Happiness means different things to different people. For you, it might be a secure job and a comfortable life. For others, it may mean freedom of expression and forming meaningful friendships. And while happiness looks distinct for everyone, most people agree that being happy is the most important aspect and the major driving force in life.
While there is no consensus on a ‘silver bullet’ that works for everyone, there are some things which boost happiness for the majority – good physical health, sound mental health, a stress-free and productive life, job-satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment, meaningful relationships, etc, are just a few outcomes that result in happiness for most individuals.
Most researchers consider happiness as a state of mind. It is usually measured in terms of life-satisfaction, subjective well-being, and a positive mental state. Lack of negative emotions like anger, frustration, and absence of symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are also considered to result in a happy state of mind.
Choosing what makes us happy is difficult sometimes, especially when something that might make us genuinely happier in the long run seems to clash with what feels good in the present moment. In the words of Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, happiness doesn’t always feel happy.
For example, relaxing and binge-watching a favorite show may certainly feel like the convenient choice over heading to the gym for a workout. A double chocolate chip cookie might seem more appealing than a healthier and wholesome bowl of salad.
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The common instinct during such a dilemma is to settle for the convenient or compelling choice – this may result in short burst of joy but might not make us happy in the long run. However, it is possible to break out of this default subconscious behavior and work our way towards the happiness-creating choice, through willpower and consistent action.
Choosing the gym over cookies: a happiness habit! shutterstock/NDAB Creativity
Making consistently better choices can be a viable strategy to create lasting happiness. Habits matter – they help us engrain a choice as the default action, if made repeatedly. Long-lasting, consistent variety of happiness come through consistent habits. Hitting the gym after work can be made into your default choice – or ingrained healthy habit – through consistent action, rather than to just remain a couch potato, resulting in good health and consistent happiness.
So, let’s look at some happy habits to help you with your quest for happiness. With time and practice, you can cement these happy habits into your daily routine as your default choice of action:
Smiling is circular – happy people smile more often, which releases more dopamine, and this makes them happier. Researchers even suggest faking a smile to induce cheerfulness and lower stress levels through ‘facial feedback’. Smiling has also been associated with extended life expectancy.
A study by Michigan State University revealed that smiling as a result of cultivating positive thoughts can improve mood, prevent feelings of apathy, and improve productivity levels in the workplace.
Exercise can prevent hypertension, boost heart health and immunity, and extend your life span. However, the benefits are not limited to physical health – regular exercise can help lower stress levels and even rewire your brain connections to keep depression at bay.
A systematic review of existing literature by Zhanjia Zhang et al revealed that even the minimal amount of physical activity in the form of aerobic or stretching/balancing exercises makes a huge impact in favor of reduced stress and depression – resulting in greater happiness – in comparison to those who do not exercise on even one day in a week.
“Happiness and habits have a symbiotic relationship – people with healthy habits are happier, and happy people are found to have healthier habits.”
Include at least 20 minutes of daily physical activity in the form of strength training, outdoor running, yoga or walking to observe the difference in your mood and health. You could also indulge in a hobby involving movement, like dancing or playing tennis.
Healthier food choices result in elevated happiness, as indicated by a research synthesis by Ruut Veenhoven. A balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lean meat, healthy fats along with two to three portions of fresh vegetables and fruit per day can improve your physical health and prevent disease.
In addition, food choices impact your mental health as well – good mood foods can alleviate anxiety and depression and improve your mood by inducing the release of happiness hormones.
Despite the competitive modern world trying to convince us to stay awake and connected for longer hours, getting sufficient sleep is a crucial happy habit for good health and well-being. A four-week study by Ji-eun Shin et al revealed that individuals who sleep for adequate hours have lower incidence of ‘zero-sum beliefs’ or scarcity mindset, higher life-satisfaction and elevated happiness levels.
Take time to build a healthy sleep routine. Keep sleep-stealers like phones and tablets on silent mode and tucked away at least one hour before bedtime. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to regularize your sleep patterns.
Humans are inherently social beings and forming meaningful ties makes us happier. A study by Matthias R Mehl et al pointed out that meaningful friendships call for lesser small talk and encourage more ‘substantive’ conversations, resulting in a greater perception of well-being and happiness.
Another happy habit: keeping family close shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
Furthermore, meeting happy people with a positive attitude will amp up the benefits. Another study at Harvard Medical School observed the happiness patterns of 5,000 participants over a period of 20 years, to establish that happiness levels in a person can trigger a positive chain reaction and the benefits can reach their friends, their friends’ friends, and so on.
Planning the next day and upcoming week in advance can help prevent the floundering feeling we sometimes get when there’s too much work that needs to get done but we have no clue where to begin. It is essential to factor in the truth here – what isn’t planned most often doesn’t get done, which may result in undue stress and dissatisfaction.
