I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to be happier. Almost everyone loves being happy (and sometimes we desperately need to be happier), so why not see if we can find more of a good thing.
After a lot of research and testing, here are 46 ways I found to be happier.
By the way, most of these ideas are supported by science.
If you still need a reason to read this article, point #29 will help you get more sex.
See setbacks and obstacles as growth opportunities
Jack Andraka was rejected by 199 research institutions before he found a home for his research and developed a breakthrough diagnostic cancer test (at age 15). Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school. It’s ok to fail and have challenges. Your failures are your best opportunities to learn. Hopefully, you can see them that way.
Let yourself be a novice
No one begins as an expert. And, if you think about it, experts built the Titanic. A couple of students who didn’t know what they were doing built Google. Who would you rather be?
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Before you get upset, ask yourself, “Will this matter tomorrow, next week or in a year?” If you get upset at someone who cut the line or a customer service representative or anyone else, you’re not hurting him. You’re only affecting your own happiness.
Don’t be a maximizer
You can spend all day surfing the Internet to find the absolute best price on a new TV. Unless that is significant money for you don’t worry. Your gift doesn’t have to be perfect; it has to be thoughtful. Your house can be clean, but it doesn’t have to be immaculate.
Very good is good enough.
This saves time, which none of us have enough of, and it reduces stress.
Find your purpose
Your mission could be being a great parent, a great spouse, an excellent gardener or saving the world. We’re happier when we have a purpose.
People are constantly searching for their purpose and what’s most important to them. Here’s an exercise to help you figure that out:
Imagine you’re at your own funeral. What would you like people to say about you? How would you like to be remembered?
Now, how do you become that person?
Live your values
Believe and act upon your personal values. That builds contentment over time.
Live true to yourself
So many people don’t live their dreams, because they do what someone else expects.
I spent over a year working on a business book. Readers gave me great feedback, and people were excited about the book. Yet, all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to finish the book, so I could spend more time working with youth.
Then it dawned on me – I was finishing the book, because I was expected to. So, I dropped the book and spent more time working with kids. People told me this was a bad decision, but I felt liberated. When I feel like working on that book again, it will be the right time.
Don’t do something because of the job title or to make someone else proud. Do what you know is right for you.
“Prestige is a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Paul Graham, Y-Combinator founder
Live for today
Waiting for a day that is less busy is waiting for a day that will never come. Don’t put off what makes you happy.
Baby steps towards life goals
Along the lines of the above suggestion, many people have really big life goals. Goals so big that work on the goals never gets started. Break big dreams into small achievable steps, and then focus on taking one step at a time. The progress makes us happy. The small steps give us a chance to achieve our goals.
When I teach entrepreneurship, students often say they want a thriving restaurant, and haven’t started on their goals because they see no way to immediately get there. I tell them to start small like selling food out of their houses. From there we can build a plan with many small steps to get from home food sales to owning a restaurant.
It’s never the right time
Whether it’s changing jobs or pursuing your dream, the time is never right. Find a way to start small now. Take that small step to make progress and start making your dream a reality.
We can all teach something, even if it’s small, and teaching others makes most of us happy. Besides, sometimes the small things make the biggest difference. Olympic gold medalist, professional baseball player and bestselling author Jim Abbott recalls his third grade teacher showing him how to tie his shoes as one of the biggest inspirations of Jim’s life. Orange links link to Abbott Article.
Find meaningful work:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs
And when you do, don’t work too much
Let’s face it — there will always be too much work to do. Whether or not you answer those 50 emails won’t really matter down the line. Don’t look at going to your son’s baseball game as shirking work responsibilities. Look at not going as shirking what’s important.
Keep in touch with friends and family
Relationships are what matters and studies show that having strong relationships makes you happier — even if you’re an introvert. You can have all the stuff in the world. Your relationships are what are substantive. Take the time to work on them. One of the top five regrets of the dying is not spending enough time with family and friends.
I’ve often thought I could get through stressful periods by focusing all of my energy on getting stuff done or researching answers to problems. Sometimes, the best thing I could do, was pick up the phone and call someone who would make me laugh.
A study published in Psychological Science found that not only are relationships important to happiness but having more substantive conversations rather than idle chit chat played a role in increased happiness.
Talk to someone
If you’re unhappy, talk to your family and friends. They want to help.
Perhaps you don’t want to talk to your friends or you don’t know why you feel the way you do. A therapist can help. How do you find a good therapist? If you’re embarrassed to ask for recommendations, ask your primary care physician. Or, pick out some people at Psychology Today. Call each therapist on the phone and see with whom you feel most comfortable. Give that person a try.
Don’t talk bad about people
You’ll feel bad afterwards and it doesn’t achieve anything. Look for the positive and talk about that (or say nothing).
