Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. – Pharrell Williams
“Positive psychology” has become a popular field for researchers exploring the roots of what makes for a happy and fulfilled life. What they’ve discovered is that happiness is not something that appears by magic. Nor is it something that a person is born with. Rather, happiness is something you can cultivate.
Yes, you can CHOOSE to be happy.
Moreover, there are things that each and every one of us can do– voluntary and intentional activities― that will increase our levels of happiness and meaning. Here are a few:
- Wake up early. According to a study by the University of Toronto, people who wake up early in the morning are generally happier and higher satisfaction overall with their lives. They also say they feel healthier than their friends who prefer the night life. Waking up 10 minutes early to have a healthy breakfast will help get your metabolism and brain working, which will help sustain your energy throughout the day. Of course, if you want to wake up early, you need to go to sleep at a decent hour. Sleeping for 7-8 hours a night will help you feel refreshed in the morning and ready for the day.
- Get outside. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness: “Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory.” Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it in before work or during your lunch break.
- Be social. You probably don’t need a psychologist to know that being more social can make you happier. “Modern neuroscience is showing us that we’re really wired to be extremely social creatures,” explains Joe Loizzo, psychiatrist and author of Sustainable Happiness. Booking a busy social calendar is not necessarily the answer, however. Studies show that people who engage in meaningful talk with others—versus “small talk”—were generally happier.
- Do good. According to researchers at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, happiness is inextricably linked to contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. In today’s “it’s all about me” culture, we tend to become absorbed in our own problems and forget about the world beyond ourselves. The bottom line is “you can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”
- Stop being Superwoman. In Marilyn Tam’s book “The Happiness Choice,” she states that women today are unhappier than they were 40 years ago and this difference is controlled for race, age, socio-economic status, marital status or number of children. It seems that trying to be all things for all the people is bringing on a constant state of dissatisfaction and feelings of failure. In a culture that expects women to be perfect in so many ways—perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect career women—women are riddled with a sense of disappointment trying to achieve it all. You will be happier if you can shed the superhero persona and just be content with who you are.
- Embrace the imperfect. Looking beyond the imperfections—in yourself and in your life—will help you to be a happier person. So what if your hair isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, or if your pants feel a little tighter than usual? See beyond the external imperfections and realize that your true beauty lies within.
- Slow down. Let’s face it—we all have busy lives. We work, take care of the kids, go to school. While it’s not possible to avoid the daily routines of life, it is important to take some down time each day. Mediate, pray, go for a walk, or just find a quiet spot to reflect. According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who teaches a class called “The Science of Happiness” at UC Berkeley, happy people have “a better habit of inner awareness… and contemplative practices”: “Turns out that people who have a greater handle on what they’re thinking and who are better at paying attention to what they’re doing in the moment that they’re doing it are people who also experience more happiness in day-to-day life.”
- Be grateful. According to many psychologists, religious leaders and scientists, gratitude is the key to joy. It has been linked with everything from better school performance to lower cardiovascular risk and joy. While definitions of gratitude vary, most include a feeling of thankfulness combined with the idea of being present in the moment. According to Berkeley’s Simon-Thomas, we can practice gratitude in our everyday lives by doing simple things like going around the table at dinner time and saying what we are grateful for that day and what we could have done better.