Smiling is a great place to start.
It’s both amazing and sad the number of people who spend the majority of their days feeling depressed, anxious, and generally unhappy. And, yet the majority of them can feel differently. I know this is the case because I used to be one of them. I used to struggle with unhappiness, anxiety, and depression on a nearly daily basis. However, I’ve discovered some tips for a happy life that work for me (and my clients too).
Below I’ll share 28 of my favorites. I’m sure at least some of them will be familiar to you. And I’ll ask that instead of just thinking to yourself, “Yeah, I know that” ask, “How can I do more of that?”
And for the tips you aren’t familiar with or haven’t tried, allow yourself to experiment. Who knows? You might find something that can help you experience more happiness and maybe even joy.
Here are my 28 favorite tips for a happy life:
As simple as smiling is, when you smile a whole host of chemical reactions begin happening in your brain. Some of these reactions release neuropeptides which help you release stress. Then, other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins get into action. Serotonin is an anti-depressant, and the endorphins act as a mild pain reliever.
Isn’t it wonderful that something so simple can have such a quick and positive impact on how you feel? (And there’s evidence that smiling can boost your immune system and possibly prolong your life!)
- Get a theme song
I love having a theme song. It helps me to refocus on what’s important to me because as the saying goes, “What you focus on expands.”
I usually pick a theme song that helps me to achieve my current goals. Right now, it’s “Accentuate the Positive” an oldie but goodie. There are versions by Aretha Franklin, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, and Perry Como.
Sometimes I’ll even make up a little ditty to help me keep my thoughts going in the right direction.
- Practice gratitude
This is probably one of those happy life tips you’ve heard before. Yet, it bears repeating. When you feel gratitude for what you have, your life, and your abilities, it’s so much easier to feel good. You’re present with what is instead of lamenting what isn’t.
- Spend time outside
Being out in nature is good for you in general, but it has been shown to increase happiness. Sunlight tends to elevate mood. And when you’re outside it’s likely that you’re also getting a little exercise which can also lead to happiness.
- Spend time alone
According to Forbes, even extroverts benefit from being alone. Studies show that the ability to tolerate solitude is linked to increased happiness, better life satisfaction, improved stress management, and less depression.
- Spend time in the company of those you love (and who love you)
And as happy as all the introverts were to read the previous tip, extroverts naturally gravitate to this one.
It turns out that being with family and friends can help you find healthier ways to cope with stress, may lengthen your life and improves your psychological well-being.
- Eat well
Years ago when I was struggling with divorce, I developed anorexia. For a while, I was trapped in a vicious cycle of feeling stressed and not eating which made me feel more stressed and depressed.
Many of my friends, family, and clients have a different story when it comes to stress. They tend to eat. Unfortunately, what they eat isn’t necessarily healthy for them, so they wind up feeling more stressed and depressed too.
When we eat well, we feel good. The old saying “you are what you eat” is true. Now you won’t turn into a potato chip covered with onion dip if that’s your favorite snack food. And who doesn’t love that snack? But you also won’t develop a strong healthy body or feel happy in the long run if all the fuel your body and mind have to work with is chips and dip.
- Get into motion
I love to exercise. If I sit still for too long, I get antsy which leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. I have to move in order to feel good.
And I know that not everyone is like me, however, I’ll bet there’s at least one way you like to get moving that makes you feel good. And here’s the science to back up my opinion.
If nothing comes to mind immediately, think about when you were a kid. What were your favorite things to do?
Some activities that might be fun for you to experiment with are learning the latest dance moves, skipping, running, lifting weights, riding a bike skiing, walking your dog, playing with your cat, gardening, building a snowman, and swimming.
- Do what you love
When you take on tasks, projects, hobbies, and work that you love it’s easy to lose yourself in what you’re doing. Some people call this getting into a flow state. And there’s plenty of research to show the benefits of being in the flow which, unsurprisingly, include lowering stress and improving mood.
- Look at problems as projects
Perspective is paramount.
Pause for a minute and image that you’re facing a problem. When you focus on the problem it’s easy to start seeing all the ways it is definitely a problem. And, before you know it, the problem seems to expand in scope and seem insurmountable.
Now, imagine the same issue you categorized as a problem before as a project.
A project is something you intuitively know can be achieved because you can break it down into do-able steps. Projects also often have teams so when you think of problems as projects instead you are more likely to find the right people (and resources) to help.
- Build resilience
Resilience is the ability to bounce-back, to move through problems projects, and regain your equilibrium quickly. It’s a vital skill to develop when you want to live a happy life.
- Make a difference daily
The happiest people all seem to instinctively make a difference – not always in big ways, but in meaningful ways to someone or something they value. And the difference they make doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else.
For example, every morning I go and rescue critters from our pool. Usually, the critters are bugs and spiders. However, I’ve also rescued prairie voles, snakes, toads, frogs, worms (how worms get in the pool I have no idea), and mice. My husband and friends don’t completely understand why I do it, but it makes me feel good and I’m guessing the critters feel good about it too.
