How To Be Happier
What makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, but happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.
Don’t try to stop negative thoughts
But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to focus more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.
Own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”
Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.
Rewrite your story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy individuals, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”
And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So, make a point to hang out with optimistic people.
Find your happy place
Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
Choose a happy community
Where you live can have a profound effect on your happiness. If you don’t fit in, if you don’t know your neighbors, if walking outside doesn’t put a spring in your step — find a new place to live if you can afford it. Explore new neighborhoods, rent before you buy, talk to friends, talk to potential neighborhoods and relocate your way to a happier life.
Spend time in nature
Numerous studies support the notion that spending time in nature is good for you. We know that walking on quiet, tree-lined paths can result in meaningful improvements to mental health, and even physical changes to the brain. Nature walkers have “quieter” brains: scans show less blood flow to the part of the brain associated with rumination.
Good things happen in the bedroom
A lot of potential for happiness happens in the bedroom. It’s the place where we sleep, have sex and retreat for quiet contemplation — all of which are activities that can improve happiness. As a result, many people who study and write about happiness encourage people to focus on life in the bedroom.
Spend time with happy people
Studies consistently show that our own happiness is linked with the happiness of others, food, fitness habits, friends and family.
People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.
People who are surrounded by many happy people are more likely to become happy in the future.
Each additional happy friend increases your chance of happiness by about 9 percent.
Geography matters. Our happiness increases when we live close to happy friends and family members.
Pets make us happy
Psychologists conducted a series of experiments to determine the role that pets play in our happiness. They found that pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners. Pet owners said they received as much support from their pets as they did family members. And people who were emotionally closer to the pets also tended to have deeper ties to the humans in their lives.
Money does not buy happiness
Most of the time, what we think will make us happy actually won’t. Studies show that happiness doesn’t come from more money or more stuff. Even lottery winners are not any happier than those of us who never win anything.
Of course, truly poor people are happier with more money because they don’t have to worry about getting enough to eat, having a home or paying for medicine. But once people escape poverty and achieve a middle-class or slightly higher lifestyle, more money does not result in significantly more happiness.
The constant quest for the things we don’t have is called the hedonic treadmill. It means that when we get what we want (money, job, love, house) we may get a burst of happiness, but we quickly settle back to our previous level of happiness and then start thinking about the next thing that will make us happy.
Find purpose at work
We like to complain about work, but it plays an important role in our happiness. Work, even the most mundane work, helps us feed our families, put roofs over our heads and connect with other people. Ideally, find work that has meaning to you.
Generosity makes people happier and is one of the six variables found to consistently influence happiness, people who behaved generously were happier compared to people who made selfish decisions. In fact, just thinking about being generous and kind triggers a happiness reaction in our brains.
The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.