Frankly, as the world battles with a pandemic, no one quite knows when we’d find the normal kind of happiness we were used to. Like getting out to watch a movie, or catching up with a group of friends, or even shopping out in a crowded mall.
Honestly, to find true happiness in this post-pandemic life is mostly about understanding the three scientific truths about happiness:
- You do not need to postpone present happiness for future happiness.
- You can be happy by purposefully doing things that make you happy.
- Your happiness depends more on you and your actions than on things outside you.
We present you with 20 happiness-increasing activities from positive psychology, arranged in a way so you could do them all in a day.
How To Be Happy: Finding True Happiness
- Wake up naturally
- Smile the first thing
- Go for some exercise
- Take an aromatic shower
- Do some mindfulness meditation
- Take this breakfast, this way
- Pick up a book to read
- Pledge to uni-task today
- Eat a colored lunch
- Take an afternoon nap
- Phone up some friends
- Meet some real-life friends
- Spend on social activities
- Go back home happy
- Give hugs (to those you know)
- Dine leisurely
- Express gratitude
- Do The 3 Good Things
- Go to sleep early
- Drink water
How To Be Happy: Preparation
All the activities you find here about how to be happy in a day have backing from the science of positive psychology.
Zero in on a day when you’ll not have any traveling or heavy lifting to do. Preferably, fix a day when you’re on holiday from work. Now, put up three reminders to your D-day — 48 hours before, 24 hours before, and the night before. This is spaced repetition. It chisels an event into your memory.
You may mark and sync your phone and laptop calendars, and even put up a sticky note on your mirror. Now, pre-plan your the day of happiness as follows:
- Ten hours: You would need around 10 hours to get through all these happiness activities. Hey, happiness takes time!
- Action time: You should ready yourself to be active. Happiness is in essence a verb – that is, you work for your happiness.
- Friends: Check the availability of a few friends – just 2 to 3.
- Notebook: A paper notebook or a note-taking app.
- Sleep early: Sign off the previous day early and go to bed in a way so you get around 8 hours of sleep. Leave the morning alarm off.
• Tip: Right after reading this, look into the calendar on your phone and mark a day for that one happy day.
Finding True Happiness: 10 Things To Be Happy In The Morning
These are the 10 happiness activities scheduled for the first half of your day of happiness:
1. Wake Up Naturally
Just wake up whenever your biorhythm wakes you up, with no alarms to jolt you rudely out of your slumber. When you wake up after a full night of sleep, you wake up rested and energized.
We talk more about the happiness effects of sleep science in hack #19.
The first thing to do is declare to yourself it’s your happy day. Stretch out your arms and legs, breathe in big swirls of air, and noisily breathe out the carbon-dioxide-laden air from your lungs. Large gulps of oxygen feed up the brain fast and freshen up your mood.
Belly breathing is a practical method of relaxing yourself on short notice. Several studies show deep, slow breathing practice is effective against anxiety and insomnia. These breathing techniques have both physiological (via the vagus nerve or the “wandering nerve”) and psychological (via distraction from worrying thought cycles) effects.
Now, get a big glass of water to hydrate yourself. Why? Because dreams are active parts of your sleep, and you lose body water as sweat during your REM sleep.
OK, let the happy day roll out now.
2. Smile The First Thing
Announce cheerfully to yourself and everyone else around in your home, and even to the mirror:
“Good Morning! Today is my happy day!”
Smile up! The play-face antics of your face muscles ask your brain to make you look more relaxed and more attractive socially. Scientists call it facial feedback.
Though there are about 18 different types of smiles, science says only one of them reflects genuine happiness – the Duchenne smile. It pulls up the zygomatic major muscles raising the corners of the mouth. And it draws up the orbicularis oculi muscle around the eyes to cause “crow’s feet.”
Research that combed through 50 years of data shows when we smile, we feel happier — even if we were under stress at that point.
• Tip: Science apart, here’s some spiritual motivation to smile:
Sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen monk
3. Go For Some Exercise
First thing on exercise: If you’re healthier, you tend to be happier. And if you are happier, you tend to be healthier. It works both ways.
So, go for a bout of exercise now – a brisk walk, a jog, a session of jumping jacks, whatever. Warm-up slowly, and pound on for 20 minutes before cooling out.
Exercise jolts your body into a mode of threat-perception. And this releases four brain chemicals that make an excitement surge through your body:
- BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
Research shows exercisers feel more positive about their bodies, even when there was no actual change in their physique, nor any weight loss. Even 7 minutes of exercise can be enough to boost your happiness. (Check out in the video below what’s 7-minute-exercise.)
After exercise, as you are cooling down, we bet you can’t help feeling a calm and refreshed mood coming over you. It is because the neurons inside the memory center of your brain (hippocampus) get reset.
