“Happy” is such a challenging word. I’ve always heard the saying, “happiness is a choice you make” yet it seems to do its best to elude us when we try our hand at getting out there, making those happy choices, and catching it. As Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” In the past years I would have loved for happy to simply alight itself upon me like a butterfly, as I am sure most of you reading would too!
If you ask any adult these days, what they ultimately want out of life you’ll often hear the phrase “I just want to be happy,” and surprisingly enough, according to a recent Harris Poll only 1 in every 3 Americans can say that they are truly happy. 1 in 3! If everyone just wants to be happy why are so few of us actually happy? And that brings on the bigger question of, what does truly being happy REALLY entail?
I’ve been pondering that thought lately, constantly asking myself during my day “Am I happy today? Could I be happier? How could I be happier?” I’ve done some research, looked into LOTS of statistics, performed my own trial and error, and found the people that are most happy have a minimalistic life in a sense, meaning they keep their life relatively simple and they don’t hang onto a lot of “stuff.” They often make up and play by their own rules, they don’t give into the feelings of stress by trying to avoid negativity and negative thoughts, but most importantly they act on simple ideas everyday that bring a small amount of instant happiness.
When I say instant happiness I’m not talking about going out and buying things like ice-cream or a new outfit to mask an emotional day to instantly feel happy. Material items purchased to induce the instant feeling of happy are not true feelings of happy. Those material items purchased on impulse are what I like to call “emotional concealers.” They do their best to cover up the feeling of a bad day but they don’t last much longer than 10 to 20 seconds and eventually wash off and fade leaving you to feel the emotions of your bad day all over again, or until you search for another emotional concealer.
I’m really talking about applying happy habits to your everyday life. Happy habits are simple actions you can make throughout your day to feel happier and ultimately BE happier in the long run. I don’t necessarily use every single habit on my list every single day but when I ask myself if I am feeling happy and I either can’t answer the question or know I’m not feeling happy, I will take a look at this list and apply a happy habit. Applying these simple habits here and there over time and coming back to the list when I’m feeling low has actually made me believe that I am feeling a lot happier. Now, I’m not saying I’m all of a sudden an ECSTATIC person all the time and can’t stop smiling but I do find that I am generally feeling like I am in a better mood more often than not.
I really believe that using some or all of these “happy habits” can help pretty much anyone to feel happier in small ways everyday that will hopefully transfer to happiness in the big picture for you. Best of all since they are so simple there are no risks to give them a try! Here are a few of my “Happy Habits” I use to keep life simple and to feel happy.
- Make up your own rules.
Some rules work for people like your friends or family that just won’t work for you, and that my friend, is A-Okay! You can’t always do what other people think is best for you and you sure cant please everyone. Rules are here to protect us and make us better people, but if you or someone else has instilled a rule that is cramping your style don’t feel bad to politely kick that rule to the curb and make up something that truly works for you! But still follow the general public rules, like traffic lights, those are kind of important…
- Exercise more.
There is simply no better way to get the positive ions flowing than getting out and sweating a little bit. Now, I’m not an exercise buff myself, and I really don’t care for the gym scene, but I know that if I put on my walking shoes and take a walk or light job around Balboa Park I am going to feel better about myself and have more creativity during the day. Find something that works for you when exercising. If you’re not into gyms try something like a dance class or outdoor bootcamp. If you’re low on funds google a hiking trail or an urban hike in your area. Even getting out and walking the dog for 30 minutes will help to free up some bad energy.
- Let go of negative people in your life (energy vampires).
