How to be happy? Here we go: we bring you the 25 best science-backed happiness tips. We promise, doing even a few of these, you’ll be inviting active happiness into your day. Remember, all of these strategies are backed by research, and all these can be done in a day.
So, let’s plan a perfectly happy day!
But why do we need a plan? Because happiness comes more from our actions than anything else. Lasting happiness comes from our own activities, so says science, rather than appearing with spontaneity.
Though all these can be done in a day, you could begin by picking out a few of these from the list. And if you are daring enough, you could dive into planning and living a full day of happiness. Take it up as your 1-day happiness challenge. If you like it, you can keep adding more later.
Remember, happiness is a skill that can be learned and honed. Happiness is an action word.
International Day of Happiness
Since 2012, the United Nations (UN) marks March 20 as the International Day of Happiness. Also called Happiness Day, it recognizes that happiness is a basic human goal. With this, the UN calls upon countries to improve the wellbeing of their people by changing their public policies.
In 2014, Pharrell Williams promoted the Happiness Day with the world’s first 24 hour music video to his song Happy.
The initiative to declare a day of happiness came from the king of Bhutan. Bhutan was the first country to focus on GNH (Gross National Happiness) over GDP for measuring the prosperity of a nation.
How To Be Happy For A Day: Planning It
A promise: You’re in for a sure thing. Almost everything you are going to read here has a scientific backing from the field of Positive Psychology. By the way, positive psychology is not ‘positivity.’
Zero in on a day when you’ll not have any traveling or heavy lifting to do. Make it on a holiday from work. Take off right after this to peer into your calendar – and fix a day.
Once done, put up reminders at 6 hours, at bedtime, and at 24 hours from now. This technique is spaced repetition. It chisels an event into your memory. You may mark your phone and PC calendars, and put up a sticky note on your mirror.
- You’d need around 10 hours of a day. What did you think? Happiness is time-consuming.
- You should be ready to be active. Yes, happiness is in essence a ‘verb’ – you work for your happiness.
- Check availability of a few friends – just a small group of 3-4 including you.
- A notebook – paper or digital.
- Sign off the previous day early, and go to bed in a way that you get around 7 hours of sleep. Leave the morning alarm off.
How To Be Happy For A Day: Living It
The First Half
- Waking Up: Just wake up whenever your biorhythm wakes you up, with no alarms. It’s your happy day. Stretch your arms and legs, breathe in big swirls of air, and grunt out the breaths noisily. Large gulps of oxygen feeds up the brain fast, and freshens up your mood. Let the day roll out.
- Smile: Say ‘Good Morning! It’s my happy day!’ to yourself and anyone else around at your home. Smile up – the play face antics of your facial muscles asks your brain to make you look more relaxed and socially attractive. Science says there are about 18 different smiles, but only one reflects genuine happiness – the Duchenne smile, which involves pulling up of both the zygomatic major muscle (raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (causing crow’s feet around the eyes).
- Exercise: Go for a bout of exercise – a brisk walk, a jog, a session of jumping jacks, whatever. Warm up slow, and pound on for around 20 minutes before cooling out. Exercise jolts your body into a mode of threat-perception. This releases 4 brain chemicals – adrenaline, serotonin, dopamine and BDNF. This makes an excitement surge through you as you workout.
Exercise jolts your body into a threat-perception mode, and releases 4 responding neurotransmitters. Click To Tweet
After exercise, as you’re cooling down, you can’t help feeling a calm, refreshed mood coming over you. It’s because the neurons inside your brain’s memory center (hippocampus) have been reset.
- Aromatic Shower: Come back to have a bath with your favorite scented shower gel. Our favorite aromas have pleasant olfactory memories associated with them. An rehash of those aromas replays those memories in our unconscious mind. This takes us back to that earlier-felt pleasant state.
- Mindfulness: Now it’s time for a 10-20 minute session of mindfulness. Sit down in a comfortable pose, take easy breaths, and pay attention to your breath flowing in and out. There will be distracting thoughts that take your focus away – just acknowledge them. And bring back your attention to your breathing. GABA is an anti-anxiety chemical that gets released in the brain while practicing meditation or yoga. A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that there is a 27% increase in GABA levels after an hour of yoga.
- Breakfast: Get on your plate a mix of high-fiber solids and low-sugar liquids. Pay attention to the food you’re eating, noticing the texture, taste and tease of the morsels. Eat in a mindful, sensual, engaged way. Avoid watching your phone or television screens, or newspapers while eating. Add a cup of green-tea to load up on antioxidants – the killers of carcinogenic free-radicals.
- Pick Up A Book: Pick up a long neglected book, and leave home for the nearest cafe to find yourself a comfortable seat. Before you dive into your book, turn off internet on your phone. If you’re to pull out your mobile with every notification alert to check out what’s it for, then you’re stressing up. “Every time you get a notification from your phone, there’s a little elevation in dopamine that says you might have something that’s compelling,” says David Greenfield, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine.Of course, I won’t ask you to leave your mobile back home, because most of us are sufferers of nomophobia. That’s fear of having no mobile phone on you.
