In a world that often feels stressful and overwhelming, finding ways to increase our happiness and well-being can be a valuable pursuit. Fortunately, there are many ways to boost your mood and improve your overall sense of contentment. In this article, I’ll explore seven proven strategies to help you be happier and healthier, the scientific evidence behind them, and how to easily incorporate these tools into your life.
1. Practice gratitude
One of the most effective ways to be happier is to simply practice gratitude. Cultivating a sense of gratitude is a simple yet powerful way to increase happiness and well-being. Gratitude is the practice of appreciating the good things in our lives and acknowledging the kindness of others. Research has shown that regularly expressing gratitude can have significant benefits for mental and physical health.1
For example, one study found that those who wrote daily in a gratitude journal experienced more positive emotions, better sleep, and fewer physical symptoms of illness compared to those who did not.2 Another study found that people who wrote letters of gratitude to others experienced greater feelings of happiness and well-being, as well as lower levels of depression and anxiety.3
The following are some ways to practice gratitude in your everyday life that will also help you feel happier and more content.
Ways To Practice Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal: Write down three things you are grateful for each day, such as a positive experience, a supportive friend, or a personal accomplishment.
- Express gratitude to others: Say “thank you” to someone who has helped or supported you in some way. Write a thank-you note or send a text message expressing your appreciation.
- Practice mindfulness to focus on the present: Take a few minutes each day to focus on the present moment and appreciate what you have. Focus on the small things, such as the warmth of the sun on your skin or the taste of your favorite food.
- Reflect on difficult times: Reflect on challenges you have faced in your life and consider what you have learned from them. This can help you appreciate the positive aspects of your life and cultivate gratitude.
Remember, practicing gratitude is a skill that requires regular practice. With time and dedication, it can become a habit that brings more happiness and positivity into your life.
2. Practice mindfulness
Another easy way to be happier is to get into the habit of being mindful. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment, with an open and non-judgmental attitude. This practice is based on principles of meditation and has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health.
Research has consistently shown that practicing mindfulness can lead to reduced stress, increased well-being, and improved mood. One study found that those who engaged in a mindfulness practice reported lower levels of perceived stress and greater levels of well-being compared to those who didn’t.4 Another study found that mindfulness-based interventions were associated with significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as improvements in overall mental health.5
Overall, the evidence suggests that mindfulness is a powerful tool for improving mental health and overall well-being. By focusing on the present moment and cultivating a non-judgmental attitude, individuals can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive functioning.
The following are some ways to incorporate mindfulness into your days that will make you feel happier and more aware of the little things in life.
Ways To Practice Mindfulness
- Mindful breathing: Take a few deep breaths, and focus your attention on the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out of your body.
- Body scan: Lie down or sit comfortably, and focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your toes and working your way up to the top of your head.
- Mindful eating: Focus your attention on the sensation of each bite of food as you chew and swallow.
- Mindful walking: Pay attention to each step as you walk, and focus your attention on the sensation of your feet touching the ground.
- Mindful meditation: Sit in a comfortable position, and focus your attention on your breath or a specific object, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without judgment.
- Mindful listening: Focus your attention on the sounds around you, without judgment or distraction, noticing the nuances of each sound.
- Mindful movement: Practice yoga or tai chi, focusing your attention on the sensations of movement and breath.
3. Engage in acts of kindness
Another way to become happier is to engage in acts of kindness. Performing acts of kindness for others is a simple yet effective way to increase happiness and improve well-being. One study found that people who performed five acts of kindness over the course of one day reported increased happiness and well-being compared to those who did not.6
Performing acts of kindness has a positive effect on both the giver and the recipient. When we perform an act of kindness, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. This can lead to a “helper’s high,” a state of euphoria that is associated with performing acts of kindness.7 In addition, these activities can also create a sense of social connection, which is an important factor in overall contentment and well-being.8 By helping others, we feel like we are part of a community, and this can lead to a sense of belonging and purpose.
The following are some simple ways to engage in acts of kindness that will also lead you to feel happier and more content.
