Even a seven-minute workout can already go a long way.
Surely, it’s a workout you can easily fit into your daily schedule.
It has been proven repeatedly that exercise profoundly affects your well-being and happiness.
Exercise is so effective that it is considered a great strategy for overcoming depression.
In the book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated depression with medication, exercise, and a combination.
The result of the study was surprising: while the three groups experienced improvements in their happiness levels, the follow-up assessments painted a different picture.
When they were tested again six months later to assess their relapse rate, 38 percent (those who took medications alone) had slipped back into depression.
Those in the combination group did slightly better, with a relapse rate of 31 percent.
The biggest shock, however, was from the exercise group.
Surprisingly, their relapse rate is only 9 percent.
You don’t have to be depressed to benefit from exercise.
Even if you are not battling depression, exercise can help increase your brain power and improve your body image and has also been proven to help you relax.
Exercise can also do amazing things for your brain.
For starters, it can release endorphins and proteins that can help make you feel happier.
A study by the Journal of Health Psychology revealed that those who exercised felt better about their bodies even if they didn’t see any physical changes immediately.
That said, even if your appearance won’t change, how you feel about your body and yourself will surely change.
Sleep can help your body repair itself and recover from the day.
Sleep can also help you to focus more and become more productive.
However, did you know that sleep is also important to achieve happiness?
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep can affect positivity and, eventually, your happiness:
Negative stimuli are processed by the amygdala, while the hippocampus processes neutral or positive memories.
Sleep deprivation will hit the hippocampus harder than the amygdala.
Why is this important, and what is the significance of this discovery?
Sleep-deprived individuals won’t find it hard to recall pleasant memories.
However, they can easily recall gloomy memories without any problem.
In another experiment, sleep-deprived college students were made to memorize a list of words.
The result? They can remember 81 percent of the words with a negative connotation, such as cancer.
However, they can only remember 31 percent of the words with neutral or positive connotations, like basket or sunshine.
Yet another study proves that sleep can affect your sensitivity too negative emotions.
Using a facial recognition task during the day, researchers studied how sensitive participants are to positive and negative emotions.
Those working through the afternoon without napping became more sensitive to negative emotions such as anger and fear.
However, an intervening nap effectively blocked (and even reversed) the negative emotional reactivity to fear and anger while enhancing the ratings of happy or positive emotions.
Of course, how long and how well you sleep can also affect how you feel when you wake up and can make a difference in how you react and feel for the day.
Another study tested how the mood of employees was affected when they started working in the morning.
Employee mood greatly impacts performance and how they go about their work.
Find Your Happy Place
Imagine a ladder and number them from zero to ten (zero at the bottom to ten at the top).
The top of the ladder will represent the best possible life for you, while the bottom represents your worst possible life.
Which step of the ladder do you feel you stand on now?
This so-called happiness ladder is popularly used to measure (and compare) happiness across the globe.
The World Happiness Report ranked countries based on the subjective happiness and well-being of the people who lived there.
Their responses to the happiness ladder test were also taken into consideration.
The 10 happiest countries on earth include:
- New Zealand
Happy countries are those with strong economies and superb quality of life.
The least happy countries have experienced natural disasters, wars, and hardships.
There are lessons you can learn from the happiness survey.
In a nutshell, it is recommended that you:
- Find a sustainable and satisfying job
- Live in a happy place
- Surround yourself with social support
- Take better care of your health
- Are generous in terms of time and money
Live in a Happy Community
What makes a community a place where people are happy?
The Knight Foundation and Gallup found the answer to the question above:
- Openness: People are happier when they live in a community that is more welcoming to all.
- Beauty: Living in a picturesque, scenic, charming community with lots of green space and trees can make people happier.
- Social opportunities: When the place encourages social connections—community spaces, sidewalks, restaurants, trails, and other public spaces—residents are happier.
The bottom line is this: where you live can have a massive and profound impact on your happiness.
