How to increase your happiness using psychology? Dive into these 20 strategies from positive psychology to start living a happier life.
Research says, when we do purposeful activities to feel happy, we can control about 40% of our total happiness.
Before we begin, here are 3 happiness facts from positive psychology:
- You don’t need to postpone your present happiness for future happiness.
- You can make yourself happier by purposefully doing things that make you happy.
- Your happiness depends more on you and your actions than on things outside you.
By the way, do you know the difference between joyful vs happy?
How To Be Happier: Increase Your Happiness With Positive Psychology
There is a popular myth that we must wait for some good thing to happen before we can be happy. However, the truth is, we can create our happiness.
So, stop waiting for happiness and try these tips today.
Here are 20 positive psychology strategies to increase your happiness:
1. Wake Up Naturally
Wake up whenever your body’s internal clock tells you to, without alarms.
Say loudly it’s your day to be happier.
Go to the window, stretch your arms, and breathe in some fresh air. It would instantly relax you. Have a glass of water to restore fluids lost during dream-filled REM sleep.
OK, let the happy day roll out now.
2. Smile At The Mirror
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen monk, says, “Sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Science says, smiling can make you feel happier.
When you smile, your facial muscles send signals to the brain to help you appear more relaxed and attractive. This “facial feedback” boosts your mood.
Research shows that when we smile, we feel happier—even when stressed.
There are 18 types of smiles, but only the Duchenne smile reflects genuine happiness. It lifts the corners of your mouth and causes “crow’s feet” around the eyes.
3. Do Some Mindfulness Meditation
Do you find your mind wandering a lot? Then try mindfulness meditation to anchor your mind in the present, calm it down, and feel happier.
Studies show yoga and meditation can release an anti-anxiety chemical called GABA in your brain.
MRI scans show that over time, mindfulness can reshape your brain — shrink the amygdala, which processes negative emotions, enlarge the ACC, which oversees higher cognitive functions, and increase activity in the hippocampus, which regulates emotions, motivation, learning, and memory.
4. Get Some Exercise
Exercise makes you happier and, of course, healthier.
Start your day with a brisk walk or jog, and then exercise for 20 minutes. It would release happy brain chemicals — Adrenaline, Serotonin, Dopamine, and BDNF.
You feel calm and refreshed right after exercise because your brain gets reset. Even if you don’t see any physical changes after a few weeks of exercise, research says you start feeling body positive.
Go for a forest walk, as trees release phytoncides that boost natural killer cell activity, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure.
5. Take An Aromatic Shower
Taking a bath with your favorite scented soap can bring back pleasant memories linked with that scent.
Research also shows that happiness has a smell that can be transmitted through sweat.
Women who smelled “happy sweat” (on a sweat-soaked T-shirt of a happy person) smiled the “Duchenne smile” of true happiness.
So, if your favorite scent makes you happy, you may transmit some of that happiness to others who may smell your happiness.
6. Eat This Breakfast, This Way
Start your day off right with a nutritious breakfast of high-fiber solids and low-sugar liquids.
Savor the food you eat, taking note of the texture, flavor, and tease of the morsels.
Boost your antioxidant intake by adding a cup of green tea to fight off cancer-causing free radicals.
Avoid distracting yourself with screens or phones while eating.
Try practicing mindful eating.
7. Pick Up A Book To Read
Head to a nearby café with a book you’ve been meaning to read.
Studies show you can concentrate better there than at home (Coffee Shop Effect).
Take your phone with you to avoid nomophobia. But switch off the internet on your phone before diving into your book to avoid stress from notifications.
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
8. Pledge Not To Multitask Today
Multitasking can cause stress and social problems.
According to Stanford University’s Clifford Nass, high-multitaskers may have trouble paying attention to other people.
On the other hand, focusing on doing one thing at a time, called uni-tasking, can help you avoid distress and increase your productivity.
Take a pledge to uni-task from today on.
Cal Newport’s book Deep Work explains the value of unitasking, and how to avoid shallow work and create a distraction-free setting of deep focus.
9. Make Your Lunch A Colorful Spread
Eating food that matches the color of your plate can make you eat more, according to a study.
People will wolf down more from a mixed bowl than they will from a bowl full of their favorite color alone.— Charles Spence, Oxford psychologist
So, eat colorful foods that stand out against the plate color. To avoid overeating, choose plates that contrast with your food, like colorful salads on a white plate.
Please consult with an expert nutritionist for a healthy diet plan tailored for you.
10. Take An Afternoon Nap
A daytime nap can help you be less sensitive to negative emotions like anger or fear, shows research.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a quick nap of 20–30 minutes “for improved alertness and performance without… interfering with nighttime sleep.”
A NASA study on sleepy pilots and astronauts found naps improved their performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes to avoid grogginess, scientifically called sleep inertia.
11. Talk To Some Friends
Call up and talk to 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%, according to Harvard researchers Fowler and Christakis.
12. Meet Some Real-Life Friends
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.”
Research by Fowler and Christakis found that a happy friend who lives within a half-mile makes you 42% more likely to be happy yourself. Reason: Face-to-face interaction.
George Vaillant, a pioneer researcher in adult development, sums up the 20-million-dollar, 75-year-long Grant study in just five words:
Happiness is love. Full stop.
13. Spend Money On Social Activities
Treat your friends and spend money on them for a positive boost.
