Stacy Lee Kong
There are plenty of reasons to seek happiness. Research has shown that arthritis patients who have a “positive affect” are able to take more daily steps than their unhappy counterparts. Merry people tend to avoid getting sick during flu season, and they even live longer. Plus, experiencing joy just feels good.
From owning a dog to wearing sunglasses, these tips can boost your mood—and your well-being.
Keep a diary—and re-read it from time to time
According to a 2014 study in Psychological Science, writing in a journal can make people happy, even if the entries are mundane. We tend to forget the little things in life that bring us pleasure, but documenting those ordinary moments allows us to rediscover them.
Holding a grudge is stressful and can make you feel angry, sad, anxious and out of control. But forgiving someone who has hurt you doesn’t cause negative emotions at all.
See negative emotions as an opportunity
“It’s important to acknowledge that unhappiness is part of the human experience,” says Meik Wiking, the author of several books on happiness, including The Art of Making Memories. “We will struggle; we will be heartbroken; we will experience setbacks—overcoming them is what makes us both human and happy.”
Take up a hobby
But here’s the catch: it has to be something you’re not good at—say, stand-up comedy, making chocolate or maybe balloon animals? That’s because we’re happier when we’re learning.
Act extroverted—even if you’re not
“We found that when introverted people reported that they were acting outgoing, those tended to be their happier moments,” says John Zelenski, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. That means talking to strangers on the bus or chatting with a barista can boost people’s happiness, even if they’re naturally solitary types.
Get a pet
Owning a pet can make you happier. A recent Washington State University study found that just 10 minutes of petting a furry friend resulted in reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And dogs might have an edge over cats—in a recent survey of Americans, 36 percent of dog owners rated themselves as “very happy” compared to only 18 percent of cat owners.
Practice your faith
If you’re religious, going to church, temple or mosque will make you happier. A recent Pew Research Centre survey of 24 countries found that in Australia, for example, 45 percent of actively religious people said they were very happy, compared to 32 percent of inactively religious people and 33 percent of unaffiliated people.
Get out of the house
Being outside can boost your mood. In a study led by Zelenski, people who spent 15 minutes outdoors reported about 60 percent more positive emotions than those who stayed inside. “The idea is that humans evolved in nature, so we have some preference and appreciation for healthy environments.” And while the effects aren’t quite as strong, simply watching a nature documentary will do in a pinch.
Stare at trees
Esfahani Smith says nature provides transcendent moments: “[When] you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away and you feel connected to a higher reality.” In 2015, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked 90 students to look up at 60-metre-tall eucalyptus trees for one minute. After, the subjects reported feeling less self-centred, and they behaved more generously when given the chance to help someone.
Stand up straight
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Biofeedback, people who slouched while walking felt more depressed—but when they stood in a more upright position, they reported a significant bump in their outlook and energy levels.
Eat your greens
Eating lots of fruits and veggies can “enhance mental well-being,” according to a 2019 study in Social Science & Medicine. Aim for 10.5 portions per day—where a portion equals a cup of raw vegetables or fruits, or half a cup of cooked veggies.