How to be happy in life, in 2020 and beyond? Honestly, the best shot you can have at happiness in this life is starting out with these 3 great truths:
- You don’t have to postpone your present happiness for happy moments in future
- You can make your life happy by purposefully doing things that make you happy
- Your happiness depends more on you and your actions than things outside you
Let’s dive into the happiness hacks now — learn why and how you don’t have to sacrifice your present happiness for a life of future happiness. By the way, these hacks on happiness come from real scientific research. We share all that with you; read on.
Why You’re Unhappy In Life
First, why the most typical advice doesn’t work when it comes to solving the question “how to be happy in life?”
The all-too-common idea about getting a happier life is: when you get to your goals, you’ll be happy. So, when you buy a large and beautiful home, bring home a big luxury car, get to an income of a million bucks a year, or marry the most enviable person in your city — 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, those who realized their life goals to become happy, are not happy. Why?
Look at this. If you’re saying you will be happy in life when you marry, then you’re also saying you can’t be happy because you’re single.
If you’re saying your life will suddenly fill up with happiness when you meet your financial goal, then you’re saying you can’t be happy until you’re money-rich.
If you’re saying a big house will make you happy, then you’re also saying you can’t be happy while living in your small house.
Do you know, in a study, around 50% people said travelling gives them more positive feelings than what they had had on one of the most important days in their life – their own wedding day? In the same study, 50% said also they think holidays are more vital to their happiness than landing a dream job.
So, while they were saying holidays make them happier than their wedding day or their dream job, they were also essentially saying they can’t be happy in their life unless they go on a holiday.
What’s wrong there? It’s this —
I’ll be happy once I reach that goal. Till then, it’s okay for me to stay unhappy.
When you’re always thinking on those lines, it makes your current life unhappy.
When you’re pursuing a big positive change in your life — success, money, love, spouse, kids, accolades, position — you think once that happens, it will start an unending spell of happiness. So, what you’re actually telling yourself is this: success will automatically remove your current unhappiness.
But can it, really? Can your success erase your unhappiness away?If you are unhappy along your life's journey, are you sure an achievement can totally replace your unhappiness with joy? Click To Tweet
No — that’s the answer, and you already know it. Whatever it is you’re doing for your future happiness, has actually become the cause of your present unhappiness. Success doesn’t make you happy if you’re not happy to begin with.
Because you’ve tied your reasons to be happy in life to your successes. But goals and success are things outside yourself. You can’t fully control them, therefore your plans to control your happiness also fall flat.
So, why do you want to postpone your happiness until success enters your life? Why do you choose to be unhappy now?
How Can You Be Happy In Life
Know this — you can stop waiting for happiness tomorrow and get happy today. We know for sure now, as science has shown, we can control a large chunk of our present happiness.
Research says you can control about 40% of your total happiness in life by intentionally doing certain activities. These happiness raising activities are called happiness interventions. When you do them purposefully, you increase your present levels of happiness.
You don’t have to stay unhappy until you realize a future life goal that promises you boundless happiness. You can be happy in your life now — as we tell you today — as well as in your future. So why throw away your chance to be happy now for a distant goal?
Happiness is easy, so why make it difficult?
That’s what we talk about today: how to be happy in life using science? You can hack your way to genuine happiness with these 20 factual tips drawn from happiness science research, or positive psychology.
However, the best thing about this post is we have organized these happiness hacks in such a unique way so you can do all of these 20 hacks in a single day. You’ll find it nowhere else on the internet.
So, choose a day in your life to become happier, and follow this guide. We promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Can a single lady or single man use this to be happy?
If you’re single, can you use this guide to be happy? Yes, of course. None of these twenty hacks make any distinction based on whether you are single or partnered.
Can a person living alone use this to be happy?
If you live alone, can you employ these hacks to get happy? Yes, you can be strongly happy alone, if you have at least one friend to use the full power of hack number 12. But even if you don’t have that option at this time, then you can use all others to be happy yourself, skipping the 12th one.
Can I use this to get my happy or 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 this be useful for me if I’m already happy?
Why is it important to try to be happier when you’re already happy? Because happiness has its advantages. You can act on these hacks to make yourself happier. So, why won’t you?
Can I use this to be happy all the time?
How can I always smile, and be happy and positive? Sorry to break the news to you if your question is how can you be happy all the time: You will find happiness in your life only in bursts of time, not in a continuous run.
As we bring you these twenty authentic happiness hacks, we promise if you apply even a few of these to your day, it will make you decidedly happier. And remember, all of these strategies are backed by scientific research.