If you have anyone in your life that makes you feel badly about yourself or makes you feel absolutely exhausted without doing much of anything but being around them I would classify that negative person as an “energy vampire”. Much like the fictional vampire characters, an energy vampires are incapable of generating any positive energy of their own, in turn feeding off of the good happy energy from others. You can’t have energy vampires hanging around and expect to have any happy energy left for yourself, so kick them to the curb! I know you’re probably saying, but what if my energy vampire is not someone I can avoid because I work with them, or they are a family member!? Inevitably there are going to be times when you really can’t do much about an encounter with an energy vampire, however there are a few things you can do to help during these encounters. #1. Keep a certain amount of distance. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in their stories, complaints, and negativity. Participating in their pity parties will only contribute to negativity and bring you down with them. #2. If you must interact keep an extra friend around. Having an extra person or keeping a group of three or more while interacting with the energy vampire you’re allowing yourself to keep a certain amount of distance without being “rude”. #3. Offer help to their complaints. Instead of simply agreeing and providing fuel for their negative comments, offering a helping hand lifts you to a higher level.
- Smile. Even if it feels weird.
Scientific studies show that smiling for no reason can make you feel happy even if you aren’t currently feeling very happy. There is a mind-body connection that triggers brain activity when you smile, activity in your left frontal cortex to be exact, which is where your brain registers happiness. So go on and smile! If nothing else, it will definitely make someone else smile and that in itself should make you feel pretty darn good.
- Consume less sugar and caffeine.
Consumption of coffee or teas high in caffeine or sugar loaded meals create a sudden spike of cortisol levels in our bodies. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and it comes in very handy when we are faced with sticky situations like confronting a wild hungry bear, however it doesn’t do us a whole lot of good when we are in the office working on a deadline. Significantly reducing our sugar and caffeine in take can level out our hormones in turn making us feel naturally happier.
- Start a new healthy habit.
Take up a new routine that makes you feel better about yourself. For example a simple beauty routine like natural teeth whitening twice a week, or an overnight hair oil can make us see a positive change in our appearance and create a happy feeling. By adding that new healthy routine you will notice a sense of control over time that gives you happy feelings because you are accomplishing goals. Try dabbling with different healthy habits like exercise three times a week, nightly healthy beauty regimens, gardening twice a week, or getting an extra hour of sleep every night.
- Unplug an hour before bedtime.
Getting a good 7-9 hours of sleep a night is so important and contributes so much to our brains and our feel good hormones flowing through our bodies. The best way I have found to get a good night sleep is unplugging from all electronics at least one hour or more before bedtime. That means no emails, no TV, no FarmVille or FaceBook, no silly Snapchats, just quiet time. One hour of quiet time before you drift off satisfies our inner toddlers and gives our brains enough time to settle our thoughts and stresses before we sleep. If you’re feeling fidgety and can’t seem to step away from the devices, try one of these ideas to unplug: coloring in an adult coloring book, reading a printed book or newspaper, writing down your thoughts or activities from that day in a journal, sipping on a nice cup of sleepy time tea, flipping through a magazine, painting your nails, or braiding your hair.
- Take more walks, get outside.
We all need a little break from the chaos and noise sometimes and it so happens that outdoor activity has been proven to make us happier. How? Well, it gets us to unplug and bond with our loved ones, it increases our memory and brain function, it boosts our immune systems, and it reminds us to appreciate the little things like a beautiful landscape or watching your child notice a butterfly landing on a flower for the first time. Several studies show that devoting at least 20 minutes a day to get outside and connect with the outdoors significantly boosts our vitality levels. So get out there and take a walk around your block with your dog, or plan to visit a state park or lake this weekend.
- Read a book.
Do I even need to comment on this one?
- Act a little goofy.
Much like #4, acting a bit goofy with your family or your close pals turns on the happy ions and makes you feel happy. Get out there and find somewhere or someone you can be goofy with and let the giggle fest begin!
- Listen to new music.
Music is such a powerful thing. Neurological studies of music and the brain indicate that we are intricately wired to interpret and react emotionally to music. Meaning listening to pieces of music can force us to react with a feeling of happiness. Music can increase brain function, boost memory, help to alleviate depression and anxiety, and the list goes on. Don’t you just love the feeling of goosebumps on your arms and neck when you hear the lyrics to a beautiful piece of music that fits your current situation perfectly? I sure do! My favorite way to find some new and exciting music and get those happy feelings flowing is through Spotify. Spotify is my number one go to music plan because its so easy to find new artists and make your own specific playlists without the commitment of purchasing and downloading tons of music files.