Dunn & Norton’s research-based book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending shows that spending on others is the most satisfying use of money.
As also shown in The Terman Study of the Gifted, helping others leads to happiness and a longer, healthier life.
You can donate to charity or buy lunch, connect with others, and make an impact on the world.
14. Show Random Acts of Kindness
Studies show that engaging in random kind acts can lead to a lasting sense of well-being and increased life satisfaction.
Random acts of kindness, such as complimenting a stranger or buying someone a coffee, can increase your happiness by:
- boosting your mood,
- creating a sense of purpose and meaning, and
- building stronger social connections.
15. Give Hugs (To Those You Know)
Researchers say receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative moods, which means hugs may buffer against bad moods when we are struggling.
Hugs release oxytocin in your brain. Also called the cuddle chemical, oxytocin promotes social bonding, trust and loyalty, and pleasure and love.
Hugs help reduce stress, make you feel safer, increase your sense of belonging, and make life more meaningful.
• Tip: Make each hug last at least 20 seconds — the optimal time to make someone and yourself happier by hugging.
16. Dine Leisurely
Studies on French and Mediterranean eating patterns reveal that hour-long meals with leisurely conversation can keep our hearts healthy.
French people eat fat-rich foods during indulgent sit-down lunches, but their dinners are light with a dessert, soup or salad, and bread.
Unlike in America, French restaurants are closed most of the day, except for coffee shops and wine bars.
17. Express Gratitude
Gratitude is crucial for true happiness, says Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Choose the Life You Want.
An act of gratitude includes appreciation, expression, and goodwill, and mindfulness at each phase.
Practicing gratitude regularly can make us more aware of the good things and good people we already have in our lives.
When we make a habit of gratitude, we no longer require a special event to make us happy.— Tal Ben-Shahar
18. Do The Three Good Things (TGT)
The Three Good Things is one of the best happiness activities you can do at the end of your day.
In this, you write down three good things that happened in your day that you are grateful for.
One of the best-known researchers on gratitude, Robert Emmons, reminds us that grateful people are happier, more energetic and more hopeful.
19. Go To Sleep Early
Aim for no less than 6 hours of sleep per night, but ideally 8 hours.
- Sleeping <4 hours/day can reduce your optimism levels.
- Sleep disturbances have been correlated with 40X higher rates of depression.
- Less sleep makes your brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, recall more negative memories.
Find out the six best sleep hacks based on science.
20. Drink Enough Water
How to be positive and happy in the simplest way possible? Keep yourself hydrated.
Even a small loss of body fluid (1.5%) can cause fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty remembering, and unwillingness to take on challenging tasks.
- A study found 67% of people who drank “more than enough” water thought they were “very happy.”
- And those who did not drink enough water thought they were 21% less likely to be “very happy.”
So, drink water when you wake up and keep sipping through the day as your thirst dictates.
What is the chemical that makes you happy?
There isn’t simply one chemical that makes you happy. Happiness involves several different chemicals in the brain working together.
Some of the important molecules linked to happiness include:
- Dopamine: This neurotransmitter plays a role in pleasure and reward, and is related to feelings of happiness and euphoria.
- Oxytocin: This hormone is often called the “love hormone” because it is released during social bonding, such as hugging, kissing, and intimacy.
- Serotonin: This molecule regulates mood, and low levels have been related to depression and anxiety.
- Endorphins: These chemicals are released during exercise, excitement, and pain, and are often related to feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
So, these four neurochemicals — Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins (memorized as DOSE) — work to create positive emotions and happy feelings.
How to be happier with yourself?
Here is how to be happy with yourself (other than practicing gratitude and mindfulness):
- Build positive relationships: Cultivate meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Spend time with people who uplift and support you.
- Engage in activities you enjoy: Pursue hobbies and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. This can help you find meaning and purpose in life.
- Challenge negative self-talk: Avoid comparing yourself to others. Reframe negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Focus on your strengths and accomplishments.
- Set realistic goals: Identify goals that are important to you and turn them into SMART goals. Celebrate your progress along the way.
- Practice self-care: Take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. Get rid of toxic people and draining relationships.
How to stay happy with your social connections?
Here are some positive psychology tips to increase your happiness from your social connections:
- Cultivate positive relationships: Make time for people who uplift and inspire you. Surround yourself with individuals who support and encourage your growth and development.
- Practice empathy: Empathy, the ability to understand and share feelings, helps you develop deeper and more meaningful connections with others, which can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment.
- Practice active listening: Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person is saying and responding with thoughtful, genuine, and empathetic feedback. When you actively listen, you signal to the other person that they are valued and important to you.
- Practice gratitude: Expressing gratitude for the people in your life can help you cultivate stronger and more positive relationships. Make it a habit to say “Thanks” in your talks and notes.
- Engage in shared experiences: Sharing experiences with friends and loved ones can help you build stronger bonds, create lasting memories, and learn how to handle life’s events. Try new activities, take trips together, or simply spend time together doing things you both enjoy.
Can this be useful for me if I’m already happy?
Yes, 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, it is still going to be useful. Yes, because happiness is practically more of an action word, scientists confirm. You can raise your happiness by up to 40% if you were to intentionally carry out 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.
Happiness is a complex emotion driven more by action than by fate.
So, engage in activities that make you happy, instead of waiting for events that would make you happy.
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)
Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.
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