So, let’s plan a near-perfect day of happiness — and go full steam ahead to be happy for a day, on a day of our choice. We lay out the right plan for you here, for all in a day’s work.
But wait, 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. As we already said, happiness is an action word – you take action for your happiness.
We can’t stress this enough — happiness is a skill that can be learned and honed. And it should be learned because it can help you live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
And now, here’s your complete guide on how to be happy with 20 scientific happiness hacks in a day in 2020 and beyond.
How To Be Happy: Preparation
A promise: You’re in for a sure thing. Everything you are going to read here about how to be happy for a day has scientific backing from the field of Positive Psychology. By the way, positive psychology is not ‘positivity’ — it’s proper, authentic science, based on experiments and research.
• Tip: Right after reading this, take a look into the calendar on your phone and mark a day for that one happy day.
Zero in on a day when you’ll not have any traveling or heavy lifting to do. Make it a day when you’re on a holiday from work.
Once done, put up three reminders to your D-day — at 48 hours before, at 24 hours before, and at bedtime 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, a few words for pre-planning the day when you dive into this science-backed guide for creating a day full of happiness:
- 10 hours: You’d need around 10 hours of a day for a happy day. Hey, happiness is time-consuming.
- Action time: You should be ready to be active. Happiness is in essence a ‘verb’ – you work for your happiness.
- Friends: Check availability of a few friends – just a small group of 3-4, including you.
- Notebook – A paper or digital notebook.
- Sleep early the day before: 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.
The First Half of A Happy Day
How To Be Happy: First 10 Happiness Hacks
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’s sleep according to your body’s need, 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. Do this while you 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 feeds up the brain fast, and freshens up your mood.
Belly breathing is a very practical method of relaxing yourself on short notice. A number of studies show deep and slow breathing practice is effective against anxiety and insomnia. These breathing techniques have both physiological (via the vagus or the wandering nerve) as well as psychological (via distraction from worrying thought cycles) effect.
Now, go 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, “Good Morning! It’s my happy day!” — to yourself and everyone else around in your home, and even to the mirror. Smile up, because the play face antics of your facial muscles asks your brain (scientists call it facial feedback) to make you look more relaxed and more attractive socially.
Though there are about 18 different types of smiles, science says only one of them reflects genuine happiness – the Duchenne smile. It involves pulling up the zygomatic major muscles raising the corners of the mouth, and drawing up the orbicularis oculi muscle causing crow’s feet around the eyes.
A new research that combed through 50 years of data showed when we smile, it definitely makes us feel happier — even if we’re stressed at that point.
• Tip: Science apart, here’s some spiritual motivation to smile: The Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says,
Sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
3. Go For Exercise: First thing on exercise: If you’re healthier, you tend to be happier. And if you’re happier, you tend to be healthier.
So, go for a bout of exercise now – 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 and This makes an excitement surge through your body as you workout:
- BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
Even 7 minutes of exercise (30 seconds each of 12 exercises, and 1 minute of rest) can be enough to boost your happiness. Research shows those who exercise feel more positive about their bodies, even when they found no actual change in their physique or any weight loss.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.
• Tip: While you’re at it, we suggest you go out to exercise/walk in a forest or a park with big trees.
Japanese researchers have discovered distinct chemicals called phytoncides (wood essential oils) released by the trees make us more immune to diseases by significantly increasing our natural killer cell activity. Called forest therapy or forest-bathing or shinrin-yuku, it also helps reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and makes us happier.
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. An rehash of those aromas replays those memories in our unconscious mind. This takes us back to that earlier-felt pleasant state.
A research says another interesting thing: Happiness has a smell that can travel intact. Women who smelled the “happy sweat” in the experiment displayed the “Duchenne smile” — reflecting a facial expression of genuine happiness.
So, scientists are essentially saying smelling a sweat-soaked T-shirt of a happy person may make you happy. As humans, we can transfer our positive emotions, as joy, via the smell of our sweat.
If you’re happy, another person may become happier smelling your happiness.
5. Do Some Mindfulness: Now it’s time for a quick 10-15 minute session of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness has immediate brain effects. 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 there is a 27% increase in GABA levels after an hour of yoga.
Mindfulness can also literally change your brain over time. MRI brain scans reveal a practice of mindfulness can shrink the grey matter in the amygdala – a region in brain that processes anger, fear, and sadness, and regulates stress.
Mindfulness can enlarge the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in the fontal cortex of your brain – a part responsible higher cognitive functions as decision-making, problem-solving, and self-regulation.
Meditators also show an increased activity in the hippocampus – the regulator of emotions, motivation, learning, and memory.
