By Dr. Mercola
Defining happiness is difficult, as happiness is actually a state of mind. What brings on happiness is therefore unique to the individual person; what makes you happy may be quite different from what makes your neighbor or your officemate happy.
Still, despite being hard to define, there’s something about happiness that has universal appeal. Virtually everyone strives for it, but not everyone will reach it.
One recent Harris Poll found that, despite an ostensibly recovering economy, only one in three Americans said they’re very happy,1 which means, of course, that two out of three are not.
Yet, as abstract, and at times as elusive, as happiness may be, there are proven ways to make yourself happier, and you can do many of these things starting today.
10 Proven Ways to Be a Happier Person
1. Exercise More Often
Exercise is one of the best strategies for overcoming depression. Indeed, it can have a dramatic impact on your mental health. For example, a Duke University team studied three groups that tried exercise only, exercise plus drugs, and drugs only, to see what treatment best treated depression.
They found that 10 months later, it was the exercise-only group that was most successful in maintaining wellness and avoiding a depression relapse!
Yet, exercise may still make you happier even if you’re not depressed. It can help you to feel better about your body,2 for starters, while also boosting levels of health-promoting brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress.
Rather than viewing exercise as a medical tool to lose weight, prevent disease, and live longer – all benefits that occur in the future – try viewing exercise as a daily tool to immediately enhance your frame of mind, reduce stress and feel happier.
2. Get Proper Sleep
A lack of sleep makes it more difficult to recall pleasant memories (but gloomy memories are recalled just fine).3 Lack of sleep may also make you more susceptible to negative emotions like fear and anger, while taking a nap in the afternoon may enhance positive emotions.
Not to mention, sleep deprivation is linked to psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and bipolar depression, while getting the right amount of sleep has been linked to positive personality characteristics such as optimism and greater self-esteem, as well as a greater ability to solve difficult problems.4
3. Shorten Your Commute
If you can move closer to where you work, or work closer to where you live, do it. A long commute is stressful and draining, even if it allows you to buy a bigger house or have a better job. Such factors do not make up for the unhappiness created by a longer commute, according to research by two Swiss economists. Generally speaking, it would take a 40 percent increase in pay to make up for a job with a longer commute.5
4. Nourish Your Relationships
Friends and family mean everything in life, and research shows spending social time with your friends and loved ones generally makes people much happier. One study even found that relationships are worth more than $100,000 in terms of life satisfaction, while actual changes in income buy very little happiness.6
5. Spend Time Outdoors
Simply going outside to get some fresh air and sunshine boosts mood, broadens thinking and improves working memory. One study found that it takes just 20 minutes outdoors to make most people happier, while other research showed that happiness is maximized when it’s 57 degrees F outside7 – so keep an eye on the thermometer!
6. Help Others
Volunteering can lower your risk of depression and anxiety,8 and significantly boost your psychological well-being.9 Not only does it keep you active and on your feet, but there’s a definite social aspect as well, both of which contribute to happiness. Volunteering to help others also gives you a greater sense of purpose and can even lead to a so-called “helper’s high,” which may occur because doing good things releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin in your body while lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Putting on a fake smile can worsen your mood, but thinking positive thoughts and then smiling as a result can make you happier.10 When you smile at others, they’re also more likely to smile back in return, creating an ongoing feedback loop that may lead to more positivity in your life and the lives of others.
8. Plan a Vacation
It might be that the simple act of planning a vacation can make you happier, even if you don’t actually go on one. Research showed that people were happiest during the planning stage of their vacation, when their sense of anticipation was peaked.11 After the vacation was over, levels of happiness quickly returned to baseline.
Meditation helps you keep your mind focused, calms your nerves and supports inner peace. Research shows it can even lead to physical changes in your brain that make you happier, including an increase in areas associated with compassion and self-awareness and a shrinking in areas associated with stress.
10. Practice Gratitude
People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals. The best way to harness the positive power of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal or list, where you actively write down exactly what you’re grateful for each day. Doing so has been linked to happier moods, greater optimism and even better physical health.
True Happiness Comes From Within
If there is one common thread to the tips above, it is that the factors that increase happiness tend to do so from the inside, as lasting happiness is not something that can be achieved from external sources. It may be helpful to remember that happiness doesn't depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think.
This is part of the power of affirmations, which can also help you to boost your happiness.
For example, starting each day by thinking of all the things you have to be thankful for is one way to put your mind on the right track. Also, remember that your future depends largely on the thoughts you think today. So each moment of every day is an opportunity to turn your thinking around, thereby helping or hindering your ability to think and feel more positively in the very next moment.
Most experts agree that there are no shortcuts to happiness. Even generally happy people do not experience joy 24 hours a day. But a happy person can have a bad day and still find pleasure in the small things in life.
Postponing your happiness until you reach a certain goal, like getting a promotion or pay raise to go on vacation, is a sure-fire way to stay stuck in misery. Instead, consciously spend a few minutes every day thinking about the good things in your life, such as eating a balanced meal or getting enough rest. Practice this every day and each day try to extend the time you spend on positive thoughts.
Additionally, while there is no rule or special formula that can make a person constantly happy, happiness tends to come more easily when you focus on developing positive social relationships and enjoyable work, and have a sense that life has meaning. Overall, having a spiritual dimension tends to be an essential component of happiness for most people as well.