Some Random Acts of Kindness
- Hold the door open for someone
- Help someone carry their groceries
- Offer to cook a meal for a neighbor or friend
- Donate clothes, books, or toys to a charity
- Give someone a sincere compliment
- Volunteer at a local charity or non-profit organization
- Offer to babysit for a friend or family member
- Write a letter of appreciation to someone
- Offer to walk a friend’s dog
- Pay for someone’s coffee or meal in line behind you.
4. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has been shown to have a significant impact on all aspects of our being. Increasing physical activity has been found to be an effective way to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. One study found that just 30 minutes of exercise per day, for three to five days per week, was enough to significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults.9 Exercise has also been found to increase self-esteem, which can have a positive impact on overall well-being.10
One of the ways exercise improves mood is through the production of endorphins. Endorphins are natural chemicals in the brain that act as painkillers and mood boosters. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which can lead to feelings of euphoria and a sense of well-being. In fact, some studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as medication for treating mild to moderate depression as well as chronic pain.11
In addition to the mood-boosting effects of endorphins, exercise has also been found to have a positive impact on the brain itself, improving our overall brain health. Regular exercise has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is involved in memory and learning.12 Exercise has also been found to increase the production of a protein that is involved in the growth and maintenance of brain cells that leads to improved mood, cognitive function, and overall well-being.13
The following are some ways to incorporate more physical activity into your days so that you can be happier as well as healthier.
A Few Ways To Get Moving
- Go for a brisk walk or jog in the park
- Walk around in a shopping mall
- Take a fitness class at your local gym or community center
- Participate in a team sport such as basketball, soccer, or volleyball
- Swim laps at your local pool
- Try yoga or Pilates to improve flexibility and strength
- Take a dance class, such as salsa or hip-hop
- Use home exercise equipment, such as a treadmill or elliptical machine
- Take your dog for a walk or run
- Ride a bike or go for a hike
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible
- Walk to work, school, or the grocery store
5. Spend time in nature
Another way to become a happier and healthier person is to simply spend more time in nature. Spending time in nature has been shown to have positive effects on our mental health. According to one study, spending just 20 minutes in nature can lead to significant increases in feelings of vitality and well-being.14
Researchers found that those who spent time in nature reported feeling more alive and energized, compared to those who spent the same amount of time in an urban environment. Another study found that people who spent time outside in nature reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions, in which those who spent time outside experienced increased feelings of awe, which in turn was associated with increased overall well-being.15
There are many ways to enjoy nature and reap its benefits. The following are just a few things that you can do on the weekends that will help you feel happier, more refreshed, and ready to tackle the week.
A Few Ways To Enjoy Nature
- Go for a walk or hike in a park, forest, or natural area.
- Take a bike ride on a nature trail or in a scenic area.
- Go camping or backpacking for a weekend or longer.
- Go for a swim in a lake or river.
- Take a picnic to a scenic spot and enjoy a meal outdoors.
- Go birdwatching or wildlife viewing in a natural area.
- Take a yoga or meditation class outdoors in a park or garden.
- Go for a run or jog on a nature trail or in a park.
- Take a photography or art class in a natural setting.
- Join a nature-based group or club, such as a hiking or kayaking club.
6. Engage in creative activities
Another fun way to become happier and more content is to get creative. According to one study, those who engaged in creative activities for just two weeks reported increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions compared to those who didn’t.16
Another study found that participating in a creative activity for just 45 minutes led to significant improvements in mood and well-being, regardless of the level of the creative experience.17 This suggests that engaging in creative activities, even for a short period of time, can have a positive impact on well-being.
The following are some activities for you to try that will allow you to be creative while also helping you to become happier.
Creative Activities To Consider
- Writing: Start a journal, write poetry or short stories, or try your hand at a novel.
- Drawing: Take a drawing class, start a sketchbook, or simply experiment with different mediums
- Painting: Take a painting class, create a still life, or try painting with watercolors.
- Sculpting: Try sculpting with clay or other materials.
- Photography: Take a photography class or start a photo journal or scrapbook.
- Playing music: Learn to play an instrument, join a band or choir, or simply play for fun.
- Dancing: Take a dance class, try a new style of dance, or dance at home to your favorite music.
- Cooking or baking: Try out new recipes or learn to bake from scratch.
