When you think about it, it’s our habits that define us. Our habits can either make us happier and more successful or they can thwart us from achieving our biggest goals.
The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said it best:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The good news is, there’s plenty of research that suggests that certain habits will improve your level of happiness and wellbeing.
We’ve looked at the research and have found a few simple practices that you can implement into your daily life to make yourself happier.
1) Write down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.
Being appreciative of the things you have in life is an excellent way to boost your mood.
The Harvard Health Blog says that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”
“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
In a recent study, psychologists at UC Davis had 3 groups of participants keep weekly journals focused on a particular topic.
One group wrote about the hassles they experience in life, the other group wrote about major events, and the last group wrote about things they were grateful for.
After 10 weeks, those who were told to write about things they were grateful for ended up feeling happier and more optimistic about life.
2) Go on a hike or gaze up at the stars
Awe is a powerful human emotion and that one that we could do well to trigger more often.
Several research studies have found a link between experiencing awe and feeling less stressed and more satisfied.
One of the best ways to experience awe is to gaze up at the stars or look at a beautiful view from the top of a mountain.
3) Drink coffee (not too much, though).
People don’t have coffee every morning for no reason. It boosts alertness and provides a much-needed boost to the central nervous system.
Several studies have found a link between reduced depression risk and coffee consumption.
Studies have shown that people who drink coffee are 20 percent less likely to become depressed, and 53 percent less likely to die by suicide.
One of the reasons is that caffeine causes your body to increase the level of dopamine in your brain, which is the chemical that causes you to feel happy.
We’ve written a lot about this before. Many studies have shown that meditating – focusing intently and quietly on the present for a period of time – can help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety.
In 1992, scientists were invited to study the Dalai Lama’s brain waves while he was in a state of meditation.
According to the Wired article that reported on the study:
“The researchers had never seen anything like it. Worried that something might be wrong with their equipment or methods, they brought in more monks, as well as a control group of college students inexperienced in meditation. The monks produced gamma waves that were 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.”
5) Read an adventure story
Research has found that you may be able to get the benefits of an awe-inspiring story just by reading about it.
A study found that when people simply read about someone else’s awe-inspiring experience, they were less stressed and more willing to help others.
6) Get outside in nature
Many of us live in urban environments which may be taking a toll on our mental health.
One study found that students who spent two nights in nature had lower levels of cortisol than those who spent two nights in the city.
Being out in nature puts our own individual lives very much in perspective and connects us to something much bigger than ourselves.
As Tenzin Wangyal says so well in The True Source of Healing, “Connection to the peaceful, joyful experience of who you are, is directly accessible through the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of nature.”
Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku is a famous, therapeutic Japanese practice of spending time in nature.
Dr Li Qing, the world’s most foremost expert on forest medicine states in his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, “studies have shown that spending mindful, intentional time around trees can promote health and happiness.”
7) Try to think more positively.
By changing your attitude, self-talk, and perspective, you can also increase your happiness. When you do things that you enjoy, you feel better.
These new patterns of positivity can help you create more happy chemicals in the brain. Several studies found an association between measures related to serotonin and mood.
According to research, when positive thoughts and feelings are generated, cortisol decreases and the brain produces serotonin, creating feelings of well-being.
One tip to increasing positivity and serotonin in the brain is to remember happy events.
8) Listen to sad songs
It may sound strange, but research has found that listening to sad music regulates negative emotions and mood.
As for why that may be, several other studies found that listening to sad music can raise levels of the hormone prolactin, which ignites “a consoling psychological effect.”
But generally, it is thought, however, that it comes down to emotion, particularly the emotion of nostalgia.
People cited nostalgia as the emotion most often correlated with sad music by participants in the 2014 survey “The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness.”
“Listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation,” write co-authors Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch.
9) Set realistic goals
Do you like to create lists of tasks you need to complete for each day? Then you might want to listen closely.
First of all, it’s important to write down your goals.
A study from the Dominican University of California showed people who wrote down their goals achieved more than those who didn’t.
It’s also far better to set goals that are specific, realistic, and achievable.
A study found that people who wrote down a task like “save the environment” were less satisfied than people who wrote down “recycle more” even though they undertook the same actions.
10) Write down your feelings
Science has found that writing down your feelings is a great way to relieve stress and clarify your thoughts.
Research has suggested that recording one’s feelings help calm them by dampening strong emotional feelings.
In the Harvard Health Blog, Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH says that when people write about what’s in their hearts and minds, they better make sense of the world and themselves:
“Writing provides a rewarding means of exploring and expressing feelings. It allows you to make sense of yourself and the world you are experiencing. Having a deeper understanding of how you think and feel — that self-knowledge — provides you with a stronger connection to yourself.”
11) Spend money on others, not yourself
When you’re having a bad day, we all have that urge of going shopping or buying our favorite comfort cake. However, research shows that you’ll feel happier if you spend that money on someone else, instead of yourself.
A 2008 study gave 46 volunteers an envelope with money where half of the participants were instructed to give that money to someone else and the other half were told to spend it on themselves.
Sure enough, those who spend their money on others felt higher levels of happiness.
A summary of existing data on altruism and its relation to physical and mental health had this to say in its conclusion:
“The essential conclusion of this article is that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable helping activities—as long as they are not overwhelmed, and here world view may come into play.”
We often look inward for our own happiness meters, but often serving the needs of other people is enough to make us feel happy in an outward way.
Putting yourself first
What’s your number one goal at the moment?
Is it to buy that car you’ve been saving up for?
To finally start that side-hustle that’ll hopefully help you quit your 9-5 one day?
Or to take the leap and finally ask your partner to move in?
Whatever your goals are, there’s a hidden trap in how you set them.
The trap is this:
You’ll only experience genuine life satisfaction when your goals are aligned with your values.
Because when values and goals are aligned, you enjoy the journey much more. And this makes achieving your goals much more likely.
If you find it hard to articulate your deeper life values, I suggest downloading the free values exercise by career coach Jeanette Brown.
It takes only a couple of minutes and will reveal a number of powerful insights about your underlying values.
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