What is happiness and what can I do to feel happier? These are questions that may have entered your mind at some point recently, especially in the unprecedented times that we are living in at the moment.
There is not always a ‘one size fits all’ approach to happiness, the things that make you happy can be different to the next person. However, science can provide some insight into ways that can help everyone to become happier in general.
Before we look further into this, let us take some time to understand what the notion of happiness is.
What is Happiness?
Psychologists have been researching happiness for a long time and they have come up with a fairly recent branch of Psychology called Positive Psychology with the aim to look deeper into happiness. They do this by looking at meaning and satisfaction in life, not solely the superficial happiness such as the fleeting feeling of joy at the new delivery of clothes that you have just received – which can make us feel happy in the short term. This brings us onto attempting to define what happiness is:
In general happiness is understood as the positive emotions we have in regards to the pleasurable activities we take part in through our daily lives. Pleasure, comfort, gratitude, hope and inspiration are examples of positive emotions that increase our happiness and move us to flourish. In scientific literature, happiness is referred to as Hedonia (Ryan & Deci, 2001), the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions.
Happiness is shown to have positive effects on our health and well-being in ways such as:
- Appearing to boost the immune system which prevents colds and illnesses.
- Helps to combat stress by producing less cortisol levels in the body.
- May protect your heart by reducing blood pressure.
- May help you to live longer as happier people generally partake in health promoting activities.
- May help to reduce pain by promoting coping strategies that reduce the perception of it.
How to Feel Happier
Now that we know what happiness can be defined as and the benefits that it can have to our health and well-being, let us take a look at ten science backed ways that can help us to feel happier starting from today.
1. Physical Activity
So you have more than likely heard that exercise and physical activity increases happiness but how does it actually work?
Firstly, let’s define physical activity. It is basically the action of moving our bodies more. You do not have to run a marathon or go to the gym every day to improve your happiness through physical activity. There are lots of ways that you can become more physically active including: walking to the local shop instead of taking the car, doing the housework or gardening and of course going to the gym or going for a run is beneficial too.
There are many scientific studies which have shown that being more physically active can improve your mental health by promoting better sleep, happier moods and also by helping to manage stress and anxiety.
Meditation is the act of calming or focusing your mind and being present through meditative practices and mindfulness. It is simple to get started with meditation if you are a beginner. You do not have to be experienced to start seeing the benefits.
There are many benefits that meditation has, these in turn help towards promoting happiness. Mindful meditation can create physical changes within the brain. Studies have shown that it only takes eight weeks to change the shape of your brain and increase the volume of grey matter.
Grey matter plays an important role in sensory perception, emotion, decision making and self control. Your brain naturally releases neurotransmitters or chemicals that help to regulate hormones and balance those hormones that have an influence on key parts of your mind and body.
Studies have shown that meditation and mindfulness can have a direct impact on neurotransmitters, including: Serotonin which regulates mood, Cortisol that decreases stress, GABA which improves calmness and Melatonin that promotes restful sleep which in turn helps mood regulation.
3. Healthy Eating
As with meditation, eating certain foods can help to unlock some beneficial feel-good chemicals such as Serotonin and Dopamine.
Fruit, vegetables and wholegrains contain complex carbohydrates which are important in stabilizing your mood by slowly releasing sugar into your body and by also indirectly assisting in the production of Serotonin.
Eggs consist of healthy fats, protein and B-vitamins which are known to assist in protection against depression.
Oily fish contains long-chain Omega-3 fats which are important in the functioning of the brain and namely the communication between Serotonin and Dopamine. You really can use food to promote happiness.
Gratitude is the act of being thankful for what you already have and being appreciative of that. There are many ways in which gratitude can be of benefit.
For example, research suggests that being grateful improves physical health, people experience fewer aches and pains and feel healthier in general. Gratitude has also been shown to reduce negative emotions and depression and what’s more, increase happiness.
Research suggests that the act of giving to others activates the parts of the brain that promotes contentment and reward, therefore increasing happiness and emotional well-being.
When we are generous, more often than not we use up some of our personal resources such as money, time or energy. However, the reward that we feel far outweighs this.
Happiness has been found to be linked to the part of the brain called the ventral striatum, this has also been shown to play a role in the brain’s reward system, this gives us the feeling of satisfaction when we engage in a pleasant experience.
Stress can be a factor resulting from the unprecedented times that we are living in at the moment. Effects of stress can include: insomnia, fatigue, muscle tension, stomach troubles and a lack of motivation in the short term. In the long term, it can affect weight, the cardiovascular system and it can increase the likelihood of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Self-care can help to alleviate the consequences of stress and promotes happiness. If you are running low on energy and in life in general, self-care can replenish that feeling. It can provide a break from stress and anxiety, provide you with time to reflect on you and also frees up time to spend on others. You can practice self-care at home by having a pamper session, reading a book or listening to music to name a few.
Healthy sleep habits can increase energy and reduce stress and low mood, the result is that we are able to make the most of our time and find more happiness in our days.
Studies of sleep-deprived brains have shown that without sufficient sleep our emotions can run away with themselves and a lack of sleep and stress form a vicious circle.
A lack of sleep can evoke a stressful mindset unable to cope with what the day throws at us and additionally, stress can prevent a good night’s sleep. You can ensure that you get a good night’s sleep starting from tonight by trying these tips: 7 Actionable Tips to Sleep Better and Wake up Energized. Ways to improve your sleep include reducing caffeine intake, reducing exposure to tech leading up to when you go to bed and also by trying to go to bed at around the same time each evening.
8. Reduce Social Media Use
Recent studies into social media use have shown that although it is a fact of modern daily life and does have some benefits, it can also have a negative impact on happiness and how we interact with others.
Face-to-face interactions are now on a par with interactions via social media. Some people do feel happy even without face-to-face contact, but studies show that they come away from social media interactions with a negative feeling including a reduction in self-esteem. This can be due to the temptation of social comparison such as material objects such as cars, money, houses or other comparisons such as looks, body type and the perception of family life that is portrayed.
The good news is that there are ways to limit your exposure to social media, reduce the negative impact of using it too much and therefore promote a happier mindset.
Yoga is becoming increasingly well-known for its benefits to the mind and body, resulting in an increase in happiness.
Performing yoga poses can improve feelings of energy and self-esteem. This can be linked with the functioning of the vagus nerves. The vagus nerve is the longest in the nervous system and is responsible for not only the body’s unconscious functions such as breathing, circulation and digestion, but also social competence and emotional regulation.
Yoga have physical benefits such as alleviating pain and also have a positive impact on mental health in ways such as being beneficial to those suffering with depression, anxiety and many others. What’s more, you can do yoga any time at home easily.
10. Declutter Your Space
There has been a buzz around tidiness and decluttering in recent times. Studies have shown that this can have a direct positive impact on happiness.
A tidy space provides an atmosphere in which it is easier for you to focus rather than thinking subconsciously about the tasks that you need to complete. A tidy home also reduces the stress and time involved in trying to locate items needed. For example, a tidy bedroom can help you to fall asleep easier.
One study has shown that mothers living in a messy house had a higher level of the stress hormone cortisol. Organization can promote positive feelings such as accomplishment and satisfaction.
It may be easier than you think to not only declutter your home but to declutter your life and reduce stress.
Being happy involves both the absence of negative emotions and the experience of positive emotions such as pleasure, comfort, gratitude, hope and inspiration.
Hopefully, with the above science-backed ways to feel happier, you have found that being happy is easier than you originally thought!
Featured photo credit: Stan B via unsplash.com