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Saturday, August 13, 2022

How to Be Happy: Secrets to a Happier Life

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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.

Seek out the suburbs

A home in the ’burbs can make us happy. According to a 2014 poll of Americans by Atlantic Media and Siemens, 84 percent of suburbanites were satisfied with the community where they lived, versus 75 percent of city dwellers and 78 percent of rural residents. So maybe it’s no surprise that most Canadians (67 percent) live in the suburbs.

Prioritize bike paths

Regardless of the size of your city, you’re likely to be happier if you live somewhere with sidewalks and bike paths—so long as you use them, of course.

Be generous

According to a 2008 study from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, people who spent money on others were happier than those who spent money on themselves. The study provided participants with a windfall of either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or on a gift or charitable donation; the more generous group reported higher levels of happiness, regardless of how much money they received.

Pay for the experience

If you’re looking for lasting happiness, spend your discretionary income on experiences. According to Waldinger, buying material items “makes us less happy for less time than using that money to buy experiences, especially those with other people, [such as] vacations or outings with family and friends.”

Stop staring at your screen

Cutting back on screen time makes for happier people. In one recent study of teens, just one hour of screen time a day was correlated with greater unhappiness, and as screen time increased, happiness continued to drop. These findings likely apply to adults, too. Pasricha says, “Cellphones are… totally addictive comparison machines that hijack our brains and turn us into anxiety-riddled, stress-addled, thin-skinned versions of our best selves.”

Think about what you love

When we think about the things in our lives that make us happy (like our families, hobbies and friends) and then imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have those things, it makes us appreciate them more, which makes us happier, says Kira M. Newman, an editor at the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley.

Rewrite your story

Esfahani Smith says storytelling—that is, the ways we think about the events of our lives—can be a powerful way of shaping our moods. “We’re constantly making narrative choices, so if we’re telling ourselves a bad story, or one that’s holding us back, we have the power to edit that story,” she says.

Don’t overthink it

According to Newman, obsessing over happiness can actually backfire. Instead, pursue other things, like relationships or hobbies, and happiness will be the by-product.

PHOTOS: SHUTTERSTOCK

Source: Reader’s Digest CANADA

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