Mindfulness meditation practice not only calms you down and helps you stay in the moment longer, it has also been shown to be one of the most effective ways to achieve a happier life. It grows into you compassion, acceptance, and self-awareness.
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 – just acknowledge them. And bring back your attention to your breathing.
• Tip: If you’re looking to learn how to start practice of mindfulness in an easy way, here’s one compact, neat guide: Mindfulness in 7 Steps.
6. Take This Breakfast: Get on your plate a mix of high-fiber solids and low-sugar liquids. Pay full 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.
• Tip: Add a cup of green-tea to load up on antioxidants – the killers of carcinogenic free-radicals.
7. Pick Up A Book: Pick up a long neglected book, and leave home for the nearest cafe to find yourself a comfortable seat. Research says you can focus better in a crowded cafe than at home (Coffee Shop Effect).
Before you dive into your book, turn off internet on your phone. If you are to pull out your mobile with every notification alert to check out what’s it for, then you are priming yourself for stressing up. David Greenfield, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, says,
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.
• Tip: Of course, don’t leave your mobile back home, because these days, most of us are sufferers of nomophobia. Nomophobia is the fear of having no mobile phone on you.
8. Uni-task: This is a rather highly effective strategy. 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 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.
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.
• 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. 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 a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Even Google allows its employees an afternoon nap — they have nap-pods installed in their offices.
• Tip: However, remember to keep your nap just around the recommended time of 20-30 minutes, as more would result in grogginess, scientifically called sleep inertia.
The Second Half of A Happy Day
How To Be Happy: Next 10 Happiness Hacks
11. 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
12. Meet Some Friends For Real: After this, it’s time to find a few (1–2) friends who are in your in your area – for a meet up 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.
Positive psychologist Daniel Gilbert says,
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.
George Eman Vaillant, professor at Harvard University, and one of the pioneers in the study of adult development, said once, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
Vaillant’s most famous hallmark 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 money and 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, Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton indicate 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.
Helping others not only makes you happier, but also helps you live longer and healthier. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, and advised others and cared for them, the Terman study of the Gifted found, tended to live to old age.
• Tip: If you really want to know the final truth behind the relationship between money and happiness, based on scientific research, read this.
14. 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. 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 way back, listen to some happy music.
15. Give Hugs: Have you heard about the ‘cuddle chemical’ – oxytocin? It is a hormone linked to social bonding that helps foster trust and loyalty. Hugs release oxytocin into our body.
If you’re single and alone, you could hug a teddy bear, a Mickey mouse dress-up, or even a pillow.
Studies show if a couple is separated for long periods, it reduces their oxytocin levels and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again. High levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic bonds.
A hug lowers your blood pressure, and helps you loosen up if you’re feeling anxious. A hug lowers the levels of your cortisol, also called the stress hormone.
A hug can make you feel safer and increase your sense of belonging towards others — your friends, your family, and even strangers — and makes 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.
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says, “Express admiration, appreciation, and affection… The happiest partnerships are also strong friendships.”
• 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 relaxed conversation, sharing fun stories from the day.
This insight comes from many studies on the French and Mediterranean eating patterns which have been found to be the basis of their healthy-hearts.
17. Express Gratitude: The fourth 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.
Just to remind you: Gratitude isn’t just saying Thanks. It has three parts:
- Appreciation (you appreciate it),
- Goodwill (you feel it), and
- Expression (you say 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 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 grateful people tend to be happier, more energetic, more hopeful, and feel more positive emotions.
• 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. Sleep problems has been correlated 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.
A OnePoll study of 2,000 Americans found 67% of those who drank “more than enough” water marked themselves “very happy” compared to those who did not drink enough water. This second class of participants were less likely to say they were “very happy” (21%).
A study showed a mere 1.5 per cent loss of normal body fluid volume can cause fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty to remember, difficulty to concentrate, and an unwillingness to take up challenging tasks.
We get it, happiness has been a lot of work all through your day. Just to put in a word of encouragement here, read what Sonja Lyubomirsky (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, that completes our idea of living a day of happiness based on scientific findings from positive psychology research. By the way, 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 and giving it another smile.
If you follow these all in a day, you can have the happiest possible 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 more than 20 happiness activities in day. So, we ask you to fill in those gaps with your own ideas on how to be happy.
What do you think we missed? Share your ideas on your social networks telling 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:
Once you find your happiness, know for sure it won’t be an endless run. You will be worrying again, you will be stressing again, you will be facing challenges again, and you will be unhappy again.
What you can be doing 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.
• • •
Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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