Happiness is not really about the things you have in your life. You might think that if you had a bigger house, or fatter pay packet, or better-looking partner, you’d be happy. But according to most researchers, this doesn’t seem right. You can see why by looking at how people behave when they get what they want.
Imagine, for example, that an acquaintance wins the lottery. Perhaps he will buy himself a huge mansion with swimming pools and fast cars in every garage – always assuming no nasty surprises are lurking in the small print, of course! When asked later on how satisfied he feels with his life overall, however, there’s unlikely to be any noticeable change in his level of happiness. That’s because our expectations and desires adapt until we’ve ‘dealt with’ whatever it is we thought we wanted. That’s why lottery winners soon go back to complaining about their aches and pains, and long-suffering husbands don’t suddenly morph into George Clooney – because they’re no longer comparing their lives to what they thought would make them happy. We can all think of people who have a lot less than us but seem just as happy, if not more comfortable.
While it’s easy to think of happiness, as a result, it is also a driver.
It’s not the only factor that affects our productivity and motivation, but it’s one of them.
Many changes are easy to make (and many other changes will be easier once you’ve begun with small steps). Here are ten science-based ways to be happier from Belle Beth Cooper, Content Crafter at Buffer, the social media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social media:
1) Gratitude can change your mindset (for the better)
We often take our blessings for granted; we assume everybody has access to healthy food, clean water, or friendship. The truth is, there are millions of people out there who would love to have what we have. When our mindsets shift from being thankful for these things to feel entitled – as if they’re owed – we become unhappy.
Someone said: “The most simple practice that I’ve been doing is just a gratitude journal, which is where every day that I wake up, I write three things down and appreciate those things.” For example: “My alarm clock going off at 7 AM. A really nice text from my friend Diana over the weekend letting me know she was thinking about me with great memories.”
“This is all so basic, but it makes you realize how much you do have control over your life and how lucky you are,” says Ayse. Another simple practice: “Sometimes I’ll sit and meditate on the things that I’m grateful for in my life.”
I like to keep a gratitude journal, even if it is just sentences like Today was good. The weather was nice. It’s possible to be happy when you’re feeling down.
2) Get enough sleep (and exercise)
When we aren’t getting enough shut-eye, we tend to be grumpier and complain more often than usual – and this can even happen after just one night of poor sleep. A lack of proper rest has also been linked with depression and Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that people suffering from heart disease slept an average of 41 minutes less per night than healthy people.
3) Be generous
One of the most counterintuitive ways to find more happiness is to give it away. I mean, who wants to feel like they’re having less when another person has more? One way to think about it might be this: Giving helps us realize what we have in the first place.
According to a 2013 study, volunteer work can also help reverse negative thinking and depression and improve well-being over time.
4) Listen to music (and all that jazz)
Music is one of those things that just about everyone loves — yet we don’t often take time out for playlists or albums anymore because we’re so busy with our workday routines. “But if you listen to while you’re doing something else, then it has a really nice effect on you,” says Ayse. It’s almost like background music that affects your mood; we’ve all had those days when we’re feeling down, and listening to a favorite song can change your whole mindset.
5) Be more social (but also stay in once in a while)
We talk about the importance of staying connected with others and maintaining relationships, but sometimes it can be tough to find the time – or energy – to make those connections. This is why social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were created: To help us keep up with friends and family online even if we don’t always have time for dinner or drinks together. And as long as you’re not spending too much time online, this can be a great solution to fighting feelings of isolation or loneliness (which can go hand in hand with depression and anxiety).
6) Eat more chocolate
It seems like every study we read about food mentions how delicious dark chocolate is. Seriously, it’s fantastic. And that isn’t just because it has antioxidants and caffeine — studies show that the taste of cocoa lowers blood pressure and increases positive emotions. “Chocolate also reduces stress,” says Ayse, “so if you want to treat yourself, eat some chocolate!”
7) Find your passion
When we’re passionate about something — anything — we tend to get happier. So find at least one thing to get excited about: Maybe it’s watching soccer games, or maybe it’s finding bugs out in the yard. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can get lost in it, and remember to take a step back once in a while to appreciate where you are.
8) Meditate (and maybe do yoga)
Meditation is another activity that’s been tied with a better sense of happiness and well-being. One study even found that mindfulness meditation was linked with decreased depression, stress, and anxiety among breast cancer survivors – but researchers say there’s still more work to be done on what specific part of the process helps people feel better about themselves. 9) Keep your chin up ’til your last breath
Death might seem like kind of an extreme way to approach happiness, but one researcher took things quite literally in a study that found people smile more frequently when they’re about to die. And this wasn’t just a few times, either: Those in the final stages of Alzheimer’s smiled at least 34 times each hour compared with an average of nine smiles for other groups in the study.
9) Put your worries in perspective (and forget about the past)
When something terrible happens, it’s easy to get depressed or pessimistic. But research has found that people who tend to look at the bright side are usually happier than those who adopt a “glass-half-empty” attitude. And when you can’t escape negative thoughts, there are things you can do to keep yourself comfortable. One study even found that just picturing yourself smiling made participants feel better about pain — so go ahead and give it a shot!
10) Go outside (and socialize)
Spending time in nature is a great way to feel happier, but even watching videos of natural scenery has been shown to relax people and improve their mood. But it also helps when you spend more time with other humans, so get outside whenever you can.
We kind of covered this one before, but it’s worth mentioning again: A smile is one of the easiest ways to put yourself in a better mood. So if nothing else works, go ahead and fake it ’til you make it.