Even as children, we’re taught to recognize and celebrate feelings of happiness—and it’s no wonder. Not only is happiness one of the most positive emotions we can experience, but being happy is also the key to a fulfilled, healthy life. Plus, cheeriness is linked to living longer, how hard we work, physical function as we age, and an improved immune system, among other health benefits.
While it’s hard to define (especially since it varies from person to person), some experts describe happiness as “a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions,” while others view it as consisting of three parts: feeling good, living a “good life,” and feeling part of a larger purpose. There’s also a distinct difference between short- and long-term happiness: The former is a fleeting feeling, while the latter applies to how we describe our own lives.
While some factors that affect happiness might be outside of our control (such as genetics or certain life circumstances), there are always actions we can take to amp up our own good feelings. To smile wider, be more satisfied with life, and feel altogether better—both in the present and the future—try introducing any (or all!) of these practices into your life.
1. Spend time outside.
Enjoying time al fresco is a great way to put some pep back in your step. Living near green spaces is associated with better mental health, and even just looking at images of nature scenes can stimulate the parts of your brain associated with happiness, positivity, and emotional stability. Plus, spending time in the great outdoors exposes us to sunlight, which can help our bodies produce vitamin D.1 Since low levels of the nutrient have been linked to depression, soaking up a little bit of sun (we’re talking just 15 minutes per day) may lift your spirits both in the present and over the long term. Just make sure to slather on some sunscreen!
- Vitamin D, sun, sunbeds and health. Moan J, Baturaite Z, Juzeniene A. Public Health Nutrition, 2011, Oct.;15(4):1475-2727.
2. Sweat it out.
We’re obviously big fans of exercise in general, but making time for a regular fitness session does more than just sculpt a strong physique. While getting your sweat on may not cause happiness, it can certainly contribute to it. Physical activity helps our bodies produce disease-fighting proteins—called antibodies—and our brains release endorphins. While antibodies boost happiness by keeping illness at bay, endorphins are feel-good chemicals that improve your mood while promoting feelings of euphoria. To top it all off, research suggests that regular activity may lead to lasting happiness.1
So it’s safe to say your gym membership pays off—physically and mentally—in the long run.
- Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: analysis of the Prospective National Population Health Survey. Wang F, Orpana HM, Morrison H. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2012, Nov.;176(12):1476-6256.
3. Sleep more.
Catnaps, power naps, a full night’s sleep… no matter the method, a quality snooze session is vital for overall well-being and happiness. In fact, research shows that not sleeping enough (four hours per night) may lead to lower levels of optimism. And other studies show skimping on sleep can damage our on-the-job performance and academic performance.1
Your best bet: Load up on your vitamin Zzz’s for a healthier, happier life.
- The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs. Rosekind MR, Gregory KB, Mallis MM. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2010, Apr.;52(1):1536-5948. Sleep and academic performance in undergraduates: a multi-measure, multi-predictor approach. Gomes AA, Tavares J, de Azevedo MH. Chronobiology international, 2012, Mar.;28(9):1525-6073.
Though meditating can sometimes be daunting (quieting your mental chit-chat is tough work!), there are tons of health benefits associated with the practice. Research shows that eight weeks of daily meditation can lead to greater happiness. Looking to get started? Try incorporating any of these 10 unexpected meditation strategies into your day.
5. Turn up the tunes.
Just try to frown while listening to upbeat songs (like any of the ones on our Ultimate Happy Playlist)—we dare you! Jamming out can help reduce stress—which leads to greater happiness in general. Plus, research shows listening to music with the goal and desire to become happier may actually lead to greater happiness than simply listening for the sake of listening. So the next time you pump up the volume, keep that positive intention in mind—you may just find yourself smiling a little wider.
6. Get a new hobby.
Not only is it mentally stimulating (not to mention fun), but challenging yourself to learn a new skill can lead to greater happiness, experts say. That’s thanks to the feelings of accomplishment and self-confidence that often come along with gaining new expertise. Consider this your cue to sign up for those French lessons you’ve always wanted to take, or pick up the ukulele—choose something that genuinely interests you, and run with it!