• Tip: If you decide to walk or jog for exercise, we suggest you go out into a forest or a park with big trees.
Called forest therapy or forest-bathing or shinrin-yuku, walking in a forest with large trees helps reduce stress and blood pressure, and makes us happier. Japanese researchers say trees in the forest release chemicals called phytoncides (wood essential oils). These increase our natural killer cell activity and therefore make us more immune to diseases.
4. Take An Aromatic Shower
Come back home to have a bath with your favorite scented shower gel.
Our favorite aromas have pleasant olfactory memories associated with them. A rehash of those aromas replays those memories in our minds. It takes us back to that earlier-felt blissful state.
Research says another thing of interest:
The research indicates we produce chemical compounds, or chemosignals, when we experience happiness. And these chemicals can be detected by others who smell our sweat. In the experiment, women who smelled the “happy sweat” displayed the “Duchenne smile” — reflecting the face of a person who is genuinely happy.
So, scientists are essentially saying that smelling a sweat-soaked T-shirt of a happy person may make you happy. As humans, we can transfer our positive emotions, like joy, via the smell of our sweat.
If you’re happy, another person may become happier by smelling your happiness.
5. Do Some Mindfulness Meditation
Now it’s time for a quick 10-minute session of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation not only calms you down but is also one of the most effective ways to achieve fulfillment in life. It cultivates compassion, acceptance, and self-awareness in you.
Mindfulness meditation has positive effects on the brain.
- An anti-anxiety chemical called GABA gets released in the brain while practicing meditation or yoga. A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found there is a 27% increase in GABA levels after an hour of yoga.
- Mindfulness can also reshape your brain over time. MRI brain scans reveal mindfulness can shrink gray matter in the amygdala – a brain region that processes anger, fear, sadness, and stress.
- Mindfulness can enlarge the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in your brain – a part responsible for higher cognitive functions as decision-making, problem-solving, and self-regulation.
- Meditators also show increased activity in the hippocampus – the regulator of emotions, motivation, learning, and memory.
Simple steps to practice 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 – acknowledge them and then let them go. Bring back your attention to your breathing.
• Tip: If you’re looking to learn how to start a practice of mindfulness quickly, here’s one compact, neat guide: Mindfulness in 7 Steps.
6. Take This Breakfast, This Way
Get on your plate a mix of high-fiber solids and low-sugar liquids. Pay full attention to the food you are eating, noticing the texture, taste, and tease of the morsels.
Eat your food in a mindful, sensual, and engaging way. Avoid watching your phone or television screens, or newspapers while eating. If you want to find out the science behind it, see this: 20 Finest Tips To Practice Mindful Eating.
• Tip: Add a cup of green-tea to load up on antioxidants – the killers of carcinogenic free-radicals.
7. Pick Up A Book To Read
Pick up a long-neglected book, and leave home for the nearest café to find yourself a comfortable seat. Research says you can focus better in a crowded café than at home (Coffee Shop Effect).
Before you dive into your book, turn off the internet on your phone. Before you dive into your book, turn off the internet on your phone. If you switch up your mobile screen at every notification alert, then you are readying yourself to stress 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.— David Greenfield, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
• Tip: Do not leave your mobile back home. Because, other than for reasons of emergency, most of us have nomophobia — the fear of having no mobile phone with us.
8. Pledge To Uni-task Today
Uni-tasking is doing one thing at a time, whereas multitasking is doing many things together. Uni-tasking is a highly effective strategy to keep yourself away from distress and disquiet.
So, take a pledge and promise yourself you will not multitask all day long today.
Multitasking actually divides your attention throughout your activities. It creates a build-up of stress. 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 multi-taskers face trouble paying attention to people.
• Tip: So, uni-task — 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
9. Eat A 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.
Of course, the nutritionists will have a better say in planning your food for a happy day. So let them, the experts, design you a diet chart for the day.
• Tip: Eat food with colors that stand out against the plate color. A study from Cornell University showed you eat more when your food color matches the plate, as against contrasting colors.
10. Take An Afternoon Nap
Take a nap—it has many benefits. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a quick 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 a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Even Google allows its employees an afternoon nap — they have nap-pods installed at their offices.
• Tip: However, remember to keep your nap just around the recommended time of 20-30 minutes, as more would cause grogginess, scientifically called sleep inertia.
Finding True Happiness: 10 Things To Be Happy In The Evening
These are the next 10 happiness activities, scheduled for the second half of your day of happiness:
11. Phone Up Some Friends
Up from nap, call up a few friends or relatives you haven’t caught up with for a long time, perhaps years.
Happiness is contagious.