- Love yourself
Of all the tips for living a happy life, this is probably the most basic. Self-love means that you accept and appreciate who you are and care for yourself in ways that support your mind, body, and spirit.
- Respect yourself
Closely related to self-love is self-respect. Self-respect is knowing that you are worthy of being treated well by yourself and others and not allowing yourself to be treated disrespectfully. It also means that you value your thoughts, opinions, and experiences.
- Continue learning
Learning is about interacting with the world and being fascinated by it. That’s not something you have to go to school for. It can be as simple as regularly learning more about your loved ones' lives or exploring nature in your backyard. It can also be as rigorous as going back to school for a degree.
At the root of all learning that leads to happiness is curiosity. When you allow yourself to become curious about something, you naturally live in the moment as you explore more about what you’re interested in. And living in the moment like this is a sure way to find happiness.
- Breathe deeply
Shallow, rapid breathing causes a stress response. Your muscles tense, your brain has a difficult time focusing on anything other than looking for the threat. And that’s not a recipe for happiness.
When you can focus on breathing deeply so that your stomach moves in and out, your body relaxes. It’s from this relaxed state that you can appreciate the joy and wonder of simply breathing and its affirmation of life.
- Sleep soundly
We require sleep to function at our best. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep daily. When we don’t get the sleep we need some of the side effects include lower sex drive, weakened immune system, difficulty thinking, weight gain along with an increased risk of certain cancers, diabetes. and even car accidents. None of these side effects contribute to a happy life.
Yet, when you get the sleep you need, you function at your best so you are able to enjoy doing things that bring you happiness.
- Be a power poser
In 2010, researchers Dana R Carney, Amy J C Cuddy, and Andy J Yap discovered that posing in high-powered ways for as little as 1-minute promotes a sense of powerfulness, increased tolerance for risk and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). In other words, you feel good about yourself!
A simple way to power pose is to stand like your favorite superhero with your feet a little more than hip’s width apart, your hands on your hips, your chest proudly out and your chin held high. Go ahead, give it a try now and see how much happier you feel.
Yup, laughter really is the best medicine – at least when it comes to finding happiness. According to the Mayo Clinic, the long-term benefits of laughter include making you feel happier.
Heard any good jokes recently?
- Give a compliment daily
This tip for happiness is all about spreading joy. When you sincerely compliment someone or even yourself, you let them know you appreciate them for exactly who they are. And when you see the sincere pleasure of a smile spread across the face of the person you just complimented, you’re sure to feel happy too.
- Take regular action (no matter how small) toward your dreams
Dreams are wonderful things. They inspire and motivate us to become more.
And when you prioritize your aspirations and take regular (maybe even daily) action toward them you tap into the hope and joy inherent in realizing your dreams.
- Forgive (yourself and others)
It’s hard to experience genuine happiness if you’re constantly berating yourself for a past transgression or still tied to a past transgression of someone else. Forgiveness isn’t about condoning the transgression; it’s about not letting it control you.
When you can let the past be in the past, see the present for what it is and allow the future to be full of promise, then you’ll know you’ve forgiven and you’ll feel happier.
- Unplug regularly
Our lives seem to revolve around technology and screens. The nearly constant use of our screens keeps our minds and bodies “on.” Being on all the time is exhausting.
Taking a break – even a brief one – gives you the opportunity to experience the present moment, to check in with yourself, to stretch, to rest your eyes, and to remember just how good it feels to recharge.
- Go mining for silver
When you develop the ability to find the silver lining in a situation, no matter what the situation, you’ll have a superpower that will allow you to be happier and share your glass-half-full perspective with others.
- Communicate kindly
William John Bennett said it best, “A kind and compassionate act is often its own reward.” Fortunately, it’s not just a nice quote. It’s also true.
Research shows that acts of kindness (and, yes, this includes communication) can reduce anxiety, depression, and the associated symptoms of stress. It’s also shown that it increases happiness in yourself and those who witness and/or experience your kindness.
Just imagine the impact consistently communicating kindly can have on you and your relationships!
- Dress appropriately
When you know you look good, you feel good and you’re more confident. Which is code for you feel happy!
- Limit negative influences
We are what we think about. So, it’s very difficult to feel happy when you’re surrounded by negativity. It’s like the negativity oozes into every facet of your life when you spend too much time focusing on it.
One of the ways you may consider starting to limit the negative influences in your life is by turning off the nightly news. I haven’t turned on the news in years and I’ve found that when there are things I need to know about I still hear about them, but without the overwhelming negativity inherent in the typical news broadcast.
- Practice serenity
I always giggle when I think about practicing serenity because it reminds me of this Seinfeld episode. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
The serenity practice I’m talking about is getting clear about what is and isn’t in your control. With this clarity, you can let go of what’s not in your control and take responsibility for changing the things you must. It’s nicely summed up in the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr.
And, when we feel more in control of our lives, we naturally feel happier.
These 28 tips for happiness are just the ones that work for me and that I share with my clients. My hope is that as you read through this list you found one or two you’d like to try, one or two you’d like to recommit to doing regularly and that they all inspire you to look for happiness every day.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in developing your own tips for living a happy life.