Happiness looks different for everyone. For you, maybe it’s being at peace with who you are. Or having a secure network of friends who accept you unconditionally. Or the freedom to pursue your deepest dreams. Regardless of your version of true happiness, living a happier, more satisfied life is within reach. A few tweaks to your regular habits can help you get there. Below are some daily, monthly and yearly habits to help kickstart your quest:
You tend to smile when you’re happy. But it’s actually a two-way street. We smile because we’re happy, and smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us happier. That doesn’t mean you have to go around with a fake smile plastered on your face all the time. But the next time you find yourself feeling low, crack a smile and see what happens. Or try starting each morning by smiling at yourself in the mirror.
Exercise isn’t just for your body. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and symptoms of depression while boosting self-esteem and happiness. Even a small amount of physical activity can make a difference. Remind yourself of any fun activities you once enjoyed, but that have fallen by the wayside. Or activities you always wanted to try, such as golf, bowling or dancing.
3. Get plenty of sleep
No matter how much modern society steers us toward less sleep, we know that adequate sleep is vital to good health, brain function and emotional well-being. Most adults need about 7 – 8 hours sleep every night. If you find yourself fighting the urge to nap during the day or just generally feel like you’re in a fog, your body may be telling you it needs more rest.
4. Eat with mood in mind
You already know that food choices have an impact on your overall physical health. But some foods can also affect your state of mind. For example:
- Carbohydrates release serotonin, a “feel good” hormone. Just keep simple carbs — foods high in sugar and starch — to a minimum, because that energy surge is short and you’ll crash. Complex carbs, such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains are even better.
- Lean meat, poultry, legumes, and dairy are high in protein. These foods release dopamine and norepinephrine, which boost energy and concentration.
- Highly processed or deep-fried foods tend to leave you feeling down. So will skipping meals.
Start by making one better food choice each day. For example, swap a big, sweet breakfast pastry for some Greek yogurt with fruit. You’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth, and the protein will help you avoid a mid-morning energy crash.
5. Be grateful
Simply being grateful can give your mood a big boost and practicing gratitude can have a significant impact on feelings of hope and happiness. Start each day by acknowledging one thing you’re grateful for. You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth or just waiting for that snoozed alarm to go off. As you go about your day, try to keep an eye out for pleasant things in your life. They can be big things, such as knowing that someone loves you or getting a well-deserved promotion. But they can also be little things, such as a co-worker who offered you a cup of coffee or the neighbour who waved to you. With a little practice, you may even become more aware of all the positive things around you.
6. Give a compliment
Performing acts of kindness can help you feel more satisfied. Giving a sincere compliment is a quick, easy way to brighten someone’s day while giving your own happiness a boost.Catch the person’s eye and say it with a smile so they know you mean it. You might be surprised by how good it makes you feel.
7. Breathe deeply
You’re tense, your shoulders are tight, and you feel as though you just might “lose it.” We all know that feeling. The next time you feel stressed or at your wit’s end, work through these steps:
- Close your eyes. Try to envision a happy memory or beautiful place.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth or nose.
- Repeat this process several times, until you start to feel yourself calm down.
8. Acknowledge the unhappy moments
A positive attitude is generally a good thing, but bad things happen to everyone. It’s just part of life. If you get some bad news, make a mistake, or just feel like you’re in a funk, don’t try to pretend you’re happy. Acknowledge the feeling of unhappiness, letting yourself experience it for a moment. Then, shift your focus toward what made you feel this way and what it might take to recover. Let the moment pass and take care of yourself. Remember, no one’s happy all the time.
9. Keep a journal
A journal is a good way to organize your thoughts, analyse your feelings and make plans. It can be as simple as jotting down a few thoughts before you go to bed. If putting certain things in writing makes you nervous, you can always shred it when you’ve finished. It’s the process that counts.
10. Face stress head-on
Life is full of stressors, and it’s impossible to avoid all of them. For those stressors you can’t avoid, remind yourself that everyone has stress — there’s no reason to think it’s all on you. And chances are, you’re stronger than you think you are. Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed, try to tackle the stressor head-on. This might mean initiating an uncomfortable conversation or putting in some extra work, but the sooner you tackle it, the sooner the pit in your stomach will start to shrink.