- Unitask: This is a tip, rather than a step. Tell yourself you will not multitask today. Multitasking actually divides your attention over a span of activities. This creates a stress build-up. Clifford Nass, a cognitive scientist at Stanford University, found that high-multitasking people have more social problems than low-multitasking people in their group. Experts speculate that multitaskers face trouble paying attention to people. So, unitask — do one task at a time. Read more about this in this excellent book by Cal Newport: Deep Work.
High-multitasking people have more social problems than low-multitasking people in their group. Click To Tweet
- Colored Lunch: Two things of note here – one, make most of the lunch with your favorite colored salads; and two, use plates that contrast the food. Color can alter your perception of how hungry you are. Charles Spence, the Oxford psychologist, says, “People will wolf down more from a mixed bowl than they will from a bowl full of their favorite color alone.”A study from Cornell University showed that you’ll eat more if your food color matches the plate, as against contrasting colors. Nutritionists will have a much more comprehensive say in planning your food for a happy day, so you better let them, experts, to lay out a diet chart for the day.
- Afternoon Nap: Take a nap. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a short nap of 20–30 minutes “for improved alertness and performance without… interfering with night-time sleep.” A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Google allows its employees an afternoon nap.
A 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Click To Tweet
However, remember to keep your nap just around the recommended time of 20-30 minutes, as more would result in grogginess – called sleep inertia.
How To Be Happy For A Day: Living It
The Second Half
- Phone Up Some Friends: Up from nap, call up a few friends or relatives you haven’t caught up with in a long time, perhaps years. Happiness is contagious. Happy friends increase our happiness by 15.3%, according to a study published by the British Medical Journal in Dec 2008, by Harvard University researchers Fowler and Christakis.
Research says #Happiness is contagious. Happy friends increase our happiness by 15%. Click To Tweet
- Meet Some Friends in Real-Time: After this, it’s time to find a few (2–3) friends who are in your in your area – for a meet up this evening. The Fowler and Christakis study also found that a happy friend who lives within a half-mile makes you 42% more likely to be happy yourself. The reason: face-to-face interaction.
- Pro-Social Behavior: Take your friends out for a treat – movie or a game or a drink. This has a solid foundation in positive psychology. In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton indicate that for happiness, the most satisfying thing you can do with your money is to spend it on someone else other than you. You can donate to a charity or buy lunch for a friend – it lets you connect with others as well as make an impact upon the world.
- Ride Home Happy: It’s time to go home. It’s been a happy day, and you’re going to carry the spirit back home! Buy small gifts (perhaps, chocolate) for everyone there. Or, a special gift for your partner (perhaps, flowers). Remember, you’re spreading the contagion of happiness. While on your way back, play in your mind some happy memories with your family – a holiday, a date, a get-together. Happy memories release serotonin – the ‘confidence chemical’ – which creates a sense of belonging.
- Give Hugs: I hope you’ve heard of the ‘cuddle molecule’ – oxytocin. It is a hormone linked to bonding that helps foster trust and loyalty. High levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic bonds. Some studies show if a couple is separated for long periods, it reduces oxytocin levels and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again.So, when you reach home, share warm hugs and cuddles. Ask your partner, “How was your day?” and listen intently. Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says, “Express admiration, appreciation, and affection… The happiest partnerships are also strong friendships.” Remember, hugs for at least 1 minute each, make your happy day, any day.
Hugs for at least 1 minute each releases oxytocin, the cuddle molecule - to make your day happy! Click To Tweet
- Dine Leisurely: For dinner time, let’s keep the instructions short here. Make your dinner an hour-long stretched out affair, having relaxed conversation, sharing fun stories from the day. The insight comes from many studies on the French and Mediterranean eating patterns which have been found to be the basis of their healthy-hearts.
- Gratitude: The last happiness activity on our list here, without which a lot of what you did for your happy day would pass by meaninglessly: Express gratitude. In his book Even Happier, the author Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, writes, “I have been doing this exercise daily since September 19, 1999… When we make a habit of gratitude, we no longer require a special event to make us happy. We become more aware of good things that happen to us during the day, as we anticipate putting them on our list.” Thank someone with genuineness. It will make them as well as yourself happier. Just to remind you: Gratitude has three parts – Appreciation, Goodwill and Expression. Remain mindful through each of these phases.
- Three Good Things: This is an writing exercise for increasing your good feelings. Write down three good things for which you are grateful on that day. Help yourself by revisiting the experiences vividly in your mind. Robert Emmons, the best known researcher on gratitude, reminds us that grateful people tend to be happier, more energetic, more hopeful, and feel more positive emotions.
- Sleep: Sleep well, for at least 6 hours. Better, make it 8 hours. Sleeping less than 4 hours can lower your optimism levels. Sleep problems has been correlated with forty times higher rates of depression. Here’s a fine book on the science of sleep by David K. Randall: Dreamland.
- Drink Water: Hydrate yourself on waking up – drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. Then go and smile at the mirror.
So, happiness has been a lot of work all through your day. Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness writes, “Pursuing happiness takes work, but consider that this ‘happiness work’ may be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.”
Well, there goes my idea of living a day of happiness as advised by some of the best positive psychologists. I might have missed out on many things. So, I ask you to fill in those gaps with your own ideas and let the word spread.
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