Happiness. The all elusive ambiguous term that everyone wants, but no one seems to have. Despite living in the most comfortable time in human history, we’re somehow more miserable than ever. In our efforts to become more productive and make more money, we’ve somehow lost sight of our personal happiness along the way.
Luckily, while we were busy making ourselves busy science has made fantastic strides in documenting the importance of prioritizing happiness. Happy people are more productive, more creative, learn faster, have better memory, and are better problem solvers. Don’t believe me? Read up here, here, and here.
If this is the case, what should be the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Put yourself in a good mood!
Unfortunately, like many things in life, putting ourselves in a good mood is easier said than done.
The good news? I’m a happiness maniac who has devised a variety of systems to keep myself happy throughout the day. I hope that this list can help you live a life that is 10% happier. If I get you to have 1 more smile throughout the day, I have accomplished my mission.
Here we go! 😃
How many times do you smile throughout the day? What percentage of your day do you spend with a smile on your face?
For most of us, this number is frighteningly low. In the hustle and bustle of life, we forget to do the simplest thing — smile!
Smiling is hands down the easiest way to have a happier day. Smiling releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. It also sends a signal to your central nervous system telling your body to relax. It lowers cortisol. I can go on and on.
Don’t take it from me, I have the science to back it up. This phenomenon is known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, in which the facial expressions we wear influence how we feel. This TED talk goes into detail on a variety of studies conducted on this topic.
We’ve all heard the “fake it till you make it” story — this is one of those cases where it works. By wearing a smile on your face and pretending you are happy, it will MAKE YOU HAPPIER! Can’t ask for an easier way to put yourself in a good mood.
2) Practice Gratitude
Many of us tend to focus on the 10% is wrong with our lives, rather than the 90% that is right. A simple trick to become happier? Flip the equation and spend your time thinking about the 90% that is good in your life. If you’re from a developed country, have food to eat, clothes on your back, a place to live, and a job to provide you with money, you have it pretty fucking good. Anytime you need a quick boost of happiness, think about the things you appreciate in life.
A 2003 Study by Emmons and McCullough found that keeping a daily gratitude journal leads to better sleep, reductions in physical pain, a greater sense of well being, and a better ability to handle change. It also found that practicing gratitude can lead to a 25% increase in happiness. Further, A 2008 study found that practicing gratitude directly activates the part of your brain responsible for sleep, eating, and stress management — and triggers the release of dopamine — the friendly chemical responsible for happiness and habit formation.
What does this practice look like for me? I like to spend 5 minutes every morning (usually in the shower) thinking about all of the things I am grateful for in life. It’s usually pretty simple too — “I’m grateful to be alive. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, a safe place to sleep, a loving family, and I’m healthy.” This simple exercise will have a positive effect on every aspect of your life from work to sleep to relationships and more.
Similarly, if you notice that you’re in a bit of a funk and you’re thinking about the 10% that’s wrong in life, recognize this and immediately flip it to the 90%. Think about the things that are right in life, and your spirits will quickly change. Many of us have trained our minds to focus on the 10% wrong, but with some practice gratitude can become your default setting once again.
3) Pause in Transitions
Oftentimes the best moments to slow down and practice mindfulness are when you’re transitioning from one activity to the next. Just finished your work and heading off to lunch? Take a minute to pause. Just sat down to your desk after a meeting? Wait a minute before you jump into your work. Become mindful of these small transitions. Each transition is an opportunity to take a quick break, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling, and correct course accordingly.
What does this look like for me? Before I move from one task to the next, I will set the timer on my phone to 1 minute. I will then close my eyes and take 10–15 deep breaths. Throughout the day I’ll do this anywhere from 3–5 times. For 5 minutes a day I’m calmer, more level headed, and notice when my emotions have the best of me. Check in with yourself throughout the day for a happier, more fulfilling life 😃
4) Lie down on the floor for 5 minutes
Feeling a bit stressed or off? Lie down on the floor for 5 minutes. I learned this one from the book “How to live more and worry less” by Dale Carnegie. Sometimes when I’m feeling overworked, tired, or not quite right, I’ll lie down on the floor for five minutes. Contrary to many of my other techniques where I do deep breathing meditate, i’ll simply let my mind wander, without trying to control it in any way. If you want to though, you can try to focus on your breath or scan your body from head to toe (also very relaxing).
This simple act is enough time to take a quick rest, but not enough time to fall asleep. By the time the timer goes off I’m refreshed and ready to go. The stiff floor will also give your muscles the ability to relax into it, unlike on a soft bed where your muscles can still hold tension. This also works wonders for back pain or shoulder stiffness.
Why not be that weirdo lying in the middle of the floor in your office tomorrow!?
5) Go for a walk — aimlessly
Go for a walk that is untimed with no specific destination or purpose in mind. No — walking to work or back home doesn’t count. Walking for exercise doesn’t count either. Go for a walk for walking’s sake. Go for a walk just to enjoy the simple act of walking.
In this study, people reported feeling happier after any type of physical activity other than sitting or lying down. The most common act? Gentle walking. Literally moving in any way led to feelings of greater happiness.
Want to make it even better? Try to maintain a smile for the duration of your walk. Sounds easy, but it’s insanely difficult. Every time your mind wanders, your smile will often wander with it. Maintaining the smile on your face is a great way to remain in the present moment and avoid being lost in thought.
