Don’t worry, be happy
There are times in life when it can be difficult to put a smile on your face, let alone actually feel happy. Challenges and obstacles can wear us down and make it hard to look on the bright side of things. Luckily there are clever scientists out there who are intent on tracking down the things that trigger the sometimes-elusive “happiness” that we all crave—and they have some tips for those of us who want those smiles to feel as good as they look!
- Stay hydrated. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can affect your mood and may make you feel tired and even a little confused.1 Make sure to get at least 8 glasses of water (or any healthy liquid) a day.
- Spend time with people that you like. It makes sense, but researchers have proven that connecting socially with friends and family we really enjoy makes us happy.2 Those same researchers suggest that we should consider taking this into account when we choose our jobs, since we spend a lot of time with the people with whom we work. Try to turn coworkers into friends so that your time on the job is a little happier.
- Use your time wisely. If an activity makes you feel energized and invigorated, keep doing it, scientists say.3 Whenever possible, avoid participating in things that make you feel drained and defeated. Obviously sometimes we have no choice but to do things we’d rather not, but when you have the opportunity to choose, think carefully about what you really want to do before mindlessly moving onto another task, chore or activity. Spend as much time as you can reveling in the positive energy that you get from doing something you enjoy.
- Use your imagination. Kids are great at daydreaming, but it’s a skill that we sometimes forget to hone as adults. Researchers in the field of neuroscience have proven that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure can be activated simply by thinking about something pleasurable.4 So spend time planning a trip (even if you don’t end up taking it), or thinking about what you’d do if you won the lottery, or working out what flowers and vegetables you’re going to plant in your garden this year. Permission to daydream is just what the doctor ordered!
- Get the illusion of having more time. There are only 24 hours in a day, but scientists claim there are ways to “trick” your brain into believing that time is moving more slowly than it is.5 Focus on the present—on what’s going on around you or what you’re doing right now. Then breathe slowly and more deeply for a few minutes. Both activities will give you the sense that time is moving at a blissfully relaxing pace. Scientists also suggest that doing things for others—even if you feel that you barely have enough time for yourself—can actually make you feel as though you really do have time to spare.6
- Get enough shuteye. In 2007, researchers did a study that determined sleep deprivation affects the emotional center of the brain, making it more active than the brains of people who were fully rested.7 That’s why you may feel grumpy and frazzled in addition to being tired when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep. Visit Helpguide.org for tips on sleeping better.
- Spend time in the great outdoors. The David Suzuki Foundation did a study that showed people felt happier and had a greater sense of wellbeing when they spent 30 minutes a day outside for 30 consecutive days.8 Go for a stroll to your nearest park, work in the garden, sit on a patio and soak up the sunshine, or eat your lunch outside. Make it a habit and see how you feel after 30 days!
- No really, smile! Studies have shown that when research participants mimicked the shape of a smile (by, for example, making the vowel sound of a long “e” or holding a pen lengthwise in their mouths), they actually reported feeling good. A smile, even if it starts off being faked, can actually make you feel happier. Give it a try! The worst thing that can happen is you’ll accidentally pass that smile on to someone else and make their day.
For more insights on being happy, visit The Happiness Project, a website belonging to author Gretchen Rubin who spent a year in the daily pursuit of happiness, then wrote a book all about it. Start your own “happiness project”, or join a happiness project group near you!
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