Happy friends increase our happiness by 15.3%, say the Harvard researchers Fowler and Christakis after they did a study in 2008.Research says #Happiness is contagious. Happy friends increase our happiness by 15%. Click To Tweet
12. Meet Some Real-Life Friends
After this, it’s time to find a few (1–2) friends in your area – for a meetup this evening. The Fowler and Christakis study also found a happy friend who lives within a half-mile makes you 42% more likely to be happy yourself. The reason: face-to-face interaction.
We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.— Daniel Gilbert, Positive Psychologist
George Vaillant, a pioneer researcher in adult development, said: “That the only thing that really matters in life is your relationships to other people.”
Vaillant’s most famous quote summing up the 20-million-dollar, 75-year-long Grant study is this — in just five words:
Happiness is love. Full stop.
13. Spend On Social Activities
Spend some money and take your friends out for a treat – a movie or a game or a drink. This has a solid foundation in positive psychology. In Happy Money, authors Dunn & Norton show the most satisfying thing you can do with your money is to spend it on someone else.
You can donate to a charity or buy lunch for a friend. Social spending lets you connect with others as well as make an impact upon the world.
The Terman study found those who helped their friends and neighbors, and advised others and cared for them, lived to old age.
• Tip: If you really want to know the ultimate truth behind the relationship between money and happiness, based on scientific research, read this.
14. Go Back 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. If you’re partnered, get a special gift for them — perhaps flowers. Remember, by doing this, 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.
• Tip: On your way back, listen to some cheerful music.
15. Give Hugs (To Those You Know)
Have you heard about the ‘cuddle chemical’ – oxytocin? It is a hormone linked to social bonding that helps foster trust and loyalty. Oxytocin triggers bonding between a mother and an infant, and it may also play a role in recognition, arousal, pleasure, trust, love, and anxiety.
If you’re single and alone, you could hug a teddy bear, a Mickey Mouse dress-up, or even a pillow.
Scientists have correlated high levels of oxytocin with romantic bonds. Studies show if a couple is apart for long periods, it reduces their oxytocin levels. This drives a longing in them to bond with each other again.
A hug lowers your blood pressure and helps you loosen up if you’re feeling anxious. Hugs lower the levels of your cortisol, our stress hormone. They can make you feel safer and increase your sense of belonging towards your friends, your family, and even strangers. In a way, they make your life more meaningful.
Researchers found hugs act as buffers against the damaging effects of mood changes when people are going through conflicts. A good hug can help you sail through your day with calm. Even if you were to get into an argument later in the day, the positive effect of an earlier hug stays on.
So, when you reach home, share warm hugs and cuddles. Ask your partner, “How was your day?” and listen intently.
Express admiration, appreciation, and affection… The happiest partnerships are also strong friendships.— Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky
• Tip: However, remember to make each hug last for at least 20 seconds. That’s the right duration, as per science, to make someone and yourself happier by hugging, any day.Hugs for at least 20 seconds each releases oxytocin, the cuddle molecule – to make your day happy! Click To Tweet
16. Dine Leisurely
For dinner time, let’s keep the instructions short here. Make your dinner an hour-long stretched-out affair, having a relaxed conversation, sharing fun stories from the day.
This insight comes from many studies on the French and Mediterranean eating patterns which form the basis of their healthy hearts.
17. Express Gratitude
Without this activity, a lot of what you did for finding your true happiness would pass by without a meaning: Expressing 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.
Gratitude has three parts:
1. Appreciation (to value it)
2. Expression (to say it)
3. Goodwill (to feel it)
One key point is to remain mindful through each of these phases.
• Tip: Whenever you thank someone, do so with genuineness. It will make you as well as them happier.
18. Do The Three Good Things
This is a writing exercise for increasing your good feelings. Write three good things for which you are grateful for on that day. Help yourself by revisiting the experiences vividly in your mind.
Robert Emmons, one of the best-known researchers on gratitude, reminds us that grateful people tend to be happier and feel more positive emotions. They are also more energetic and more hopeful.
• Tip: If you need a primer, catch the shortest guide to three good things here.
19. Go To Sleep Early
Sleep is crucial for your happiness. When you sleep less, your hippocampus (the seat of pleasant and neutral memories in your brain) starts acting erratically. As a result, your sleep-deprived brain tends to recall less of positive memories, and more of dark memories.
So, sleep well, for at least 6 hours. Better make it full 8 hours.
Beware, sleeping less than 4 hours a day can lower your optimism levels. Experts have correlated sleep problems with 40 times higher rates of depression.
If you’re interested, Dreamland is a fine book by David K. Randall on the science of sleep.
• Tip: If you or someone you know has a troublesome relationship with sleep, you can check out the best sleep science hacks here.
20. Drink Water
Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning on waking up. Then keep drinking water at regular intervals throughout the day.
