10 Ways To Get Happy Now
Today I am going to share with you 10 ways to grow your own happiness. Are you struggling to shake off that gloomy feeling, or constantly shifting between cheerful highs and sorrowful lows? In the past you may have looked for a distraction to snap you out of a bad mood, reached for the chocolate or, if all else had failed, resorted to antidepressants. But if you find it hard to feel positive about life, the good news is that you can train yourself to be happier.
New studies suggest happiness isn’t just a product of a stable childhood or a naturally sunny disposition – it’s closely linked with the physical structure of the brain, which is something that can be changed.
Researchers from Kyoto University, Japan, have found those who rate themselves as happy have more grey matter in a part of the brain called the precuneus. Not only do these people experience happiness more strongly, they feel sadness less intensely and are able to find a deeper meaning in life. And previous research has found it’s possible to increase grey matter in this area of the brain – meaning that no matter what’s happening in your life, you can develop your own happiness, rather like strengthening a muscle.
If you’re wondering why you should bother, our mood can dictate everything in our lives, from whether we’re able to form good relationships to how healthy we are.
One key activity that has been shown to help change the brain is meditation. Studies have found that regular mediators alter the structure and function of their brains – an effect known as neuroplasticity. As a result of years of meditation practice, French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard was shown to have increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which is linked to positive feelings.
Ricard, author of Happiness: A Guide To Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, recommends meditating for 20 minutes every day. ‘Start by simply paying attention to the sensations of your breath going in and out,’ he advises. ‘If your mind wanders, which it will, bring it back to your breath.’
As you get used to this, you can use the same principles throughout the day whenever your worries start to get on top of you. When you notice yourself drifting from the present moment, you focus instead on feelings of hot or cold, or sounds around you. It’s all about consistency, though. ‘Regular practice is needed – it’s like watering a plant,’ said Ricard.
While meditation is an essential happiness skill, building contentment is also about doing lots of small things each day to lift your mood and cultivate positive feelings. Of course this won’t guarantee permanent joy, but getting into the happiness habit can act as a buffer against life’s difficulties, helping you bounce back when things are tough and allowing you to enjoy the good times to the maximum.
Yuna Ferguson, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University Shenango, USA, champions the idea of using meditation and other methods to enhance your mood. But she offers a word of caution about constantly asking yourself: ‘Am I happy yet?’ She says: ‘Rather than focusing on how much happiness they’ve gained and doing a kind of mental calculation, people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination.’
To actively improve your mood, try out these 10 exercises, remembering to enjoy yourself on the your journey to thinking yourself happy.
10 Ways To Grow Your Own Happiness
Let Go Of Your Expectations
Often, the big things we think will make us happy actually don’t, argues Professor Paul Dolan, government wellbeing adviser and author of Happiness By Design. for example, parents report that bringing up children gives life more meaning, but it doesn’t actually lead to higher happiness levels. Similarly, money can’t buy you joy.
So forget about concentrating on what you believe will make you happier overall. Professor Dolan says it’s more about paying closer attention to what brings you pleasure in each moment. ‘We’re happier if we are focusing on the person we’re with, and the thing we’re doing right now.’
You could get the most out of family life by enjoying a Sunday afternoon out with the kids – and staying closely in the moment rather than worrying about the next week at work. If you’re playing with your pet, concentrate on the game instead of shaking a toy half-heartedly while watching TV. Whatever you’re doing, you’ll get more from it if you give it your full attention.
Turn Negatives Into Positives
Our thoughts control our moods, so it’s worth trying to transform a negative mindset into a positive one. ‘Positivity affects everything from how quickly we recover from an operation to how long we live – the positive among us live longer,’ says Rachel Kelly, who wrote Walking On Sunshine, to share the strategies that keep her upbeat after suffering from depression.
But how can you be more optimistic if you’re naturally a glass-half-empty type? According to Kelly, the first step to improving your mood is to simply notice your negative thoughts. It’s easy to allow them to spiral downwards, so make an effort to become more aware of any negative patterns.
‘Next realise these thoughts aren’t facts. It’s worth questioning them because many turn out to be false assumptions,’ she says. If you can’t successfully challenge a negative thought, accept it while breathing in. When you breathe out, try to find a more positive way of viewing the situation or issue. For example, if you’re feeling anxious that you’re going to argue again with your partner, tell yourself that if a row does kick off, you’re going to listen as well as talk calmly – the disagreement could actually end up being positive. Whenever you do this, the old neural pathways in the brain that process negative ways of thinking begin to fade and are replaced by positive ones.
One study found people who write down the things they’re grateful for on a regular basis feel more optimistic, exercise more and visit their GP less. The “three good things” exercise is a handy tool,’ says Rachel Kelly. “As you wind down for the night, think of three positive things that happened that day.
The more detailed and specific you can be, the better. Reflect on each one how it made you feel.’ Tell your partner how much you appreciate them too. Research shows that when people take time to express gratitude for their partner, they also feel more comfortable airing concerns and this can make the relationship healthier.
