The Big Ones:
Do Meaningful Things. Similarly to altruism, people who feel they are providing something meaningful to the world are happier. If you’re work doesn’t provide this, find another way to follow your bliss and create something of value.
Experience New Things. Repetition breeds boredom. Growth comes when we step out of our comfort zone, and scary and exhilarating are two sides of the same coin. If you find your self in a rut, travel somewhere new, take a salsa class, or recite at a poetry jam. If you are interested in something AND it scares you, that’s the direction to go.
Friends and Family. People with strong community and tribal connections are happier people. Loneliness is sad. Make the effort to stay in touch, and make it in person. Schedule a coffee date with a friend, or a jog, or a volunteer project. Texting and Facebook don’t count.
Be Grateful/Appreciate What You Have. Those who practice (yes it takes practice) gratitude by meditation, journaling, prayer, reflection, etc. exercise more, are sick less, are more optimistic, and experience higher levels of love and joy. If you’re reading this, your life rocks. Take time to remember why.
Give your time. Doing something altruistic, however small, allows us to step away from our own problems, to empathize with others, and to contribute in ways that make us feel good. Pick a big project and/or charity, but don’t forget the small things: a compliment, an extra tip, or holding the door for someone.
Know that Bad Times Bring Happiness, Too. Unless you have experienced unpleasant things, you will not be able to recognize good things when you encounter them. Happiness is itself partly unpleasant. This is a necessary Truth about happiness.
The Day to Day:
Rise with The Sun. Sun exposure increases vitamin D production and fights cancer and other diseases. Rising with the sun improves mood throughout the day and helps balance our circadian rhythms. When we are in sync we are happier.
Get Dirty. Soil contains special mycobacterium that release serotonin upon skin contact. Every time you work in your garden or flower bed you are sending happy chemicals to your brain.
Find More Free Time. In our culture we are consumed by activities and obligations. Enjoy a cheat day: pick a day in the middle of the week when you skip out on your normal obligations and treat it like the weekend. It’s more delicious when everyone is working and you are driving to the beach or napping in the park.
Crank Up the Music. Music causes the brain to pump out dopamine. There’s a reason you feel such pleasure when you put on your headphones and turn up the volume. Take some time to listen, and to listen only. Don’t be distracted by washing the dishes at the same time.
Stay Hydrated. Dehydration makes us cranky. We are often thirsty and confuse it with hunger and we then snack on the wrong foods causing insulin spikes and subsequent mood swings. Keep a big glass of water handy and sip often.
Play. Get in shape doing something you enjoy. Join a flag football or soccer team. Play tag with your kids. There’s no camaraderie or joy on the treadmill. The brain responds to both the physical movement and the tribal connection.
Spend Time Around or in Water. Oceans, lakes, rivers: anything wet and blue. Water releases dopamine, oxycotin and endorphins, the trifecta of a naturally happy brain.
Go Screenless or Reduce Screen Brightness. Screens screw with our moods, productivity and sleep. Lack of sleep makes us cranky, fat and unhealthy. Download a free program such as F.Lux which reduces screen brightness to match the sunset of your location. This helps prevent your brain from thinking its daytime just because you are watching Netflix at 10:00 p.m. You’ll fall asleep faster, sleep better, and be happier in the morning. If you can shut off the screen a minimum of an hour before hitting bed, even better.
Eat Chocolate. Chocolate contains valeric acid, a relaxant and tranquilizer that slows down brain waves and helps us feel calmer. Chocolate: is there anything it can’t do?
Have a glass of wine (or liquor, or beer). But no more than two a day. Casual drinkers have less cardiovascular disease and less cancer than abstainers and are less uptight and anxious. They decompress better. People with addictive behaviors: skip this one.
Want proof? Email me and I can link you to the studies or other evidence supporting any or all of the above. But if you’re busy you can take my word for it, I promise.
My happiness list was compiled from the following sources:
Outside Magazine, January 2013 issue
Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D (2007)
The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness by Mark Rowlands (2010)
Happy! Directed by Roko Belic, Wadi Rum Films