If you’re anything like me, you might be kind of skeptical of internet posts making claims about what can make you happier.
Happiness seems so elusive, so personal, and so conditional on circumstances outside your control that you might be inclined to think any simple formula about how to attain it is basically just a load of BS.
Let’s get one thing straight, first of all: If you have any kind of mental illness that affects your brain’s chemistry, like depression, then you will experience a very difficult time being happy, even if you implement habits like the ones in this article.
And that is not your fault or something you should feel badly about.
it just means that you need some extra help from a trained professional and, very likely, the medication that will treat the part of your brain that’s affecting your ability to do everyday things and feel good feelings.
With the caveat made, though, the thing to keep in mind is that the scientific studies you read about that investigate what habits make people happy are talking about just that – habits. Sure, subjects in those studies sometimes experience immediate jolts of happiness that scientists can see in their brain chemistry, but do you want just an immediate jolt or a long-term difference in your happiness level?
Want a long-term difference – which….why wouldn’t you?
Then you have to incorporate these recommendations consistently into your life, not just try them one or two times. You wouldn’t expect your teeth to be clean and cavity-free if you just brushed them once or twice a week. Happiness is the same way; you can’t expect it to magically happen if you’re not consistently making the changes that will make you a happier person.
In a 2014 Time magazine article, Erin Barker puts it best:
We have designated work hours. We schedule doctor appointments. Heck, we even schedule hair appointments. We say happiness is the most important thing but fail to consistently include it in our calendars. Research shows 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. You can change your happiness by up to 40% by what you choose to do every day.
40%! That’s huge! So now that I’ve lectured you about the importance of making happiness-building activities intentional parts of your life, let’s take a look at what some of those habits are:
Tired of hearing about this very trendy psychological practice? Well too bad, because research from a growing bundle of experts continues to show its positive effects! Mindfulness and meditation develop happiness because they allow you to acknowledge your feelings rather than burying them or judging yourself for having them. That’s a powerful perspective shift. If you’re not familiar with meditation and/or mindfulness practices, there are so many websites and apps you can use. Here are just a couple to get you started, but if these aren’t up your alley there are seriously so many to choose from if you just search for them.
2. Experience the great outdoors.
Ever feel like you’re getting to a point with screens where you’re actually a little uncomfortable with how much time you spend on them each day? Incorporate more time in nature into your schedule! Even if you don’t live in a particularly nature-y area, you can always just get outside and take a walk at least. An article from Independent explains that spending time outside is associated with lower levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). Try to implement this during lunch time if your work involves sitting indoors all day – feast on that chicken salad at a table outside the office building!
3. Write down your feelings.
People who are habitual writers already know the calming powers of expressing yourself in the written word. When you’re upset about something, writing it down helps in so many ways. First, it lets you express your anger first in a place that’s not directed at another human, so if there are any really hurtful or reactive things you want to say, you can get them out of your system by journaling them out. Second, writing down your feelings will actually help you get more clarity on them. You’ll often find that you have a clearer idea of what they actually are after you write them down than you did before. It’s kind of like mindfulness, actually; it’s an opportunity for you to become aware of what’s really going on in your thoughts and feelings, to name and recognize them.
4. Express gratitude to people regularly.
Like mindfulness, the psychological emphasis on the benefits of gratitude is incredibly popular right now, and that’s because, again, there’s been a good deal of recent research showing that those benefits exist. To read more about those studies, you can read this Psychology Today article that’s all about the benefits of gratitude. Remember, though, that it’s particularly effective to not just feel gratitude (although that is good, too!), but to actually express it, to let the people around you who have done something for which you’re grateful know about it. Send a card! Make a call! Get a fruit basket! Expressing that gratitude will make the person you talk to happy, and you’ll be happy that they’re happy, and it’ll basically just be a mood-boosting loop that picks you right up.
5. Keep track of your goals, but only your goals.
It’s no secret that a sense of purpose makes you happier; it’s why so many millennials are not content to work in jobs that give them no sense that they’re doing anything meaningful. But, on the other hand, paying too much attention to other people’s goals and whether or not they’re accomplishing them is like a glaring red flag on your road to happiness. Once you start comparing yourself to others, you can kiss real, long-term happiness goodbye. You’ve got to stop that inclination dead in its tracks.
So remember – don’t just read them, bookmark them, pin them, and forget them – turn these ideas into habits, just like brushing your teeth. That’s how you’ll really see a difference in your happiness that lasts longer than a day or two.
Want to work on your happiness level but feeling like you just can’t get started on your own? Check out our newest offering to learn how to cultivate a more wholehearted life: Daring Greatly™ – a 4-week e-course based on the book and research by Dr. Brené Brown.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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