Top 10 Ways To Be Happy
We all like to be happy, it makes us feel good and enhances our lives but can we make ourselves feel happy? Are we truly happy if we force ourselves to feel good? Can we get all the benefits of happiness if we are faking it? Is happiness even something that we can affect or is it something over which we have no control?
Studies have shown that our levels of happiness do not depend on our personal circumstances as much as our personality and how we choose to interpret and behave in certain scenarios. In other words we can make our own happiness. Our brains and our emotions are like a muscle, the more they are used the more tone they will have, therefore, they key to success is to practice happiness exercises as often as possible. We have listed our top 10 happiness exercises below so you have no excuse not to be happy.
Think Positive Thoughts
Ever heard the saying ‘bad things come in threes’. This is typically because when something bad happens we start feeling negative and look for the next bad thing – we expect it to come along. When something happens, because we are already feeling bad we view it in a negative light and this validates our feelings that we are unlucky and bad things happen. You can look at any one situation in many different ways and can choose to see it as a good thing or as a bad thing. IF you board a flight and suddenly hear you will be delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours while the fix a maintenance fault; you can choose to believe that you are unlucky to be delayed or to say you are lucky that the fault was discovered and fixed before you fly.
The chances are that if you spin your experiences in a positive manner then you will be happier in your life. You will also be less likely to suffer from depression, to manage stress better and even live longer.
Don’t however be positive to the point of denial. Bad things happen in life and there is no point in minimizing the effect that they had and will have on you. But you can train your mind to default to the most positive possible outlook for any situation. Start by promising yourself to find one good thing to celebrate every day – it could be as minor as savoring the smell of your morning coffee. When you become adept at finding one good thing, step up your game – find one good thing three times a day, then every hour and presently you will be doing it automatically.
Be Grateful For What You Have
Gratitude is extremely important to happiness but the key is learning how to access your gratitude. You don’t have to have the perfect life to be grateful, in fact many people who practice gratitude have very difficult lives or face extraordinary challenges and gratitude is actually relatively simple to learn.
Every morning when you wake up you probably think about the challenges of the day. This is normal, almost everyone does it but try to set aside some time to think about what you have that you can and should be grateful for, the roof over your head, the job that pays the bills, the flowers in your garden. Even in the darkest times everybody can find something to be grateful for. Much like with positive thinking this does not mean ignoring the difficulties and problems in your life, it means finding reasons to be grateful in spite of the problems you are facing.
You can do this by reframing the difficulties you are facing. Do you have a boring job? What benefits does it bring you? Does it put the food on the table and a roof over your head? Sure, well then you are perfectly placed to polish your resume and apply for the job of your dreams. Even at the very worst of times, during bereavement, for example, you can find reasons to be grateful. Of course you should grieve, should cry and be sad for what you have lost, be angry for missed opportunities. But, once you have grieved take the time to look at all the positives, how your life was enhanced through knowing that person.
Make sure that you show your gratitude in every aspect of your life, thank people who help you, even the clerk at the grocery store who scans your items and remember to people compliments (and mean them). When you thank people you make yourself realize that you have something to be thankful for. If you are a visual person think about keeping a list, on the fridge, on your ‘phone or in a journal, of the top 5 things you are grateful for every day. Like thanking other people the very act of writing something down makes your gratitude more tangible.
Live In The Here And Now
Mindfulness and meditation are two great ways to learn to focus on why you are and why you should be happy. As well as helping improve happiness in and of their own account they are also useful tools in helping you practice every other goal on this list.
When practicing mindfulness take the time to really concentrate on the task at hand. When taking a shower in the morning stop your mind running off on 19 different tracks and just concentrate on enjoying your shower, make yourself think, really think about how the water feels, the smell of the shampoo and the sounds that you can hear. By living in the here and now you learn to accept things the way they are. You gradually begin to understand what you have and to take comfort in that, this in turn helps you to appreciate your life and to be happy about it. Mindfulness can also help you learn to really think things through and avoid kneejerk reactions in favor of considered responses to situations.