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A study by renowned self-help author Robert Epstein revealed that 25 per cent of our happiness depends on our ability to manage stress, and that consistent planning and timely action can prevent stressful situations. Hence, to prevent stress, it’s important to reflect on the activities that bring you the desired result, such as joy, sense of accomplishment etc. and consistently establish supportive plans.
Seeking happiness through random, haphazard acts might not always work out in your favor, but activities listed through meticulous planning will seldom backfire, offering you greater sense of satisfaction.
While social media is great for networking and staying connected, it can also take a toll on your mental health and hurt your self-esteem. Taking some time to disconnect from that infinite realm called the internet, to connect with your inner self, is crucial for your subjective well-being and happiness.
In a two-week study by Dunn and Kushlev, 221 participants were encouraged to maximize their phone interruptions and keep them within reach for a week. For the next week, participants were asked to turn off their phone notifications and tuck the phone away out of plain sight. Participants reported higher attention span and improved productivity levels when phone alerts were off, which predicted elevated levels of happiness.
While unplugging your phone and shutting down your electronic devices might seem like a ridiculous proposition in the beginning, but it can save you from mental fatigue and undue stress. Start small – try taking a break from social media and phone notifications for a few hours each week, extending to few hours of silent mode each day. Use this time to meditate, read, or simply savor the silence around.
Meditation is an energization practice that allows you to focus your thoughts, enabling you to unleash your inner potential and achieve a greater sense of awareness. Numerous scientific studies point out that meditating daily can improve your mood and boost cognitive abilities. According to a review study at Kyoto University, meditation can increase the grey matter in precuneus area of the brain, which is known as the origin of the sense of well-being and happiness.
Meditate regularly to boost your mood shutterstock/Shift Drive
If you are a beginner struggling with your meditation practice, take heart it knowing it need not be a complicated technique. Explore some of the best beginner's meditation videos online, or simply begin by sitting in a quiet place for at least five minutes, as you concentrate on your breathing patterns.
The fast-paced world around us has a way of making us believe that life is all about achievements and hustle. While goals are important, remember that there’s more to life than to-do lists and deadlines.
Taking time from your busy schedule periodically to get into nature can rejuvenate your senses, improve your heart health, prevent cancer and boost your creativity. Forest bathing or reconnecting with nature can also alleviate stress and depression, indicating higher levels of happiness.
In a broad sense, spirituality relates to looking beyond oneself to find a connection with a greater dimension or a higher power that unites all beings. It doesn’t necessarily translate into religious tenets or gatherings – instead, it focuses on cultivating intrinsic value systems like kindness, compassion, gratitude etc, in your daily life.
The Science of Happiness, a special edition by Time, summarizes the learning compiled from existing scientific research that most spiritual people derive certain ‘psychological comfort’ from their belief system and tend to be less depressed and less anxious as compared to their non-spiritual counterparts.
“Humans are inherently social beings and forming meaningful ties makes us happier. Furthermore, meeting happy people with a positive attitude will amp up the benefits.”
A systematic review of scientific literature by Sankul Gaur recognized spirituality as an emerging predictor of happiness, wherein spiritual or religious interventions were found to improve one’s sense of well-being and life satisfaction.
While the technological advancements in the form of smartphones and tablets do make our lives easier, unfortunately they also tend to draw our attention away from the reality around us.
Being mindful of the environment around you and savoring the present moment without judgment is crucial for cultivating happiness – it allows you to think, feel and act from a place of purpose in a conscious manner, as opposed to your actions arising based on your subconscious patterns, or a ‘default mode’.
A study by Cristian Coo et al established mindfulness as an important construct for mental health and an effective positive psychology intervention tool. It also revealed the positive effect of Mindfulness Based Intervention (MBI) on the happiness levels, work engagement and productivity of professionals in varied fields like healthcare, education etc.
Gratitude is the appreciation of good things in your life, or an acknowledgment of the gifts you received. Studies show that the simplest acknowledgment of all things you are grateful for – be it by writing gratitude list or via gratitude meditation – can positively impact hope and happiness.
Furthermore, developing an attitude of gratitude has scientifically-proven benefits. It’s possible to start small – acknowledge things you’re grateful for as you go about your daily tasks, such as having hot water to take a shower or having the sense of vision. Gratitude journaling is another great way to set positive intentions for the day.
Happiness and habits have a symbiotic relationship – people with healthy habits are happier, and happy people are found to have healthier habits. The happiness-boosting habits listed here are by no means exclusive – try them to see which of these fit well into your lifestyle and stick to the ones that create favorable results for you.
With consistent practice and patience, you can create a routine to include the positive habits that suit your version of happiness and the path you choose to achieve the same. •
Main image: shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
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Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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