Happiness can be a sticky subject. We all want to be happier, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in our pursuit of big goals that we think will make us happy—but, in fact, research has shown that simple, daily actions and thoughts can often have a more profound and lasting effect on happiness than achieving a big milestone.
Although we often dwell on getting better jobs, bigger homes, and more success—the power of simple actions for happiness should not be underestimated. In fact, according to a recent article in the New York Times, positive thoughts may actually help improve health and increase longevity. Especially in those facing a serious disease such as HIV or cancer, the article states that “actively cultivating positive emotions can boost the immune system and counter depression.” If you’re in need of a few suggestions to help yourself stop and smell the roses, look no further. Here are five tips for a happier life.
1. Find a hobby
According to an article by Jaime L. Kurtz PhD entitled Six Reasons to get a Hobby, there are multiple happiness-inducing benefits to making time for your favorite hobbies: not only do they promote the mental state known as flow and decrease self-consciousness, they can also help you cope with stress. If you’re currently hobby-less and not sure where to turn, you may want to consider joining a choir. Regardless of whether or not you’re a gifted singer, research has shown that singing can cause feelings of elation. An article published in Time Magazine explains that through the release of hormones and oxytocin, singing can help “alleviate anxiety and stress” as well as “enhance feelings of trust and bonding,” which in turn “lessens feelings of depression and loneliness.”
2. Carve out time to move
Whether it’s doing jumping jacks in the parking lot at work or dancing around your apartment in your favorite bunny slippers, giving yourself time to move is a great way to get the good vibes flowing. According to the New York Times, a recent study from the University of Cambridge, which focused on the link between movement and happiness, found that even with gentle exercise, “people who moved more frequently tended to report greater life satisfaction overall than those who reported spending most of their time in a chair.” And those findings are completely in line with our own recent study: Data Reveals Link Between Activity & Happiness.
So go on—stand up and do your happy dance!
3. Keep a journal
For some writing comes naturally, but for others, it brings us back to the horrors of high school English assignments. But it turns out that writing may actually make you a happier person. According to Psychology Today, “‘expressive writing,’ or putting what you think and feel to paper” can be therapeutic and beneficial for motivation. Citing Adam Grant, the article states, “Research by Laura King shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier. Similarly, there’s plenty of evidence that keeping a gratitude journal can increase happiness and health by making the good things in life more salient.” So whether you love to write prose, poetry, or just lists, it seems like there’s evidence that documenting your thoughts can help increase the joy in your life.
4. Practice gratitude
We all understand what being grateful means, but what does it really mean to “practice” gratitude? The advice blog, unstuck.com, posits that practicing gratitude can be anything from noticing your “day-to day world from a point of gratitude” and being “amazed at all the goodness we take for granted” to giving “at least one compliment daily, whether directly to a person or by sharing your appreciation of something.” So how does this make us happier? According to Harvard Health Publications, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” If any of that sounds good to you, consider keeping that gratitude journal, as suggested in tip #3, above. Or consider setting a goal to compliment others, or just try to be mindful of what you can be grateful for in your everyday life.
5. Foster social connections and spread the joy
Whether you connect with a significant other, family member, or friend, it’s important to devote time to the people who are important to you. The Oxford Handbook of Happiness, edited by Susan A. David, states: “Social relationships, especially intimate relationship, have measurable effects on happiness.” Although these effects can vary depending on the kind of relationship—be it friendship, a romantic relationship, or a familial relationship—having a person whom you can turn to for support can be a huge contributing factor in finding happiness. Additionally, the Harvard Gazette explains that “one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends.” Incredibly, it also states that the effect of that happy chain “lasts for up to one year.”
So whether you find your happiness through music, exercise, journaling—or even if you just stumble upon it by accident—if you’re feeling that happy bug, get out there and pay it forward. Your contagious joy might just find its way back to you!
Photo: Isabel Castrol via twenty20