7. Write it down.
Negative thoughts are nasty, powerful, and all too easy to dwell upon—and it goes without saying that doing so can make us feel pretty bummed. One way to relieve your mind: Jot it all down. Try writing down your negative thoughts on a piece of paper, and then throwing the piece of paper away. Research suggests that physically tossing your worries can lessen their hold over you. On the flipside, if you document positive experiences that you feel grateful for, you’re likely to feel happier and more satisfied with life. And if you really want to boost your mood, phone a friend and share some of your happy journal entries—doing so may triple your positive feelings.
8. Get busy.
It’s no secret that stress can get you down. Luckily there’s a pretty sweet solution: some between-the-sheets action—and that totally includes solo sessions. Those mind-blowing romps can not only boost your mood, but also slash stress and beat anxiety.1
Can’t argue with that, right? And in case you need an excuse to get it on more often, consider this: Research suggests that the more sex people have, the happier they tend to be. One study even suggests that having sex once a week may make you feel as stoked as scoring an additional $50,000 in income. Getting lucky even more frequently—four or more times per week—has been linked to making more money—and while extra dough certainly can’t buy happiness, it definitely plays a part in it.
- Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Brody S. Biological Psychology, 2005, Jun.;71(2):0301-0511.
9. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Our parents were onto something when they reminded us to always write our thank-you notes—doing so can make you healthier and happier. What’s more, being grateful may lead to other positive emotions (including a boost in energy and optimism) and well-being.1
Besides simply thanking people, try keeping a gratitude journal, and write down what you’re thankful for every day. Experts maintain that jotting down even one sentence of gratitude a day can boost feelings of happiness.
- Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, May.;84(2):0022-3514.
10. Spread joy.
Much like yawning and a case of the giggles, happiness really is contagious. One study found that happiness has a waterfall effect among pals (and their pals… and their pals’ pals). When one person’s happy, it spreads to his or her friends and entire social network over the long term. Pretty much the most awesome way to influence other people, right?
11. Be a friend.
A few wise men once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends”—and they couldn’t be more spot-on. Except we don’t justget by thanks to our friendships—positive friendships help us feel more confident, less stressed, and happier. To make new friends—and keep the ones you have—try these 16 tips.
12. Learn to let go.
Adopting a hakuna matata outlook can boost overall happiness. Easier said than done, to be sure, but making a point to detach yourself from mistakes, worries, and regrets may lead to more lighthearted times. In fact, holding onto resentment and hurt feelings can tie you to the past and also marks a decision to continue suffering. Make the choice to be happy by forgiving people who hurt you and moving away from situations from your past that brought you down.
13. Practice self-care on a daily basis.
Given the manic pace of day-to-day life, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself—and that’s a surefire way to end up unhappy, burnt out, and even ill. Try treating yourself to regular actions that improve your overall, long-term health and happiness (this list is a pretty great place to start!).
14. Practice yoga.
Getting your om on is an excellent way to boost your mood and beat anxiety, research shows.1
In fact, one study suggests yoga may be more effective at boosting mood than other methods of exercise. Plus, practicing yoga can also help slash stress and improve immunity—both of which contribute to overall, long-term health and happiness.
- Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. Saeed SA, Antonacci DJ, Bloch RM. American Family Physician, 2015, Apr.;81(8):1532-0650.
15. Load up on nutrients.
When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, eating well is clutch—especially since the nutrients you consume improve your mental health as much as your physical well-being. Case in point: Research finds that happiness and mental well-being are highest among people who eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables per day (seven portions, in this case). Check out this long list of mood-boosting nutrients here, and fill up your plate with the good stuff.
