Happiness,is the goal of all human endeavour. Why else do we strive to improve medicine, strengthen economies, raise literacy, lower poverty, or fight prejudice? It all boils down to improving human well-being.Happiness isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do.It’s a skill you can cultivate through practice, just like you can improve your ability to write, play a musical instrument, or cook.
It’s a skill you can cultivate at any time and you don’t have to wait until you have done enough, achieved enough, or arranged things in your life as perfectly as you think they should be. And the practices that help cultivate your happier skills are simple and don’t require more than a few minutes a day.
Follow these steps:
1. Use Your Happiness Autopilot
Researchers at Duke have found that more than 40% of your daily actions are autopilot habits that don’t use up your decision making brain power. So let’s tack a little add-on to one of those ingrained habits.
Here are 3 ideas.
- When you put toothpaste on your toothbrush, think of 1 thing that makes you feel grateful.
- Or when you wake up in the morning, glance at a photo that makes you feel happy.
- Or at night, do what Christine Carter of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Center says, “After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.”
What will you choose to add to your autopilot?
2. Good Enough Instead of Perfect
Place the motto “good enough is great” in your mind. You’ll be saving time and effort and you won’t be berating yourself since you planned to adhere to your new motto. You can tell yourself, “I know I could do more with more time and more effort but it’s not necessary.” Think of that 60-page report you produced when a 10-pager would have been good enough. Easing up on yourself will add to your happiness.
3. Do What You Love
Don’t say, “When I retire, I’ll do what I love.” Instead, plan on spending some time doing things you love, even if it’s as a hobby. Decide when you can devote a little time on a regular basis. Or, is a career change needed?
4. How To Choose Your Friends
Researchers at Harvard say choosing your friends wisely is one of the most important factors related to happiness. Do you have some friends who sap your energy when you’re around them? Perhaps they’re frequently complaining and reminding you of negative events? Zap these people from your new friend list and replace them with optimistic people who make you feel energized when you spend time with them. And besides spending time with them, spend money with them also (see #5).
5. Where Should You Spend Your Money?
Michael Norton, Harvard Professor and co-author of Happy Money, says purchasing material items like televisions, clothes, and coffee machines won’t make you happier overall. People are wired to become happier with social connections, so spending your money on experiences with friends will give you the biggest happiness boost.So my advice is, “Spend your money on concert tickets or on a yoga retreat with a friend and enjoy the happiness surge.
6. Cultivate Flow
The author of Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says when you find an activity that you enjoy, one that challenges you, and increases your skill, you’ll find yourself fully engaged in it. You’ll be in a flow state. This means you’ll be concentrating on the present and may even lose your sense of time. This feels good and contributes to your well-being and happiness.
7. Enjoy The Funny Side
When we crack a smile—a genuine eye crinkle that researchers call a “Duchenne smile”—our cardiovascular system calms. Laughing takes it one step further partly because it forces us to exhale. Simply exhaling lowers our heart rate and induces feelings of calm.
Smiling releases endorphins, which combat stress hormones. My advice is, “You should practice smiling right now, even if you feel foolish. You’re canceling some of the stress cortisol and you’re increasing your happiness—a double bonus.”
8. Reframe Obstacles
No one gets through life without encountering obstacles. Each time one pops up, try to reframe it as a challenge that you can handle. If you need support, think of a time when you surmounted your fear and successfully took action. Be a problem solver. My advice is, “Say ‘How can I fix this?’ Questioning opens the creative parts of your brain and you may come up with more than one solution.”
9. Random Acts Of Kindness
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has shown that practicing acts of kindness gives people a happiness boost. In addition, the recipient becomes happier and this even extends to people who merely observe the act. These acts don’t need to be anonymous, as her research shows. The observers often want to pay it forward.
10. Do things for others
Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them; it’s good for us too. It makes us happier and can help to improve our health. Giving also creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. It’s not all about money – we can also give our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do good.
- Do three extra acts of kindness today. Offer to help, give away your change, pay a compliment, or make someone smile.
- Reach out to help someone who’s struggling. Give them a call or offer your support. Let them know you care.
11. Connect with people
Our relationships with other people are the most important thing for our happiness. People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Our close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self-worth. Our broader social networks bring a sense of belonging. So it’s vital that we take action to strengthen our relationships and make new connections.
