As a doctor and scientist, I prefer to make decisions (from what I have for breakfast to how I travel) based on research. A recent U.S. study evaluated some of the most common strategies people use to get happier and provided valuable insight into which methods are most effective.
Based on that study, 60 percent of our positive feelings and 70 percent of our negative feelings are predicted by things that are difficult or impossible to change immediately (or at all): things like our genes, our age, and certain personal traits. That might sound like a downer, but the bright side is that 40 percent of our positive feelings and 30 percent of our negative feelings can be influenced by the choices we make right now.
But remember, whatever you feel is okay. Negative emotions are part of the human experience. Never feel bad about feeling bad: Cut yourself a little slack. That said, let’s move forward. Here are the top 20 happiness-boosting strategies, backed by science. These are ranked roughly by how well they predict happiness:
1. Decide to be happier.
This opens the door to other effective strategies.
2. Do something that gets you into a happy mood.
For me, it’s creating original music. I get completely caught up in the experience of flow. Find your own source of that feeling.
3. If you’re in an unfortunate predicament, change it or accept it.
Then go on with the rest of your life. Don’t get trapped by rumination about what’s wrong with your life.
4. Live more, think less.
Don’t try to force yourself to look at only the positive, or try to tune out negative aspects of life. Instead, accept reality as it is and go on with life: work, eat, sleep, take care of yourself, interact with others — just keep going.
5. Strive to accomplish things.
Just put one foot in front of the other, over and over. Celebrate small wins.
6. Attempt to reach your full potential.
Visualize what you could be like at your best.
7. Organize your life and goals.
Know which direction you’d like to travel in life and how you can start. You don’t need to see the whole journey or worry about crossing bridges until you’re in front of them. All you need is a general sense of direction, determined by what you most value, and to know the next step in that direction.
8. Act happy.
Sometimes faking it actually helps. Change your body language; smile more. Think of a little baby clapping its fat hands in glee (or other image that makes you smile). For a little while, be that baby.
9. Focus on maintaining relationships.
Keep reaching out to your nearest and dearest, meeting them halfway at least. If they tread on your toes, don’t be a doormat. Assert your expectations calmly but firmly. They’ll learn that you respect yourself and your relationship will benefit from mutual respect.
10. Pursue career goals.
Many people feel energized by this challenge. However, if your boss or work situation is toxic, you might need to look for other opportunities.
11. Interact with friends and delight in their company.
Laughing with friends is my idea of bliss.
Even a few minutes of maximum effort is useful if you do it several times a week. Find some vigorous physical activity that suits you and make it part of your routine.
13. Maintain your physical health.
Make time to prepare and relish real meals instead of settling for processed snacks and sugary stuff. Sit less, move more.
14. Accept support from friends.
Support and encourage them in return.
15. Savor the moment.
Happiness is not just a distant destination. It’s here and now. Gratitude for what you already have can be like sun, lighting up even the darkest places.
16. Pray or meditate.
Life is not all thinking and doing. Sometimes it’s good to be still and experience the joy of just being. Experience every breath as a gift.
17. Seek support from your beliefs.
When you can read meaning into a difficult situation, you can come through almost anything and still be happy.
No explanation needed!
19. Work on your hobbies.
Find something enjoyable but challenging enough that will allow your talents and interests to be developed.
20. Become more active in your leisure time.
Limit your “passive leisure.” A healthy dose of relaxation is good. However, if you overdo watching TV, surfing the Internet, shopping, or lazing around, it’s more likely to predict unhappiness than happiness.
You don’t have to try all of these things at once. Pick the one or two strategies that best fit your life. Start today, and, before you know it, you’ll be experiencing more happiness. Take courage from science. What’s worked well for thousands of others is likely to work for you. Don’t wait for happiness to fall into your lap: Grow your own!