Some days are easy breezy. You wake up in a great mood, your hair looks terrific and the sun is shining. Other days you wake up and drink all the coffee, hate your clothes, stub your toe and wonder how you’re going to get through the day. To reduce the latter and increase the former, take action!
Happiness, like so many other things, must be cultivated and actively pursued. Here are eleven ways to up your happy factor. Try a couple and see how you feel.
Seek mental health care.
This is at the top of the list for a reason. We can talk all day about making gratitude lists or exercise, but if your brain chemistry is out of whack, or if you are experiencing a clinical depression or other mental illness, you need medical care. That may be talk therapy, or it may be medication, but getting treatment for a mental malady is just like getting treatment for a physical one. And just like you wouldn’t try to eat fiber or apply sunscreen to heal a broken leg, you shouldn’t suffer with a mood disorder or mental health issue, either, or try to treat it with tactics that can’t work.
Most of us spend one-quarter to one-third of our lives asleep. The amount of sleep we need varies slightly by individual, but the importance of healthy sleep habits is clear. Without enough quality sleep, our minds and bodies just don’t work as well. In the short term, even after one or two terrible nights’ sleep can affect your memory, judgement and reflexes. You’re at greater risk of crashing your car. In the long term, sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, increase your risk of diabetes, elevate your blood pressure and weaken your immune system. Plus it will make you cranky.
Eat plenty of fiber.
Want to live longer, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of certain cancers and lower your risk of heart disease? Also, not to be indelicate, but you’ll have better bowel movements. So eat more fiber. There are two kind: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel inside your colon, where it is digested. The gel blocks some of the fat and cholesterol you’ve eaten from being digested and it slows how fast you digest carbohydrates. That helps keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating plenty of soluble fiber can also lower the risk of heart disease. Great sources of soluble fiber include black beans, brussel sprouts, asparagus, sweet potatoes, avocados, apples and carrots.
Insoluble fiber does not digest or dissolve, it just cruises through your digestive tract picking, um, material up along the way, which you then eliminate when you poop. Your mom might have called insoluble fiber ‘roughage.’ It keeps you feeling fuller longer, which allows you to eat less. This is also the stuff that helps you avoid or treat constipation, by moving your digestion along. Plenty of insoluble fiber can be found in foods like cauliflower, dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, nuts, peas, pears or lentils.
Even 20 minutes spent outside, in your yard, a park or on a walk, can change your mood for the better. Studies have shown that stepping outside lowers stress, heart rate and blood pressure. It can boost creativity and optimism. Best of all? It’s free, and right outside your door.
Walk, bike, run, swim, play Bocce ball, dance or try some yoga. Get moving and you’ll release feel-good hormones AKA endorphins, which your body will literally make for you any time you ask it to by exercising.
Do something creative.
Daily creativity is great for your mood and sense of wellbeing. You don’t have to write the great American novel or paint a mural, although you’re welcome to! Or you could learn to knit, take up cooking, sing a song or doodle a little picture. Gather pretty leaves and make a collage. You get the idea.
Practice a little escapism.
Sometimes you just need to tune out and ignore all of the ‘shoulds’ in your life. Turn your to-do list face down and think about something totally different. This is what novels read in the tub, Hallmark movies and escapist podcasts were made for!
Whether you volunteer regularly or help your elderly neighbor take his trash out, doing for others is a known, studied, powerful way to increase your life satisfaction, boost happiness, find meaning and connect. For a quick boost, write someone a thank-you note or a quick hello, or pay for the coffee of the person in the drive-through line behind you. Kindness is also incredibly contagious! It creates a virtuous circle. Doing good/giving makes us happy, which makes us want to do/give more, which makes us happier.
Pet a dog (or cat).
Interacting with animals can raise our oxytocin levels, calm us down, lower our blood pressure and make us feel loved. Author and animal expert Karen Winegar sums it up beautifully: “The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.”
If you commit to meditate 5-10 minutes a day on most days you’ll feel calmer, more focused and happier? For the vast majority of people who try it, the practice of meditation works. Meditation requires no equipment and it’s free to all. People notice short-term benefits, including improved circulation, less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, increased feelings of well-being and peace… even bliss!
In the short term, cracking up with your bestie or rewatching that hilarious scene can ease tension, release a burst of feel-good hormones, AKA endorphins and stimulate your heart and lungs. In the longer term, laughter can give your immune system a boost. When you’re happy, your body releases stress and illness-fighting neuropeptides.