Put more effort into understanding the people around you. Really listen and ask questions to understand them. You’ll have better conversations and better perspective.
Help other people
I’ve always believed that the more you help others the happier you’ll be, and now I’ve discovered scientific evidence that it’s true. (By the way, even helping people at work makes you happier, according to this study from the University of Wisconsin Madison)
You can also volunteer…
Volunteering allows you to put your problems in perspective, and perspective plays a big role in appreciating our lives. When you’re volunteering in a soup kitchen or hospital your work problems or piles of dirty laundry seem a lot smaller. Sometimes even small doses of volunteering can have a positive impact for weeks or months. (Click here for a study on the potential benefits of volunteering on happiness)
Scientific studies demonstrate that, being in the moment – even for short periods of time — is one of the best ways to be happy. I find it hard to be in the moment. I’ll be working and thinking about other things or doing something else with work thoughts popping into my head. But, I’m almost always in the moment when I’m volunteering. My mind is clear, and I’m relaxed.
People say you get more out of volunteering than you give – I agree.
Spend money on others
A study by professors at Harvard Business School and University of British Columbia found that once you’ve pulled yourself out of poverty, spending money on other people gives us more joy than spending money on ourselves. I agree. Try buying small gifts for friends and the people you love on a regular basis. If you don’t have anyone you want to buy a gift for, you can always send one to me ☺
Or make some small donations. Hilde Back’s monthly donation of $15 wound up changing the lives of over 350 children.
Give people the benefit of the doubt
Instead of getting frustrated when someone does something you dislike, have compassion. They’re probably having a bad day. If someone is rude, I think that poor person is probably unhappy, and I remind myself how lucky I am not to be him.
Holding a grudge only makes you feel bad. Don’t let someone who has treated you poorly have the power to take away your joy.
Give to yourself
Make time for you, your education and your health.
At one point I was tough on myself for a decision I made. I thought about the decision every day and couldn’t get past it. Finally, I spoke to someone about it. After a while, the person said, “What advice would you give to a friend who came to you with this problem?”
I replied that I would tell the friend he didn’t do anything that was morally wrong. He just made a mistake and he can’t take it back, so he would be best off to move forward. Then it dawned on me, I had to do the same. I was being so much harder on myself than I would expect other people to be on themselves.
Forgive yourself. You’re human.
Take joy in other people’s accomplishments and cheer them on
You can be much happier when you enjoy someone else’s success. Also, you’ll have more people cheering on your successes.
When we’re thankful, it’s easier to be happy. Here are some ways to be more thankful…
Gratitude journal. At the end of every day write a short list of what you’re thankful for. It can include big things like your health or small things like a fun activity you did with your son or a compliment someone gave you at work. Keeping a gratitude journal helps you focus on the positive, and trains you to seek out the positive. When you record what you’re thankful for daily, you start looking for and making a note of those things throughout the day.
You can review your journal when you want a reminder of everything you’re thankful for. This study shows the benefits of being thankful and having a gratitude journal.
If the little things someone does drives you nuts, it helps to keep an eye out for the positive things they do. Let’s take your spouse. When you start noticing the great things your husband does every day, it’s easier not to be bothered by the small things.
Make thankfulness a family activity. One of the great ideas I picked up from Ronald McDonald Camp is having a nightly family discussion about what we’re thankful for. This is an excellent way to get children to think about their good fortune and what makes them happy.
Choose to see the positive
This ties to being thankful. You have a choice to see things in a positive or negative light. Seeing things more positively increases happiness. I’m not suggesting you embrace someone who is trying to hurt you or tell someone it’s good that they’re sick, but you can train yourself to view things more positively.
It’s your choice…
You can be the person who looks outside and says, “it’s a beautiful day, and I’m excited,” or the person who says, “I’m disappointed it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”
You can see a visit from friends as an opportunity to catch up or a hassle because you need to clean your house.
Looking for the positive trains you to think more positively and be happier. And, as an added bonus, according to this Harvard study being optimistic can reduce your chance of a heart attack by up to 50%.
I’ve certainly suffered when I’ve compared myself to others and wondered why they had it better. First off, we can’t assume anyone has it better, because we don’t know their lives and their problems.
So, focus on you. Where are you compared to where you were a year ago? What can you do to achieve your goals?
By the way, almost everyone appears 10 times happier than they really are on Facebook. According to this University of Michigan study, that’s why Facebook usage causes unhappiness – we’re comparing ourselves to others and the comparison isn’t fair.
- Have sex. Yes, sex feels great.
Perhaps it can even count towards that scientifically proven point that exercise makes us happier? Or, it will help us sleep better (point 13)?
If not, there is scientific proof that sex creates significant happiness (Guys, you can thank me later for including this one).
Another study, by a Dartmouth College economist and professor at University of Warwick in England found that sex created more happiness than money. They estimate increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the amount of happiness generated by getting an additional $50,000 in income for the average American.