Do Something Kind
Doing something thoughtful for someone else is a proven way to boost your own happiness. The reason being it can help give your life meaning and purpose, and draw your focus away from your own problems. To get the most benefits, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, advises against random acts of kindness such as buying a coffee for the person behind you in the queue.
While you might get a short-lived kick out of this sort of act, doing something another person truly benefits from gives you a deeper feeling of contentment because it genuinely helps them. ‘Its more productive to target someone who’s in need of a little more help,’ says Rubin. ‘Help a colleague even when you’re rushing to meet a deadline yourself, or go out of your way to assist an overwhelmed parent who is juggling toddlers and shopping bags.’
If you can’t shrug off that bleak mood, act as if you feel cheerful. First, put on a smile – research has shown smiling, even when you’re faking it, helps you feel more relaxed. And the more you can perfect a genuine-looking smile, the better – that means grinning so the smile reaches your eyes. A study at the University of Kansas, USA, asked people to hold chopsticks horizontally in their mouths (try grinning and holding a pencil horizontally in your teeth), which resulted in them moving their facial muscles to mimic a smile. These people were better able to cope with challenging tasks afterwards. This is because your brain is constantly monitoring your body to see how you’re feeling, which includes scanning facial expressions.
As well as painting a smile on your face, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, a psychologist and wellbeing expert, suggests that you can trigger a good mood. He says, ‘wear your favourite clothes on ordinary days and don’t save them just for special occasions. Put on bright colours and talk about cheerful things. This can make a difference and help you feel more upbeat.’
Clear Your Clutter
It’s been proven that being surrounded by clutter has a powerfully negative effect on your mood, according to research by neuroscientists in the USA. The mistake many of us make, says Gretchen Rubin, is saving up for one big tidy. ‘Mess makes it harder to focus and can leave you irritable,’ she says. ‘Instead, you need to de-clutter on a regular basis. Whenever you have a spare minute, clear a shelf or a kitchen drawer.
If you’re standing around waiting for the kettle to boil or your toast to pop out use the time to see what you could clear up – even small things like a recycling of junk mail, putting away teabags or hanging up a coat can make a big difference. Get rid of anything that isn’t beautiful or useful, too’.
It can be tempting to stay in touch by email or social media, but it’s no replacement for seeing friends in person. Plenty of studies have shown the happiest people spend more time socialising. And that doesn’t just mean having nights out with lots of pals – spending quality time with your partner is also important. Make the effort to snuggle up, even if you’ve been together for years, because frequent hugs can boost levels of the love hormone oxytocin, which encourages feelings of intimacy and closeness.
Making small connections with others throughout the day is also beneficial, easing stress and boosting contentment, says Professor Cooper. ‘Smile at people in the street, chat to bus drivers and people who serve you in supermarkets,’ he says. ‘This kind of everyday interaction can give you a lift.’
Do What You Love
For me this is an obvious one to add to my 10 ways to grow your own happiness and have been saying this for so long. Having a hobby that absorbs you is an important way to get sources of stress into perspective and boost contentment,’ says Professor Cooper. A study at the University of British Columbia, Canada, found people who spent time pursuing their passions were happier than those who prioritised their job.
So leave work on time and do something you enjoy. ‘One of your hobbies should be an exercise you really like,’ says Rachel Kelly. ‘I feel more alive when I live in my body as well as my mind,’ she adds. So instead of focusing on what it is you can do to lose weight or get fit, find something you really look forward to, whether that’s dancing swimming or running.
Toast To Good News
We often see a harsher version of ourselves than is the reality. So to give yourself perspective, be more attentive to your good points. Notice your achievements – at the end of each day, note down what you’ve done well, whether that’s completing admin that has been hanging over you, getting to the gym despite feeling tired, or lending an ear to a friend who’s having a hard time. This will build you self-esteem so you feel more in control.
When it comes to the bigger bits of good news, like getting a promotion or plucking up the confidence to ask a friend out on a date, allow yourself to acknowledge it by telling others – research shows those who share good news are happier and more satisfied with life. By choosing the most enthusiastic friends to tell you’ll get a more positive response, which will reinforce your own satisfaction.
Listening to upbeat music you like really can life your spirits. Studies at the University of Missouri, USA , found listening to positive music daily for two weeks lightened people’s moods in the short-term and boosted their overall happiness. There’s no other stimulation like music to arouse the brain,’ says Professor Paul Dolan. Make music part of your daily life – put it on when you’re getting ready in the morning, exercising or whenever you need a lift. Having a musical soundtrack to your day will help you feel amazing.
I hope you found 10 ways to grow your happiness of interest. I’m going to start applying these to my life; let me know how you get on if you do the same but remember it won’t happen overnight. This is something to be worked on, on a daily basis.
If you would like to add your own items to my 10 ways to grow your happiness – please leave them below.