How do you stay happy all the time? Is it possible and is there any proof that these ways can work? In this post I want to show you 10 ways that are scientifically proven. If this does not convince you, then I do not know what will!
1. Exercise more
Lots of studies on this one. Exercising releases the good mood endorphins so that you are always in a better mood after a workout or simply a walk to the supermarket. I have never met a person in a bad mood after a workout! But where is the scientific evidence?
The University of Toronto did a great job on this and analyzed no less than 25 research studies. The conclusion was that physical activity can and does help to keep depression at bay.
The best study I know is where three groups of depressed people are put on a regime of anti-depressants, exercise or a combination of the two. No surprise to know that all three groups were happier, but did it last? Six months later, the group who had been treated with exercise only, had a very low relapse rate of 9%. The other two groups had relapsed and how! Their rates were ranging from 38% to 31%, so about a third of them were now depressed again.
2. Positive thinking affects your performance
“Happiness is the precursor to success.” – Shawn Achor
Sounds like pie in the sky? Well, according to Shawn Achor, if he knows everything about what factors are impinging on your happiness such as stressors, hassles, successes, economic circumstances, relationships and so on, then he can only predict 10% of your long term happiness. The remaining 90% is how you process the world around you. If happiness is on the other side of success, it is unlikely you will get there as you continually strive to get better grades, higher salaries and so on.
Positive thinking raises energy levels, creativity and productivity by as much as 30%. The secret is to use positive thinking now, rather than when you are rich and famous. Watch the video below for a very entertaining outline of this.
3. Trash your negative thoughts
Some people are overwhelmed by their negative thoughts and they have real problems in getting rid of them. A University of Madrid study found that by actually writing these thoughts down on a piece of paper and then destroying them was effective. They recommended that you either tear them up, throw them in the trash or burn them!
The fact of discarding them physically does help in reducing their toxic effects. Psychologists suggest doing this on a regular basis.
4. Treasure your experiences more than your possessions
Thomas Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell University has done quite a lot of research as to why it is better to treasure memorable and pleasant experiences rather than the material things we buy. There are many reasons for this as outlined in his study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Comparing possessions and looking at better objects after purchase can be demoralizing and ruin the initial pleasure we got when purchasing and taking possession of that new car, TV or computer.
But treasuring experiences is not nearly as destructive. They belong to us, they are special and they provide longer lasting happiness. We should always aim to visit a new place or just go trekking. Local authorities should be able to provide the facilities in towns and cities so that people may experience more enjoyable and pleasurable activities, rather than building more shopping malls.
5. Write down why you are grateful
Feeling and thinking about the things you are grateful for as you wake up is a great way to build more happiness.
Research on our brain shows that we always tend to focus on the negative things of life like those worries, tragedies, failures, and discontent. Negativity is the default position.
“We’ve got this negativity bias that’s a kind of bug in the stone-age brain in the 21st century,” – Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist.
This is why we need to focus on the good and more especially, we need to hone in on what we should be grateful for. There are various ways you can do this. Here are some ideas:
- When you wake up, remind yourself mentally of three things that you can be grateful for.
- Some people prefer to write down three things and keep the list to remind themselves every now and again.
- Use Twitter or Facebook if you feel inclined. Useful to remind your followers that this does actually work.
- Express gratitude by phoning your significant other or by treating a colleague to coffee for their help with a project or task.
- Try giving back by helping a person or by volunteering for a few hours a week.
But is there any scientific proof that this actually works? Check out this link to see just some of the numerous studies on gratitude.
6. Practice mindfulness
What does mindfulness mean? It just means that you concentrate and pay full attention to the present moment and accept it in a non-judgmental way. This is now becoming a popular trend in psychology and medicine. When done regularly it can boost mood, reduce stress levels, and lead to a better quality of life.
Focus on the present moment means that you can savor touch, smell and other physical sensations but also happy feelings. Concentrate on the joy they are giving you. It is really effective in forgetting about the past and not fretting about future, fearful scenarios.
But can this really make us happier and what is the scientific evidence? Watch the video where Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth explains that we are happier when we are mindful of the moment and the least happy when the mind is wandering all over the place. He has come to this conclusion after studying 15,000 people!
7. Don’t forget your beauty sleep
When you do not get enough sleep, your negativity takes over big time. This was the conclusion researchers came to after several experiments. One of these is particularly interesting. The researchers homed in on the hippocampus which is the part of the brain which processes our positive thoughts. When we are sleep deprived, this function starts to creak and negative thoughts muscle in much more than before.
To illustrate this, researchers asked sleep deprived students to remember a list of words. They were getting a high score on all the negative words (81%) but when it came to the positive ones or neutral ones, they were only getting about 31% of these right. Dr.Robert Stickgold has conducted similar experiments on sleep and memory. Now you know why people are always in a bad mood when they do not get enough sleep.
8. Dedicate a little time to helping others
People buy bigger houses, cars and phones but it does not seem to increase their overall happiness in the long term, although it might cause a brief spike in happiness. That is short lived. Researchers have found that when we dedicate a little time or money to helping others, this has a significant effect on our own happiness.
9. Focus on the life you want to live
“The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”- Dr. Daniel Gilbert.
We often talk about winning the lottery and where we would go and above all what we would buy. We might even talk about giving to charity. But we never or rarely talk about what our state of mind would be and how much happier and carefree we would be. This is why focusing on priorities to get the life you want to live is so important.
10. Focus on your strengths
Are you curious, open-minded or brave? How are you using these strengths to improve your life and that of others? These are key questions but people who exploit their strengths rather than dwelling on their weaknesses are generally much happier.
Being able to realize our full potential through exploiting our strengths is one of the best ways of finding happiness and helping to make the world a better place.