- Make more time for the people who matter. Chat with a loved one or friend, call your parents or play with the kids.
- Make three extra connections today. Stop to chat in the shop, wave at a neighbour, learn the name of someone new.
12. Take care of your body
Our body and mind are connected. Being active makes us happier as well as healthier. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of depression. We don’t all have to run marathons – there are simple things we can do to be more active each day. We can also boost our wellbeing by spending time outdoors, eating healthily, unplugging from technology and getting enough sleep.
- Be more active today. Get off the bus a stop early, take the stairs, turn off the TV, go for a walk – anything that gets you moving.
- Eat nutritious food, drink more water, catch up on sleep. Notice which healthy actions lift your mood and do more of them.
13. Notice the world around you
Have you ever felt there must be more to life? Good news – there is. And it’s right here in front of us. We just need to stop and take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware does wonders for our wellbeing, whether it’s on our walk to work, in the way we eat or in our relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
- Give yourself a bit of head space. At least once a day, stop and take five minutes to just breathe and be in the moment.
- Notice and appreciate good things around you every day, big or small. Trees, birdsong, the smell of coffee, laughter perhaps?
14. Keep learning
Learning affects our wellbeing in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience. There are many ways to learn new things throughout our lives, not just through formal qualifications. We can share a skill with friends, join a club, learn to sing, play a new sport and so much more.
- Do something for the first time today. Sample sushi, try a new route, read a different newspaper or visit a local place of interest.
- Learn a new skill, however small. A first aid technique or a new feature on your phone, perhaps. Cook a new meal or use a new word.
15. Have goals to look forward to
Feeling good about the future is really important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these have to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. If we try to attempt the impossible, this creates unnecessary stress. Choosing meaningful but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them.
- Take the first step. Think of a goal you’re aiming for and do one thing to get started. Make a call, fill in that form, tell others.
- Share your dreams. Tell three people about an aspiration that is really important to you this year and listen to theirs too.
16. Find ways to bounce back
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. How we respond to these events has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react to what happens. In practice it’s not always easy, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
- Ask for help today. Confide in a friend, talk to an expert, reach out to a colleague, ask a neighbour to lend a hand.
- When something is troubling you, do something you really enjoy. Shift your mood and bring a new perspective on the problem.
17. Take a positive approach
Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration and pride – don’t just feel good when we experience them. They also help us perform better, broaden our perception, increase our resilience and improve our physical health. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation – the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.
- Do something that you know will make you feel good. Listen to music, watch something funny, get outside or call an old friend.
- Try to smile and say something positive or constructive every time you walk into a room. Notice the reaction you get.
18. Be comfortable with who you are
Nobody’s perfect. But so often we compare a negative view of ourselves with an unrealistic view of other people. Dwelling on our flaws – what we’re not rather than what we’ve got – makes it much harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience and our wellbeing. It also helps us accept others as they are.
- Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what they think your real strengths are. Try to make more use of these.
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
19. Be part of something bigger
People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression. But where do we find meaning and purpose? It might come from doing a job that makes a difference, our religious or spiritual beliefs, or our family. The answers vary for each of us but they all involve being connected to something bigger than ourselves.
- Feel part of something bigger. Spend time with children, visit an inspiring location, gaze at the stars or join a club.
- Be more charitable. Give others your time, offer to help neighbours or friends, consider giving blood or volunteering.
So please add more acts of kindness to your week and help make the world a happier place.
The practice of self-care—nurturing a kinder relationship with ourselves—is essential because it’s impossible to feel happier if we’re emotionally, spiritually, and physically drained.
How to do it: Spend a few seconds talking to yourself in a supportive, kind way. If you’re facing a challenge, remind yourself that you’re more likely to get through it if you treat yourself with compassion rather than harshness. You can also take this time to think of one thing you’ll do today to nourish yourself.
In fact, the happiest people go out of their way to treat themselves right and they do something nice for themselves each day. They set appropriate boundaries and take care of themselves by saying no to things when they need to. “When you love yourself, you understand that saying no to something you don’t want to do is an act of kindness, and you don’t walk around with negative feelings toward the person who asked you to do something you didn’t want to do.