Happiness may just be the best medicine around. By learning how to be happier, you’ll not only feel better emotionally but also transform your overall health. Studies show that boosting happiness can cut your risk of heart disease in half, lower your chances of developing cancer or diabetes, and extend your life by up to 10 years. The main reason behind all of these benefits is that happy people produce less of the stress hormone cortisol, which can age the body before its time.
What exactly is happiness? According to Christine Carter, PhD, a leading expert on happiness and the author of Raising Happiness, a happy life is one lived with many different positive emotions, such as love and compassion. Happiness doesn’t just exist in the now, but also in reflecting on the past and planning for the future. You need to attach positive emotions to the past, such as gratitude, and positive feelings toward the future, such as hope, optimism and confidence.
Many people have a hard time finding sustained happiness partly because too many of us pursue gratification in material things, which creates a bit of pleasure but doesn’t cause real joy or lasting happiness. According to Dr. Carter, there are three primary reasons for unhappiness:
- Perfectionism often leads to dissatisfaction, which can cause stress.
- Materialism focuses on getting rather than giving and only provides temporary satisfaction.
- Entitlement translates as disappointment with what you don’t have rather than gratefulness for what you do have.
To boost happiness instantly, try these simple happiness boosters:
1. De-clutter Your Mind
There’s truth to the old adage, “The state of your bed is the state of your head.” Research shows that people who make their bed every morning tend to be more productive in general. Making the bed or cleaning up small messes, like the bills on your desk or the dishes in the sink, contributes to happiness because these acts represent “small wins” in the willpower department. In sum, good habits, both large and small, can make life easier, happier and more meaningful.
2. Listen to Music
Neurological studies show that people are hardwired to interpret and react emotionally to music. In other words, music can literally calm you and clear your head. Happy music that features a fast tempo and is written in a major key can cause immediate physical signs of happiness, such as a faster breathing. Listen to Dr. Oz’s Happiness Playlist now.
3. Stick to a Routine
Researchers believe that we have evolved to experience calm by practicing repetitive behavior. Our daily habits and rituals serve as primary ways for us to manage stress. However, the fast-paced world we live in can feel quite unpredictable, which is why sometimes sticking with an old routine can be a good way to help maintain happiness.
4. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is the foundation of personal happiness. There is incredible power in simply counting your blessings. Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health and greater satisfaction with life. Many people today keep gratitude journals, but Dr. Carter also recommends the practice of writing regular love letters. By consciously fostering feelings of appreciation for loved ones and expressing them verbally or on paper, relationships improve, and we feel more happiness in our lives.
To further boost your happiness, you also need to create a connection between mind, body and spirit. Even if you can’t convince your mind to feel happier, you can create changes in your nervous system to increase happiness.
Recharge your body and gain happiness with these simple tips:
1. Fake a Smile
A positive facial expression on its own – even without a happy emotion behind it – can create happiness. By forcing a smile, your body releases feel-good brain chemicals. To fake a smile, try holding a pencil between your teeth. You’ll activate your smile muscles and, within minutes, your heart rate should go down, you’ll feel calmer and happier, and you’ll even find more humor in things.
2. Step Into the Sunlight
It has long been known that light stimulates brain chemicals associated with improved mood. A 10-minute walk outside in the daylight first thing in the morning can increase energy, decrease tension, and make you feel happier. This practice can especially help boost happiness during the winter months.
3. Eat Good-Mood Foods
Good fats, such as omega-3s, create calm and even have antidepressant effects. On the other hand, studies show that transfats or partially hydrogenated oils may cause aggression and can also trigger inflammatory reactions linked to depression, heart disease, and cancer. Make an effort to eat foods high in omega-3s, such as shrimp, salmon or snapper. If you’re not a seafood fan, take an omega-3 supplement that contains DHA.
While yawning is generally viewed as a sign of exhaustion or rude behavior, its primary biological purpose is to lower brain temperature, which reduces stress, improves memory, and stimulates alertness and concentration. When yawning becomes contagious, it can be a signal of empathy or social awareness. To boost happiness via yawning, practice yawning several times a day.
5. Get (or Give) 8 Hugs a Day
Hugging stimulates the release of oxytocin, the “happiness hormone” that also creates feelings of generosity and trust. To keep oxytocin production at an optimal level, get (or give) 8 hugs a day. Make sure those hugs are built into your daily routine. For instance, hug your kids when they wake up; hug your partner before work; hug a buddy at lunchtime, etc. Remember, happiness-creating hugs need to be heartfelt and lingering as opposed to quick pats on the back.