In this podcast Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg talk about their first time smoking pot with Snoop Dogg, and how Snoop is an avid walker himself. It inspired me to pick up the habit, I hope it will inspire you as well.
The Headspace guided meditation on walking is another tidbit that’s worth a listen as well.
Exercise is one of (if not the) most effective forms of making yourself happier quickly. Exercise releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine (the happy chemical!), reduces the body’s stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulates the production of endorphins — chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. It’s essentially a cocktail of happiness for your brain.
Moreover, study after study found exercise to be more effective as an anti-depressant than prozac or other common prescription medications. The mood enhancing effects of exercise also lasted LONGER than those of anti-depressants.
Now, I am not a medical professional and I don’t recommend to stop taking your pills. Always consult with a doctor before considering this option. I’m here to present the evidence that exercise is likely equal to or potentially more effective than popping a pill every day. Give it some serious thought.
7) Dance! (or at the very least put on some music)
If all else fails, get up and dance! In a study by Dance Psychologist Dr. Lovatt researchers put people in a lab and played music for five minutes. Then they gave people three options 1) sit and listen quietly to the music 2) cycle on an exercise bike while they listened or 3) get up and dance. All were given cognitive tasks to perform before and after.
Dr Lovatt says: “All those who chose to dance displayed improved problem-solving skills afterwards. This same study also found that the mood levels of the dancers went up. It shows that dancing along to music even for five minutes can boost happiness and improve creative-thinking patterns.” Booyah!
I don’t know about you, but for me there’s nothing better than blasting some Michael Jackson and dancing around my room like a maniac for five minutes. I bust out the moves like no one is watching (and often no one is). I love acting like an idiot and letting the moves flow, and it has a wonderful effect on my mood.
Feeling too uptight to dance? The least you can do is put on some tunes that will put a smile on your face. Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Disney songs like Hakuna Matata always seem to do it for me. Create a “happy playlist” that works magic for you.
Bonus — Here’s a TEDx talk by the same Dr. Peter Lovatt from the study above.
8) Don’t go on social media
Surprisingly, the time you spend on social media can contribute to a lower quality of life and lower levels of happiness and well being. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.
Get off the phone/computer, go outside, get some fresh air. Although you probably discovered this article on some form of social media, I fully encourage you to stop reading and go do one of the techniques I’ve mentioned above instead. It’s chill 😃
9) Cold showers
Now we’re getting into the truly strange and difficult techniques, and one of my personal favorites — Cold Showers!!!!
If you can handle it — cold showers improve circulation, release endorphins, reduce inflammation in the body, and improve memory and focus. Boom!
How does it work? Cold water constrict blood vessels, causing blood to flow from the surface of your body to your core. When this happens, you effectively bathe your brain and vital organs in fresh blood, helping to detoxify your body. If this weren’t enough, those same neurotransmitters I’ve mentioned over and over come back into the equation. Cold water reduces cortisol, regulates serotonin levels, and floods your brain with a new buddy — norepinephrine — an adrenal hormone that can naturally improve the “feel good” effect.
What does this technique look like for me? I’ll take a normal hot shower, and then for the last 2 minutes flip it on ice cold. Then, I’ll flip it back to warm for the last 30 seconds to relax my blood vessels and send fresh blood back up to the surface. This is referred to as the “James Bond Shower”.
Want to dive deep into the world of cold? Check out Wim-Hoff aka “The Iceman” — this dude has climbed to Everest base camp in shorts and no shirt. Truly badass. The man knows his science as well. His techniques are backed by mountains of evidence and research, and his results are no joke.
I saved this one for last as it’s often met with a lot of resistance and “I don’t have time to meditate” but it works. There’s so many options out there to get started with meditation, and the impact it will have on your life is immediately noticeable. Whether it’s Headspace, Calm, or Tara Brach, you have too much to lose by not trying meditation.
There’s so much evidence out there on the benefits of meditation it’s hard to ignore. Look at any one of these various studies. In case you were too lazy to check it out, One study by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D found that benefits from meditation can be seen in as few as four 20-minute sessions. I also love this infographic on the body during meditation.
***Bonus techniques I use — I like to watch videos of stand-up comedy, cute animals, or inspirational/heartwarming videos of people helping each other. Anything that puts a smile on my face tends to have a consistently positive effect on my day. I hope these can have the same effect on yours 😃
That’s all folks! These are my favorite methods that I personally use (most on a daily basis), to live a happier life.
In a lot of ways, I look at these tips as a way to “hack” the body to be happier. Many of these techniques include increasing the body’s production of endorphins and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and reducing stress hormones like cortisol. Your brain is a powerful machine that, if tweaked properly, can yield life changing effects.
I’d also like to add that many times we try to “think” our way out of a funk, rather than working with the body to get our desired results. These techniques show us quite the opposite. Work with your body to achieve results in the mind, rather than the other way around. Instead of waiting to go on a walk or exercise when you feel better, perhaps you should try the opposite and go on a walk or exercise in order to feel better.
Hopefully these tips help you in some way shape or form! If you have one more smile throughout the day, I have accomplished my mission 😀
Have you had any experiences with these techniques? Let me know in the comments and share your story!