Once you have learned to be mindful you can consider whether to use meditation to help you achieve happiness. It will help you to be aware of your life, the options that you have and how to move your life forwards.
Fulfill Your Destiny
This may sound very self important but all people have a destiny. Remember when you were a kid and were bored with nothing to do, you would mope around the house feeling time go very slowly. Then you and a friend decided to play a game and suddenly time flew past. This is because you had a purpose in life. It is the same for adults – people who do not know what they want to do or where their life is heading feel as though they are at a loose end. If there is no purpose in life then what is the purpose of life?
Take the time to think about what makes you happy, what gives a purpose to your life. It could be your job and career, it could be your family or it could be something else altogether. While most people find happiness and fulfillment in relationships goals can be formulated around anything. If you do not have, but want to have, a meaningful relationship think about what interim goals you can concentrate on and work towards in the meantime.
Make sure that the goal you have chosen for yourself is your own goal and not a projection of someone else. No child will be happy studying law at an Ivy League college if this is the culmination of their parents’ goals rather than their own. Strip away the pressures of family, society and media and think about what would really make you happy. Think about why you want to achieve that goal, what benefits will it bring to you, could you achieve those benefits in another way? By drilling down through your goal in this way you may surprise yourself and find out that what you really want is something completely different to you imagined.
We live in a fast paced society. 30 even 20 years ago people could leave work when they went home at the end of the day and a vacation was a proper break from daily life. These days our email goes straight to our cell ‘phones. We check them as soon as we wake up, before we go to bed, when we eat. This leads many people to develop high levels of anxiety. While a little worry can be a good motivator catastrophizing can be very damaging to your health and happiness, leading to high blood pressure, stress and possibly anxiety attacks.
It is natural to worry about problems, to think about ‘what ifs’. In years gone by we could compartmentalize worry to some extent but these days that is becoming increasingly impossible. But is worry worth it? Does it make us feel better about ourselves or does it, in essence, exacerbate our negative feelings. When people studied what we worried about it turned out that most of our worries were needless such as thinking about things that have already happened that we cannot change, worries about outcomes and events that are beyond our control or things which really are unbelievably petty (i.e. what to eat for dinner). Most of the things we worry about never happen; it is a phenomenal waste of time.
So how can you stop worrying and start being happy? Firstly permit yourself a worry time, a set period every day when you are allowed to worry. Then ask yourself whether you are going to be able to do anything about the problem. If not, leave it behind. If you can address the problem, start thinking about it in a constructive manner. Ask yourself what the worst case scenario will be then think about how you will deal with that. Once you have a plan for the worst (which is likely never going to happen) you know you can deal with anything the problem throws at you and your anxiety levels will decrease.
Forgive Yourself And Others
The concept of forgiveness may be rooted in Christian tradition but it is not purely a religious concept. It appears that there is some scientific background that promotes forgiveness as a tool for happiness. Studies show that people (of any religion or none) who practice forgiveness have lower blood pressure and are therefore healthier than those who hold on to a grievance.
When we are angry at someone we spend a disproportionate amount of our time and energy on that anger, we may even worry (see above) and this is neither good nor healthy. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to forgive ourselves as well as others. Once a mistake is made do what can be done to rectify it and move on, do not allow yourself to be consumed by regret.
Do not feel that because you forgive that you have to forget. The event that you are forgiving has become a part of who you are and you will have learned from it. Forgiveness is about deciding not to feel negative about an event, you do not even have to continue to maintain a relationship with the person you are forgiving if you do not want to. There is even a 20 step model, designed by the International Forgiveness Institute to guide you through the process of deciding to forgive.
Friends are vital to our emotional health and wellbeing. They support us when times are tough, make us laugh when we are sad and help us understand when we are wrong. Research shows that religious people are generally happier than non-religious people. When researchers delved into why this was the case they were surprised to find that it was nothing to do with the comforts of faith and everything to do with the quality of friendships they were able to make with like-minded people.
When we are with friends we are more relaxed than when we are on our own, socializing with friends stimulates our body to release feel good hormones to relax us.