16. Feel the flower power.
Apart from brightening up a room, flowers can also brighten up your mood. A floral fixture may reduce feelings of pain and anxiety while boosting positive emotions. One study also shows that looking at flowers first thing in the morning leads to increased happiness and energy and decreased anxiety. Not only that, but being surrounded by blooms can also positively affect your 9-to-5—it’s been shown to boost creativity and make workspaces feel more pleasant.
17. Go easy on yourself.
Too often, we’re our own worst enemies. While it’s good to be aware of mistakes you’ve made and improvements you can make, beating yourself up on the regular is a surefire way to wind up singing the blues. In fact, experts believe that self-criticism can just make us more miserable. So instead of dwelling on your every failing, focus on how and why you value yourself. This shift will help make you stronger, more productive, less stressed, and, yes, happier.
18. Grab a yellow shirt.
The next time you’re feeling down, try harnessing the power of a yellow hue. Research shows happy people tend to associate their mood with the cheerful color, and folks also tend to think of yellow as the color of optimism (possibly because we associate it with the sun). To incorporate the power of yellow into your life, try adding a bit of yellow to your outfit or painting your walls the cheerful hue.
19. Minimize stress.
When it’s a chronic problem, the big bad stress monster is responsible for tons of health problems—including anxiety, sleep issues, depression, and more—and these can all put a damper on your mood. To keep your spirits soaring, try incorporating any of these 23 stress-busting strategies into your life.
20. See the glass as half-full.
If there’s one trait that goes hand-in-hand with happiness, it’s optimism. People who think positively are less likely to feel depressed, more productive at work, and generally healthier than their doom-and-gloom counterparts. That said, it’s important to be both optimistic and realistic instead of just blindly positive. (In fact, forcing ourselves to feel over-the-top positive may do more harm than good, especially for those of us more prone to cynical thinking.) People with a healthy combination of optimism and realism don’t let unhappy thoughts bring them down, but they use their realistic outlook to make smart decisions and actions. Talk about the best of both worlds.
21. Have meaningful conversations.
Shooting the breeze may be fun and completely effortless, but small talk won’t lead you to a happier life. In one study, people who engaged in the least amount of meaningless chit-chat were also the happiest.1
And speaking of conversation skills, being a good listener may also lead to a greater sense of well-being, stronger relationships, and all-around better experiences.
- Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-being is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations. Mehl, M.R. and Vazire, S. Psychological Science, Apr 1 2010;21(4):539-541
22. Get stuff done.
Fact: Since it prevents us from accomplishing goals, procrastination diminishes happiness. Avoid putting off tasks and continue working towards your goals in order to give yourself a mental boost. Though conquering something challenging may stress us out while we’re doing it, it also makes us happier in the long run (hey, who doesn’t love an accomplishment?). Plus, when we set goals (and meet or surpass our hopes and expectations), it can help us feel more purpose and control and boosts our self-esteem.
23. Complain—the right way.
Whining is generally considered a bad thing—and yeah, it can get pretty annoying if you’re on the receiving end. Done effectively, however, it can actually benefit our mental health. So what exactly makes complaining effective? When voicing a concern leads to results, which in turn lead to a better mood and self-esteem andfeeling empowered, it’s effective. In other words, complaining done right involves identifying a problem and taking positive action to address it, not just getting stuck in a loop-de-loop of complaints.
24. Save money…
Building up a nest egg is an important part of a happy life—and a financially sound future. One survey found that the more people saved, the happier they tended to be. Putting money aside is also associated with feelings of security, wellbeing, and control. Save some cash here, there, and everywhere with these 94 (!) money-saving tips.
25. …And spend it (wisely)!
While it’s crucial to stash some cash away for a rainy day, one study suggests that indulging in the occasional shopping trip can actually reduce sadness by making us feel more in-control. While retail therapy seems to be a legit thing, science shows that spending money on others is especially beneficial to happiness. And if you really want to boost your mood, experts suggest combining an actual gift with the gift of your time—so both you and your giftee enjoy the purchase and the time spent together—whether you’re giving an experience, like cooking classes, or something more material, like new golf clubs.