(Men, this has nothing to do with the prior point). I’m always stressed when I’m running late. I’m not sure why it took me so long, but I made a decision to have fewer meetings back to back and give myself enough time that I’d always be early. Well I haven’t yet managed to always be early, but being early more often sure does relieve stress more than trying to squeeze productivity into every spare minute.
When you have more stuff it creates more work, you lose things, and stuff can simply weigh you down. You’re also constantly reminded that you have work to do / things to clean when you see your clutter.
I realized this was true from some friends who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. All of their basements were flooded. Every single person said they were surprised that throwing away everything in their basement was liberating. The regrets they had were not digitizing some old photos and not throwing away their stuff earlier. Free yourself of your stuff. And get an extra bonus by donating your stuff to people who need it.
Choose who you spend time with carefully
If you spend time with negative people, you’ll impact your happiness. Find people who energize you. This large-scale study shows, that being around happy people will make you happier. And, please share your happiness to energize others.
If you’re going to spend money a study by Cornell University found that buying experiences makes people happier than buying things. An experience gives us great memories. I’d add that paying for products or services that increases our time also contributes to happiness. http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2010/03/study-shows-experiences-are-better-possessions
Make your own fun
This is another lesson I learned at Ronald McDonald Camp. Everything can be fun if we choose to make it that way. At this camp for kids with cancer the medical staff created Dance for Your Meds Parties that made taking medication fun for the kids. If that can be fun, almost anything can be.
Change how you view chores
I’m not doing the dishes, because I have to. I’m doing the dishes because I want to make my wife happy. For me, that makes me a lot happier about chores, and makes me look for more things I can do around the house (although my wife might debate this point). You can also say you’re doing chores because you enjoy the outcome – like a clean house.
Don’t keep score
No one owes you for your acts of kindness. You’re doing the good deeds because you want to make a difference and you know it will also help you feel better. Keeping score takes away some of your joy.
Don’t look back
You’re not heading in that direction.
Keep reminders of happy moments
Hang happy photos, keep mementos around the house, create photo albums. Remind yourself of the great times.
Recognize and embrace your inspirations
Maybe there are movies, stories, music or people that inspire you. Seek them out and expose yourself to them–repeatedly. Some people like to read about individuals who have enormous struggles to give them perspective. Others like to read about people who are saving the world. Choose what resonates with you.
According to a study from the Group Health Research Institute, over a 3-month period people who listened to music had the same 50% decreased in anxiety symptoms as patients who received ten hour long massages. Choosing the right music can play a part in happiness, so try happy and upbeat songs. (Note that their findings point to massage as helpful in reducing anxiety as well.)
At yourself, at funny movies and with your friends. Find reasons to laugh regularly. Scientific studies have shown that laughter releases endorphins and even increases our thresholds for pain significantly. If you want a great laugh right now, check out this hilarious 1 minute read about unbelievable, real life courtroom exchanges recorded by stenographers — Disorder in the Court. Although there is a benefit to laughing alone and in a group, group laughter has more of a benefit.
This corporate manifesto is an awesome mission statement for life
30 minutes of exercise has been scientifically proven to have a bigger impact on happiness than antidepressants. Wow!
Try walking, if nothing else.
You’ll feel better; that’s what numerous studies say.
Well, except when you have that giant ice cream sundae with your family for Saturday breakfast just because it would be fun. Spontaneous fun generated happiness trumps eating healthy, right?
Get more sleep
Studies show that 60-90 minutes more sleep would make most of us happier and that most of us don’t get enough sleep. http://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation.aspx
Numerous studies reviewed in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outdoors as well as being in nature increased happiness and vitality. Taking a walk outside might be a great step for boosting happiness.
Meditating is a great way to be in the moment. There are countless studies showing how those who meditate are happier. I haven’t yet mastered meditating. However, I was introduced to a mini meditation that was helpful when I had a period of high stress.
I focused on counting and my breath, clearing my mind of everything else. Here’s how the mini meditation works:
- Close your eyes
- Count slowly to 4 while you take the biggest breath you can. Expand your stomach and then your chest as you breathe. Sit up straight to take in as much air as possible. You want to feel like you’re going to explode.
- Count slowly to 4 as you hold your breath.
- Then, count slowly to 4 as you exhale. Feel a little bit of tension leaving your body as you exhale.
- Repeat 8 times. I was recommended to do this at the same time every day and when I was stressed.
Optional addition: Try counting to 4 (or less) after you exhale and before you take your next breath.
Over time, I wound up increasing most of my counts above 4. Now, I do it in the car on the way to work (with my eyes open, of course).
Find a purpose
Find Opportunities in everyday living
Keep the right perspective
Focus on health and wellness
Please feel free to add what works for you in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably also like these: