Positively Happy: Using Positive Psychology To Increase Happiness

How to increase your happiness using psychology? Here are 20 science-backed strategies to boost your day-to-day happiness. Start living a happier life today.

Before we begin, here are 3 happiness facts from positive psychology:

  1. You don’t need to postpone your present happiness for future happiness.
  2. You can make yourself happier by purposefully doing things that make you happy.
  3. Your happiness depends more on you and your actions than on things outside you.

Research says, our circumstances account for just 10% of our overall happiness.

It further tells us that if we do some specific activities on purpose, we may control nearly 40% of our total happiness. These intentional activities are called “happiness interventions” or “positive psychology interventions.”

How To Increase Happiness Using Psychology

How To Increase Happiness Using Psychology

Here’s how you can choose and act to be happy for a day. When done with intent, the following happiness interventions will increase your current level of happiness.

Stop waiting for happiness and get happier today.

1. Wake Up Naturally

Just wake up whenever your biorhythm wakes you up, with no alarms to jolt you out of your slumber. Waking up after a good night of sleep makes you feel rested and energized.

First, declare to yourself that it’s your happy day. Go out into the open and stretch out your arms and legs. Breathe in swirls of fresh air, and breathe out noisily. It would immediately lift your mood.

Belly breathing is a practical method of relaxing yourself on short notice. Several studies show that deep breathing that moves your tummy in and out is effective to relieve anxiety and sleeplessness. This type of breathing is also psychologically good for you, as it distracts you from worries and repetitive thoughts.

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 At The Mirror

Announce cheerfully to yourself and everyone else around in your home, and even to the mirror:

Good Morning! Today is my happy day!”

Science says, when you smile, you feel happier! As you smile, your facial muscles instruct your brain to make you appear more relaxed and socially attractive. Scientists call this phenomenon “facial feedback.”

Research that combed through 50 years of data shows that when we smile, we feel happier—even if we are under stress at that point.

Despite the fact that there are 18 different types of smiles, science claims that only one of them, the Duchenne smile, reflects genuine happiness. It raises the corners of the mouth by pulling up the zygomatic major muscles. It also causes “crow’s feet” by drawing up the orbicularis oculi muscles around the eyes.

• Tip: Science apart, here’s some spiritual motivation to smile. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Zen monk, says, “Sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

3. Do Some Mindfulness Meditation

Our minds are fond of wandering, so they are often not where we are.

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 into 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 such as decision-making, problem-solving, and self-regulation.
  • Meditators also show increased activity in the hippocampus – the regulator of emotions, motivation, learning, and memory.

• Tip: If you want to download a free guide on how to start a Mindfulness Meditation Practice, here you go: Mindfulness in 7 Steps.

A simple way to practice mindfulness: Sit down in a comfortable pose, and take a few deep breaths. Establish a steady, even pattern of breathing while paying attention to the flow of your breath in and out of you. There will be distracting thoughts that steal your focus away from the task at hand; notice them and then let them go. Return your attention to your breathing.

Try this 1-minute session of mindfulness meditation by Headspace:

Find Your Focus with this Mini Meditation

4. Get Some Exercise

The first thing about exercise is that if you’re healthier, you tend to be happier. And if you are happier, you tend to be healthier. It works both ways.

So, get some exercise as soon as you can after waking up—a brisk stroll, a jog, a round of jumping jacks, anything. Warm yourself up slowly and then pound the pavement for 20 minutes before cooling down.

There is a definite science behind exercise and happiness. Exercise jolts your body into a mode of threat perception. This releases four brain chemicals that make excitement surge through your body:

  1. Adrenaline (the thrill chemical)
  2. Serotonin (the happiness chemical)
  3. Dopamine (the reward chemical)
  4. BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)

Research shows exercisers feel more positive about their bodies, even when there is 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 a 7-minute exercise.)

The Scientific 7 Minute Workout Video - Bodyweight Only Total Body Workout

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 phytoncides increase our natural killer cell activity and therefore make us more immune to diseases.

5. Take An Aromatic Shower

Take a bath with your favorite scented soap or 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:

Happiness has a smell that others can detect. We can transfer our joys through our odor.

When we are happy, we release chemical substances known as chemosignals. People who smell our sweat can identify these compounds.

Experimenters found women who smelled the “happy sweat” (on a sweat-soaked T-shirt of a happy person) displayed the “Duchenne smile” — the look of someone who is genuinely happy.

So, scientists are essentially saying that as humans, we can transfer our positive emotions, like joy, via our sweat.

If you’re happy, another person may become happier by smelling your happiness.

6. Eat This Breakfast, This Way

Place a combination of high-fiber solids and low-sugar liquids on your plate. Pay close attention to the food you eat, taking note of the texture, flavor, and tease of the morsels.

Eat your food in a mindful, sensual, and engaging way. Avoid poring over your phone or being glued to television screens while eating. If you want to find out how to do it like a pro, here are the 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 Not To Multi-task (But 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 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.

9. Make Your Lunch A Colorful Spread

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, nutritionists will have a better say in planning your food for a happy day. If you have access to them, let the experts design a diet chart for the day.

• Tip: Eat food with colors that stand out against the plate color. A study 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 nighttime sleep.”

A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. Even Google allows its employees an afternoon nap — they have nap-pods installed at their offices.

Research shows that when you don’t take a nap during the day, you become extra sensitive to negative emotions like anger or fear. By the way, do you know what’s the best nap length?

• 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.

Phone up friends to be happy

These are the next 10 happiness-enhancing activities, scheduled for the second half of your Day of Happiness:

11. Phone Up Some Friends

Up from a 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.

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 (taking Covid precautions). 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. 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 Money On Social Activities

Spend some money and take your friends out for a treat – a movie or a game or a drink. It has a solid foundation in positive psychology. In Happy Money, authors Dunn & Norton show that 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 on the world.

Helping others not only makes you happier, but also helps you live longer and healthier. The Terman study found that those who helped their friends and neighbors, advised others, 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. Buy Gifts On Your Way Back Home

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, or 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 Only Those That You Know, Of Course!)

Due to Covid rules, we ask that you only hug individuals who know you and will welcome your hugs.

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.

Hugs release oxytocin — the cuddle molecule or love hormone — that helps us bond, feel joy, and sense pleasure.

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 toward your friends, your family, and even strangers. In a way, they make your life more meaningful.

how to be happy give hugs
A good hug lasts at least 20 seconds.

Researchers found (Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative moods) 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.

16. Dine Leisurely

Let’s keep the directions simple for dinner time. Make your dinner a leisurely hour-long affair. During dinner, have a relaxed conversation and share your entertaining stories.

The above insight comes from many studies on the French and Mediterranean eating patterns which form the basis of their healthy hearts.

French Food Habits: The French avoid grazing during the day. They are well-known for rarely snacking in between meals and never eating in transit. At their large and indulgent sit-down lunches, French people eat fat-rich foods.

Most French people eat at around 8 pm or later. Dinners are light and usually include a dessert (often some mildly sweetened yogurt or a slice of cheese) and soup or salad with bread.

The most surprising thing is that, unlike their American counterparts, French restaurants are closed most of the day, except for coffee shops and wine bars.

17. Express Gratitude

This is so, so crucial part of your “happiness for a day” plan. 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 Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness, the author Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., 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 (TGT)

The Three Good Things is a writing activity designed to increase your positive feelings. Write three good things for which you are grateful on that day. Help yourself by revisiting the experiences vividly in your mind.

One of the best-known researchers on gratitude, Robert Emmons 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-positive memories and more dark memories.

So, sleep well, for at least 6 hours. Better make it the full 8 hours. There are many benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Beware, sleeping less than 4 hours a day can lower your optimism levels. Experts correlate sleep problems with 40 times higher rates of depression. If you’re interested in learning more about sleep, then Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep 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 Enough Water

Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning upon waking up. Then keep drinking water at regular intervals throughout the day.

A OnePoll study of 2,000 Americans found that 67% of those who drank “more than enough” water, marked themselves as “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, and difficulty remembering and concentrating. Those water-deprived people were also unwilling to take up challenging tasks.

happiness in life is inside us


  • 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.

Final Words

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)

One of the vital qualities to have for happiness is self-compassion. Learn how you can cultivate and grow your self-compassion.

Happiness is an action word—you have to act to be happier.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

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