We’d be happier if only things were different, right? If we had more money or a better job or weighed 20 pounds less? With these positivity-boosting strategies, you can be happier right now—no life changes needed.
1. Set your mind on being happy
Being happy is not about what you have or what happens to you, but how you react to it. In fact, research shows that the way to be happier is by actually trying to be happier. “Happiness is definitely a choice,” says Caroline Adams Miller, a professional coach, speaker, and best-selling author of Your Happiest Life Workbook.
2. Do something for someone else
Wondering how to make yourself happier? Give back. Studies show that doing something for others is a great way to boost your spirits—and donating time gives a bigger boost than giving money, according to one study. “We did a study in which we asked people to do acts of kindness—one group did acts of kindness for others, another group did acts of kindness for the world such as picking up litter, and a group did things for themselves, like getting a massage or having a nice lunch,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness.
3. Find meaning in your pursuits
When we think, “once I achieve this goal, I’ll be happy,” we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. With success, it’s the journey, not the destination that’s fulfilling. “People don’t succeed at their goals and then become happy; being happy or emotionally flourishing first is what sets the stage for someone to become successful,” Miller says. “The research shows that when we do things that add meaning, purpose, and even pleasure to our lives, happiness is the by-product that allows us to thrive and grow in positive, proactive ways.” Even just getting caught up in an activity, called “flow” in psychology or being “in the zone,” makes you feel energized and fulfilled, whether you’re painting furniture, writing music, or just going through the junk drawer in the kitchen. “Accomplishing tasks and mastering skills helps people feel more confident in themselves and their abilities, which ultimately fuels well-being,” Major says.
4. Cultivate gratitude
Actively cultivating a feeling of gratefulness is one of the best ways to get happier. “There’s a lot of research on trying to appreciate what’s good about your life rather than focusing on what you don’t have or what other people have and you want,” says Dr. Lyubomirsky. “We have people write gratitude letters to their mother, for example, and not even share them. They write out all the things Mom has done, and just the process alone makes you really appreciate everything.” This can make you feel closer and even improve your bond—especially if you decide to share your gratitude letter. “Genuine expressions of gratitude help build new relationships or strengthen existing ones by demonstrating to others that we appreciate, understand, and care about them,” Major says.
5. Do what you believe in
Recent research suggests that people are happier when they do the right thing for the good of others—although at the time it might be hard. That might mean missing your favorite TV show so you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or cutting into your own reading budget so you can contribute books to a school fundraiser. “Following your conscience isn’t always pleasant, so it may not improve a person’s emotional state, but it may improve their evaluation of their life,” Dr. Parks says. Miller says tackling such hard stuff improves your “grit,” or perseverance, which boosts confidence. “People with authentic grit do hard things that build their self-respect and enlarge their vision of what they’re made of,” says Miller, who’s written a book on the topic called Getting Grit. In this way, when you make decisions that affirm your own values, you feel more secure. “People become less defensive and more open to others when they affirm their values,” Lyubomirsky says. “You feel better about yourself and more positive in general.”
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