Follow Your Instincts
Everyone knows the saying ‘follow your gut instinct’ but is instinct going to give a better result than reasoned thought. Some people get butterflies in their tummy when they are worried about things, others a sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. It turns out that our stomach is actually connected to our brain so that unconscious concerns we have can manifest in our stomach. If our brain is our rational thought center our stomach is often the center of our instinct.
Learn to listen to your gut, those butterflies are typically excitement, whether because you are going on a date or because you are an actor about to say lines on stage, this type of worry can give you a good edge, make you up your game. The sinking, nauseous feeling, on the other hand, tends to come when you are deeply, truly worried about something.
If you take the time to analyze the different signals that your stomach gives to you in different situations and use this to inform the decisions that you make with your rational mind you will help yourself to make the decisions that are right for you. This in turn will help you understand what your purpose is in life. Before you know it you will be worrying less because you will know you have made the right decision and allowed your gut instinct to guide you to your life’s goal.
It may sound counterintuitive because we smile when we are happy but actually we can trick ourselves into feeling happier just by smiling. In tests performed in the 1970s people were asked to perform facial exercises to make them smile. Most people reported that they actually felt happier when and after they smiled than they did beforehand.
It appears that the physical responses of your body when you smile cause the temperature of the blood in your brain to reduce. Cooler blood leads to happier feelings (just as warmer blood leads to more negative emotions). The idea works in reverse as well – patients who had Botox treatment and therefore were unable to smile reported feeling happier. These feelings of happiness appear to be distinct from the pleasure they gained from the results of the treatment itself. Smiling also makes us appear more open, confident and friendly so it is a great way to meet new friends too!
We are not recommending that you go out and get Botox treatment (unless you really want to) but practice smiling. If you have started all or some of the other happiness exercises we have listed you should find yourself having plenty to smile about. If you have not….fake it til you make it!
Look After Your Health
A healthy life will give you so many benefits. Of course there are the obvious benefits in having a better body, clearer skin, longer life expectancy and so on but, it turns out, being healthy also helps you to be happy. It appears that people who eat a Mediterranean diet (considered to be one of the healthiest diets available) are 30% less likely to be depressed. It seems that certain fatty acids in a healthy diet help serotonin (a feel good chemical) work more efficiently. Healthy diets typically have large servings of whole grains that promote stable blood sugar as opposed to peaks and troughs throughout the day.
Most people are chronically tired and do not get enough sleep. Try to go to bed a little earlier and make sure that the room is dark for optimum sleep quality. Do not use a blue light device such as a tablet or computer for an hour before bed as blue light resets the body clock making it hard to sleep even when tired. At the weekend do not allow yourself to sleep in more than two hours beyond your usual wake up time and, on Sunday night, go to bed ½ hour before your usual time to stop yourself feeling cranky in the morning. If you feel tired during the day set your alarm for 20 minutes and take a power nap. This is long enough to refresh you without entering a deeper or dream sleep from which you will find it harder to wake up.
Exercise is also a proven way to make you feel better. Not only do you look and feel better (which makes most people happy), as you exercise your body releases feel good chemicals. A win/win situation. The gym or running track can also be a good place to meet new likeminded friends and a period of exercise is an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness or meditation. Even more win/wins.
We hope that this list has been interesting and informative for you and that it has helped you understand that you can teach yourself to be happy. You don’t have to practice all of the techniques all of the time (or at all) indeed it might be overwhelming to start to do them all together.
When you decide to make happiness a part of your life experiment to find the suggestions that work well for you, then practice them until they become second nature. As you become more adept at the exercises you will find that you are making yourself happy without even thinking. Remember not to minimize bad things as it can do more harm than good by preventing you from accepting and dealing with the reality of a situation. What you can do, however, is try to find happiness elsewhere, in ordinary things.
When you are starting to learn how to be happy concentrate on small things, you can choose to be happy about the taste of an apple and work up to the more complex stuff. Happier people tend to live longer, have lower stress levels and can even have a more effective immune system. You deserve to be happy and the results are worth it. Good luck and we hope you find plenty to smile about!