5 things you can do to be happy

Do you ever wish you held the secret for being happy for the majority of the time? Did anyone teach you how to be happy?

Admit it, you may have at times found yourself feeling sorry for yourself, bored, scared, unfulfilled, envious, frustrated, even angry.

Do you wish you could feel content and at peace with life most of the time? The truth is you can and it's simpler than you thought.

Or wait, no, I guess what I meant to write was, it's harder than you thought.

The truth is, and I know I'm verging on the annoying here, feeling content and happy consistently is both easy and hard.

It's kind of like dieting. Everyone wishes there was a magic pill that could immediately put them at their desired weight and keep them there for the rest of their lives. People buy books and commit to programs in search of the magic formula that will do the trick.

But the truth is, all that stuff is unnecessary. We all pretty much know the basic principles of how to reach a healthy weight . Eat good, natural foods and exercise. That's pretty much it. Exercise on a regular basis and eating a healthy menu of mostly legumes, small amounts of meat/fish along with larger portions of raw fruit and veggies, will get most people on the right path.

The difficulty lies in the commitment to doing both those things - forever. No shortcuts.

So, what about enduring happiness? It helps if you had a beautiful, lyrical, empowering childhood. But how many of us can boast that our parents were enlightened beings who never compromised our budding self-esteem, not even once in childhood?

Regardless of your upbringing/circumstances, there are ways to cultivate happiness. Below are 5 things you can do right now in order to be happy.

1) Help others:

Numerous studies have shown that when you help others, you tend to be happier. Studies have shown that the chemical, oxytocin is released when people do for others. This is the same chemical that is released when mothers breastfeed their babies and encourages bonding. Social bonding, feeling connected to others, creates happiness (and could make you live longer.)

A San Francisco Bay area study which tracked participants every decade starting from the 1930s, showed that those who helped others when they were in their teens, were much less likely to become depressed even well into adulthood!

Being depressed, sad or anxious is primarily "me-focused." When you help others, you are forced to emerge from self-focus in order to give attention to others and studies have shown this in turn, raises the spirits of the giver.

2) Exercise:

I wrote about exercise in Exercise can challenge your body and change your life, and talked about the impact working out has on your mood. Studies have shown that when you exercise, endorphins are released and you get the benefit of a feel-good mindset. Runner's high is not a myth!

Regular exercise helps to keep depression at bay, helps you to sleep better, which in turn also optimizes your ability to feel good, can enhance self-esteem and promote a positive self-image, and reduces stress levels! Even just walking for 20 minutes a day can help boost all these areas.

3) Practise Gratitude: 

Yes, I've written about this before, too. But research shows that practising gratitude, whether it be by writing lists, keeping a journal, or meditating on it regularly, can enrich your life and give you a more optimistic outlook. One study from the Georgia Psychological Association shows that daily gratitude recording resulted in "...higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy compared to a focus on daily hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others)."

4) Meditation:

The regular practise of meditation can boost your health, contribute to focus and creativity, reduce stress and help promote more harmonious relationships in your life. According to Deepak Chopra,  "...the deep state of rest produced by meditation triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters that enhance feelings of wellbeing, focus, and equanimity, including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Meditation choreographs the simultaneous release of these neurotransmitters, something that no single drug can do and without side effects." 

5) Staying Present, this one's key and I urge you to watch the vid. if you have time:

Psychologists at Harvard University conducted a study in which participants gauged their happiness levels using their iPhones to respond to prompts. The researchers found that tasks/activities in which the subjects were most present, ones in which they did not let their minds wander to the past or future events, resulted in higher levels of happiness. 

Here's a Cambridge TedX talk with one of the researchers, Matt Killingsworth, who explains that the study found that mind wandering does indeed result in unhappiness.

So, lasting happiness is not something you get from buying the latest gadget, clothing, car, etc. It takes work and commitment.  The good news is getting happy is a set of skills that people can learn regardless of their previous patterns.

Have you tried any of the above to increase your happiness? Which ones worked and were some easier to fit into your life than others?

Rena Galanis

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