Decluttering sounds like a big project but setting aside just 20 minutes a week can have a big impact. Set a timer on your phone and take 15 minutes to tidy up a specific area of one room — say, your wardrobe or that out-of-control junk drawer. Put everything in its place and toss or give away any extra clutter that’s not serving you anymore. Keep a designated box for giveaways to make things a little easier (and avoid creating more clutter). Use the remaining 5 minutes to do a quick walk through your living space, putting away whatever stray items end up in your path.
12. See friends
Humans are social beings and having close friends can make us happier. Who do you miss? Reach out to them. Make a date to get together or simply have a long phone chat. In adulthood, it can feel next to impossible to make new friends. But it’s not about how many friends you have. It’s about having meaningful relationships — even if it’s just with one or two people. Try getting involved in a local volunteer group or taking a class. Both can help to connect you with like-minded people in your area. And chances are, they’re looking for friends, too. Companionship doesn’t have to be limited to other humans. Pets can offer similar benefits.
13. Plan your week
Feel like you’re flailing about? Try sitting down at the end of every week and making a basic list for the following week. Even if you don’t stick to the plan, blocking out time where you can do laundry, go grocery shopping or tackle projects at work can help to quiet your mind. You can get a fancy planner, but even a sticky note on your computer or piece of scrap paper in your pocket can do the job.
14. Ditch your phone
Turn off all the electronics and put those ear buds away for at least one hour once a week. If you haven’t unplugged in a while, you might be surprised at the difference it makes. Let your mind wander free for a change. Read. Meditate. Take a walk and pay attention to your surroundings. Be sociable. Or be alone. Just be.
15. Get into nature
Spending 30 minutes or more a week in green spaces can help lower blood pressure and depression. Your green space could be anything from your neighbourhood park, your own backyard or a rooftop garden — anywhere you can appreciate some nature and fresh air. Better yet, add some outdoor exercise into the mix for extra benefit.
16. Explore meditation
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting quietly with your own thoughts for 5 minutes. Even the deep breathing exercises mentioned earlier can serve as a form of meditation.
17. Find a self-care ritual
It’s easy to neglect self-care in a fast-paced world. But your body carries your thoughts, passions, and spirit through this world, doesn’t it deserve a little TLC? Maybe it’s unwinding your work week with a long, hot bath. Or adopting a skin care routine that makes you feel indulgent. Or simply setting aside a night to put on your softest jammies and watch a movie from start to finish. Whatever it is, make time for it. Put it in your planner as a must do.
18. Give back
If you find that giving daily compliments provides a needed boost to your mood, considering making a monthly routine of giving back on a larger scale. Maybe that’s helping out at a food bank or offering to watch your friend’s kids one night per month.
19. Take yourself out
No one to go out with. Well, what rule says you can’t go out alone? Go to your favourite restaurant, take in a movie or go on that trip you’ve always dreamed of. Even if you’re a social butterfly, spending some deliberate time alone can help you reconnect with the activities that truly make you happy.
20. Take time to reflect
Set aside some time to catch up with yourself the way you would with an old friend:
- How are you doing?
- What have you been up to?
- Are you happier than you were a year ago?
But try to avoid the pitfall of judging yourself too harshly for your answers.
21. Re-evaluate your goals
People change, so think about where you’re heading and consider if that’s still where you want to go. There’s no shame in changing your game. Let go of any goals that no longer serve you, even if they sound nice on paper.
22. Take care of your body
You hear it all the time, including several times in this article, but your physical and mental health are closely intertwined. As you build habits to improve your happiness, make sure to follow up with routine appointments to take care your body:
23. Let go of grudges
This is often easier said than done. But you don’t have to do it for the other person. Sometimes, offering forgiveness or dropping a grudge is more about self-care than compassion for others. Take stock of your relationships with others. Are you harbouring any resentment or ill will toward someone? If so, consider reaching out to them in an effort to bury the hatchet. This doesn’t have to be a reconciliation. You may just need to end the relationship and move on. If reaching out isn’t an option, try getting your feelings out in a letter. You don’t even have to send it to them. Just getting your feelings out of your mind and into the world can be freeing.