We all want to be happy. In fact, happiness for ourselves or others is one of the most common wishes ever made¹.
Happiness is a complicated and ill-defined thing. Neuroscientist Dean Burnett has spoken at length about the complex neurological processes behind emotions like fear, anxiety, and happiness, along with why our brains bother to construct these feelings at all². The bottom line is that while fear and stress can help certain situations, it’s happiness that we seek out.
So how do you make yourself happier?
Do you have any control over this emotion?
The good news is yes; there’s a lot you can do to give yourself a much-needed pick-me-up. Eliminating stressors and finding things that trigger those “happy” neuron connections in your brain are a great start. In this article, we’ll go over eight incredibly simple tips for getting you happier right now.
A cluttered home can drain you of your motivation, energy, and happiness³. Cleaning may not be anyone’s favorite task, but picking up around the house will leave you both satisfied and happier. And you don’t have to buckle down for the Deep Spring Clean Extravaganza. It’s best if you focus on a short task that can be accomplished in its entirety in one sitting, such as clearing off a desk or table.
Similar to the decluttering suggestion, the satisfaction of accomplishing a task can give a rush of much-needed endorphins⁴. So drag out that dusty to-do list and pick something quick and straightforward. If you don’t have an actual list, write one. The satisfaction of physically crossing off the completed task is gratifying.
Mental work can be just as helpful in boosting your mood as manual labor. Think of something you want to do (a book you want to read, a movie you’ve meant to see, or even a vacation you’ve dreamed of) and start planning. Order the book to be delivered to your home. Shop for your plane tickets. Plan a travel itinerary. Even planning a dream vacation, you may never go on can boost your mood.
Our minds and bodies are intimately connected. We typically think of this connection as our minds leading our bodies (i.e., I am happy and therefore I am smiling). Yet research shows that this connection can work in reverse, too⁵. So smiling can trick your brain into feeling more optimistic.
Physical exercise closely connects with our moods⁶. Many people incorporate routine exercise into their lives to combat sadness. You don’t have to run a marathon to get the happy benefits of exercise. A brisk walk or even a physical activity like cleaning can do wonders for your emotional wellness.
Humans are social animals. Consider reaching out to someone you care about. Write a letter, send a text, or make a phone call. Just the feeling of being connected to someone can lift your mood.
When we’re sad, we often want to isolate ourselves⁷. Don’t be shy about giving yourself some “me time” to clear your thoughts before you consider reaching out to someone.
Feel free to run a bath, read a chapter from a favorite novel, or take a relaxing walk before you look for someone to talk to.
A quick way to make yourself happier is to get rid of something that is making you sad. While it’s impossible to eliminate everything in our lives that prompts negative feelings, you can work to lessen their impact.
Try picking something in your current environment that is troubling you. It could mean removing yourself from a stressful situation, organizing your intray, or finally fixing that crooked photo frame.
If your distress is coming from the more hectic and frustrating times of your day (think the morning traffic jam or overflowing conference call appointments), we’ve got a post here on how to calm down quickly.
Offering assistance or kind words to another person is a great way to boost your mood. It’s a win-win. You get to feel better, and someone else gets a much-needed compliment or some help. This can be something as simple as picking something up for a neighbor. Reach out to the people in your life and see if they need anything.
These are short term solutions to lift your mood in under an hour. To cultivate improved emotional wellness, you may need to make more extensive changes. Crossing one item off your massive to-do list will make you happier right now, but improving your organizational skills and continuing to work on healthier habits is a better long term solution.
Remember that you have a measure of control over your happiness. Never miss an opportunity for some self-care.
(1) Doheny, K (June 2008) Clutter Control: Is Too Much 'Stuff' Draining You?
(2) Paul, AM (November 1997) What Your Wishes Say About You
(3) Levy, G (June 2018) In Pursuit of Happiness
(4)Masicampo, EJ; Baumeister, RF (June 2011) Consider It Done! Plan Making Can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals
(5) Spector, N (November 2017) Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health
(6) Arent, S; Landers, D; Etnier, J (2000) The effects of exercise on mood in older adults: A meta-analytic review
(7) Cacioppo, JT; Hawkley, LC (August 2009) Perceived social isolation and cognition