An OnePoll study of 2,000 Americans found 67% of those who drank “more than enough” water, they marked themselves “very happy.” In comparison, those who did not drink enough water were less likely to say they were “very happy” (21%).
Another study showed a mere 1.5% loss of normal body fluid volume can cause fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty to remember and concentrate. They were also unwilling to take up challenging tasks.
Why Are You Unhappy In Life
You do not need to sacrifice your present happiness for a life of future joy. First, just about any routine advice does not work for solving the question of “how to be happy in life?”
The all-too-common idea about getting a happier life is plain wrong: When you get to your goals, you’ll find happiness — you do NOT.
So, when you buy a large home, bring home a luxury car, or marry a desirable person, you think your life will be happy.
But that famous idea doesn’t work in real life. Reaching your goals doesn’t guarantee lasting happiness in life. Look around, and you will find many who pushed themselves to realize their life goals to become happy but did not become so.
How Can You Be Truly Happier In Life
Stop waiting for happiness and get happier today.
Science has shown our circumstances control barely around 10% of our happiness. Research also says we control around 40% of our total happiness by doing certain things intentionally. They call these activities “happiness interventions” or “positive psychology interventions.” When done on purpose, they raise your present happiness level.
You need not stay unhappy until you reach a future life goal. You can be happy now and also in the future. So why throw away your chance to be happy now for a distant goal?
We organized these happiness activities in a way so that you could do them in a single day. You may find it nowhere else on the internet. So, choose a day in your life and get ready to find authentic happiness.
If you are to apply even a few of these, not the whole bunch, you will be decidedly happier. Remember, true happiness comes more from our actions than any chance event happening to us. Lasting happiness comes from activities we choose to do, so says science, rather than appearing out of thin air.
Finally, and we can’t stress this enough — happiness is a skill that you can learn and hone.
Afterthought In A Pandemic
When we wrote this post back in December 2019, we titled this How To Be Happy In Life: 20 Scientific Happiness Hacks For 2020. We had no idea then a pandemic was preparing to rage across humanity in a way we have never known before. None of us could have predicted this likeness of a post-apocalyptic world spill out of fiction and into our reality.
It did change our world into a deeply anxious place for many years to come. And it rolled out fast. Within months, countries went into lockdown and quarantine. The days of the week lost meaning.
Each day, locked inside our homes, we found our worries mounting and our sleep vanishing, while a brain fog gradually took over. Our inner voice refused to stop its chatter, and we began to talk to plants and walls to cast out some of it.
The cloak of doom wrapped us around, as we remained vaguely vigilant of some bad news breaking any hour. As we counted the rising number of deaths, it became eerily hard to imagine if we could ever have a normal, happy life again.
So no, this post is not a promise that you would be thrilled out of your senses and make you deliriously happy. No, because the world isn’t the same anymore. But you could, as we all could, try to do a few of these exercises and see how we fare.
We get it. Happiness has been a lot of work throughout your day. Just to put in a word of encouragement from an expert positive psychologist:
Pursuing happiness takes work, but consider that this ‘happiness work’ may be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.— Sonja Lyubomirsky (The How of Happiness)
Well, that completes our idea of living a day of happiness based on scientific findings from positive psychology research. Do you know there’s a happiness formula?
• Tip: Now you’ve completed your 20 happiness tasks in a day, finish it up by going to your mirror, and giving it another smile.
If you follow these all in a day, you can have the happiest day in your life. Because these strategies are all backed by science, and proven by scientists to work to increase your happiness. Though all these can be done in a day, you could also pick out a few from the list for a day.
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 days of happiness later in the year.
We have missed out on many things, as we presumed one can not possibly cover over 20 happiness activities in a day. So, we ask you to fill in those gaps with your ideas on how to be happy.
One of the vital qualities to have for happiness is self-compassion. Learn how you can cultivate and grow your self-compassion.
What do you think we missed?
Share your ideas on social networks, telling your friends what we could have done better.
One last thing. At the cost of sounding preachy, we repeat what we said in the beginning. A great truth to carry around is:
What you can do is willfully working at your happiness. You just have to pick up a few of these twenty activities any day in your life, or even every day, and help yourself get happier.
- Can this be useful for me if I’m already happy?
Because happiness has its advantages. You can act on these hacks to make yourself happier. So, why wouldn’t you?
- Can I use this to get my happiness back?
If you’re not happy and do not feel like doing anything to be happy, is this useful? Yes. Happiness is practically more of an action word, scientists confirm. You can raise your happiness by up to 40% if you carry out these happiness activities.
- Can I use this to be happy all the time?
If your question is “How can I always smile, and be happy and positive?” – then sorry to break the news to you. You can not be happy all the time. You will find happiness in your life only in bursts of time, never in a continuous run.
• • •
Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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