If you don’t fit in, you don’t know any of your neighbors, and if the scenery outside does not put a spring in your step, you must find a new place to live.
Consider renting before buying and checking out the place when exploring new neighborhoods.
Finding a place or community where you can encounter your neighbors spontaneously is also easier.
Ideally, you need to find an apartment with a shared backyard or a street known for community gatherings.
Look for signs that homeowners are connected, and there are many opportunities to connect with other people constantly.
Spend Time in Nature
Countless studies have supported the idea that spending time in nature can make a difference for you.
Walking on tree-lined and quiet paths can significantly improve your mental health.
It even has physical changes to your brain.
Nature walkers have been proven to have “quieter” brains.
Brain scans have shown that there is less blood flow to the part of the brain that is associated with rumination.
Some research also shows that looking at pictures alone can improve your mood dramatically.
In addition, sunlight can also make a lot of difference.
Epidemiological studies revealed that seasonal affective disorder is prevalent in the adult population.
Natural light exposure or spending time outside or living in a space with natural light can enhance your mood significantly.
Undoubtedly, getting organized can be good for both your mind and body.
For starters, it helps reduce the risk of falls and helps eliminate germs, making it much easier to find things like exercise gear and medicine.
Disorganization and excessive clutter can also be a symptom of a bigger health problem.
People who have suffered a brain injury or emotional trauma will find housecleaning insurmountable.
Chronic grief and pain, depression, and attention deficit disorder can also lead to a buildup of clutter or prevent people from getting organized.
Chronic disorganization (hoarding) is considered a mental illness at its most severe.
However, psychiatrists have yet to recognize it as one formally.
While hoarders are a minority, many organization experts and psychologists believe the rest can learn from them.
If you want to declutter, below are some ideas you can work with:
- Make sure your clothes are always folded neatly.
- Keep only items that only make you truly happy.
- Throw away papers you no longer need.
- Let go of clothes and accessories you no longer need, and keep only those you love and those that still spark joy within you.
- Pick only one thing to preserve a memory. Keep in mind that sentimentality often breeds clutter.
- When going on a holiday, take pictures instead of buying souvenirs.
- Spend money on experiences and not things.
Ms. Rubin, the author of Happiness at Home, recommends a 1-minute rule that is incredibly beneficial.
The one-minute rule is doing any task that can be done in one minute.
The simple yet sage advice can help you declutter a messy space.
When decluttering, it would help if you accomplish those one-minute tasks first. For instance:
- Hang up your coat.
- Read a letter, then toss it.
- Answer an email.
- Jot down a citation.
- File a paper.
- Put a dish in the dishwasher
- Put away magazines.
The one-minute rule can also boost happiness if incorporated into your daily life.
As a bonus, you can end up with a cleaner room that can make you happier.
Make Good Things Happen in the Bedroom
There’s a lot of potential for happiness in the bedroom.
It’s where you sleep, retreats for quiet contemplation, and have sex.
As a result, many experts who study and write about happiness encourage people to also focus on life in the bedroom.
British researchers that created a living well index found out that sleep and sex are considered two of the strongest indicators of wellness.
Also, people who feel rested most of the time are way happier than those who lack rest.
The same can be said for those individuals who are content and happy with their sex lives—they are way happier compared to those with less than satisfactory sex lives.
Your bedroom should rank high when you think about your living space and how it affects your happiness. Also, consider the following:
- Turning your bedroom into a luxury hotel suite. Imagine the feeling you get when you stay in a luxurious hotel. Capture that feels in your home daily.
- Invest in comfort. Opt for comfortable bedding, sheets, and pillows. Don’t forget to also invest in a quality mattress.
- Prioritize your window treatments. Blocking out light can help you sleep better.
- Remove the television. Bedrooms should be havens for sleep, relaxation, and sex.
Finding happiness daily can take work, but the benefits you will gain are worth all the time and effort.