- Crafting: Try knitting, crocheting, or sewing, or experiment with paper crafts or jewelry-making.
- Gardening: Plant a garden, buy an indoor plant, or take a nature walk to gather materials for a flower arrangement.
7. Get enough quality sleep
Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining both physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep is essential for the proper functioning of the body and brain.
Research has shown that sleep is closely linked to happiness and well-being. One study showed that individuals who reported better quality sleep also had higher levels of life satisfaction .
On the other hand, lack of sleep has been linked to negative outcomes. It has been shown that sleep-deprived individuals experience higher levels of stress, negative emotions, and lower life satisfaction than those who get enough sleep.18 This is because sleep plays an important role in regulating emotions and moods. Sleep deprivation has been found to affect the amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions, leading to an increase in negative emotions and a decrease in positive emotions.19
To ensure that you get enough quality sleep, it is recommended that you establish a regular sleep routine, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and create a comfortable sleep environment.
Here are some ways to create your own personal “sleep haven” that will maximize the quality of your sleep and cause you to feel happier and more satisfied with your days.
How To Create a Sleep Haven
- Choose a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding: A comfortable mattress and pillows that support your body along with a soft, breathable comforter can help you sleep better.
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark: Create a relaxing environment by keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark. Use curtains or blinds to block out light and noise, and use a fan or air conditioner to keep the room cool.
- Use a white noise machine: If you live in a noisy area, use a white noise machine to help block out background noise.
- Limit electronic devices in the bedroom: The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with your sleep. Try to limit your use of electronic devices in the bedroom, and avoid using them for at least an hour before bedtime.
- Keep your bedroom clutter-free: A cluttered bedroom can be stressful and make it difficult to relax. Keep your bedroom tidy and free of clutter.
- Consider using aromatherapy: Some essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile, and valerian root, are believed to promote relaxation and improve sleep. Consider using an essential oil diffuser to create a relaxing sleep environment.
Take Steps Toward a Happier and Healthier Life
In conclusion, research has shown us many tried and true ways to increase happiness and improve our well-being. From practicing gratitude and mindfulness to simply getting enough high-quality sleep, these practices, when incorporated into your daily routine, can lead to significant improvements in mood, overall health, and satisfaction with life.
In short: they will make you happier.
However, it’s important to note that while the tips and strategies outlined in this article have been shown to increase happiness and well-being, they may not be sufficient for individuals experiencing clinical depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that often requires a multifaceted approach to treatment, including professional help. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
With that said, happiness is a journey that requires consistent effort, so never be discouraged and just remember that every step counts. So go ahead and take the first step today and start incorporating these tools into your life!
Here’s to becoming a happier and healthier you!
- Emmons RA, Mishra A. Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know. In: Sheldon KM, Kashdan TB, Steger MF, eds. Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward. Oxford University Press; 2011:248-262. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195373585.003.0014
- Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003;84(2):377-389. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2067
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- Jain S, Shapiro SL, Swanick S, et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Ann Behav Med. 2007;33(1):11-21. doi:10.1207/s15324796abm3301_2
- Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, Oh D. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010;78(2):169-183. doi:10.1037/a0018555
- Lyubomirsky S, Sheldon KM, Schkade D. Pursuing happiness: the architecture of sustainable change. Rev Gen Psychol. 2005;9(2):111-131. doi:10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.11
- Post SG. Altruism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. Int J Behav Med. 2005;12(2):66-77. doi:10.1207/s15327558ijbm1202_4
- Baumeister RF, Leary MR. The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychol Bull. 1995;117(3):497-529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497
- Singh NA, Clements KM, Fiatarone MA. A randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance training in depressed elders. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 1997;52(1):M27-M35. doi:10.1093/gerona/52a.1.m27
- Fox KR. The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 1999;2(3a):411-418. doi:10.1017/S1368980099000567
- Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Moore KA, et al. Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1999;159(19):2349-2356. doi:10.1001/archinte.159.19.2349
- Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS, et al. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2011;108(7):3017-3022. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015950108
- Gomez-Pinilla F, Hillman C. The influence of exercise on cognitive abilities. Comprehensive Physiology. 2013;3(1):403-428. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110063
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