- See or do something brand new to you.
Getting out into the world and trying something that you’ve never done before can sound completely crazy and scary to some (especially if you’re an introvert like me). It might sound counterintuitive to do something that might make you feel uncomfortable at first, but trust me, it is probably one of the best things to boost your self-esteem and confidence in yourself and in turn makes you happy. It can be something as small as trying a group dance class on your own, or something big like skydiving. The size of the activity doesn’t matter, it’s that you’re getting out of your own way and out of your comfort zone and trying something that interests you and having fun!
- Eat yummy healthy foods everyday.
I’m sure you have heard the saying “You are what you eat” am I right? But it really is true! If you load yourself down with tons of junk, you feel like junk. If you load up on veggies and lean meats, healthy fats, and fruits you’re going to feel as light and happy as those veggies look. I know that starting a new eating plan is hard to get into on your own. I suggest starting a healthy eating plan like the “Whole30”. It will get you to eat healthy foods without really having to think about it and by the end you’ll feel like a million bucks!
- Watch the sunrise or the sunset.
You can literally do this from anywhere you want and it is something so simple that just gives you 30 minutes of peaceful and mindful quiet time. Pick a comfortable place, bring some caffeine free tea, unplug and enjoy.
- Be gracious. Have an attitude of gratitude!
Being gracious and thankful for small everyday things can greatly alter your way of thinking. Take 10 minutes at the end of your day to express your gratitude for things that went right today, or telling others that you appreciate them or the things they have done today can create a shift in your brain that changes the way you think about things. An attitude of gratitude brings happiness. Give this a try during your “unplugged” time.
- Thank yourself. Practice self love and self care.
Making it a point to thank yourself for good choices you’ve made throughout your day can give you a happy boost you need after a long day.
- Don’t go to bed angry.
If you’ve had a particularly hard day, or you might have had a fight with your partner try to make a point to clear the air before bed because it is ultimately harder to get a good night sleep and harder to start fresh the next day.
- Sleep more.
This one is easy. More sleep = rested brain = happy brain. Try planning your evening to end 30 minutes earlier than usual, unplugging and getting in some good solid Zzzz. If you’re only getting a few hours each night, try adding more sleep in 30 minute increments until you work your way up to getting a full 8 hours of sleep. In addition an hour nap in the middle of the day should never be overlooked (if you can squeeze it in).
- Be mindful. Try meditating or learn yoga.
Happiness really does come easier if you feel centered and grounded. Practicing meditation or mindfulness for 15 minutes a day can improve your immune health, decrease stress and anxiety, as well as countless other benefits proven by hundreds of scientists and doctors. It just works, so why not give it a try. If you feel weird about starting on your own or don’t know where to begin, look up community programs in your area. Many large cities offer meditation and yoga classes free of charge!
- Just let it go.
Still hanging onto a grudge from last year? Hate to say the words “you’re right, and I’m wrong?” I know the feeling as I do tend to hang on to grudges and hold tight to my grouchy thoughts, but in order to be really truly happy, you have to let those things go.
- Practice random acts of kindness. Open the door for someone.
Random acts of kindness are simply great for three reasons. One, they make you feel good about yourself, two they make other people feel really good, and three, that gets passed on to more people. It doesn’t take much, you can do something simple like pick up something that someone dropped, leave some coins in the meter for the next person, let someone merge in front of you, or buying a cup of coffee for a coworker having a hard day. Spread the love!
Happy home, happy mind. When you take the time to go through your cluttered areas of your home, garage, office, or car you are not only freeing up physical space but you are freeing up space in your mind for creativity and happiness.
- Spend money on experiences, not items.
You’ve heard the saying that money can’t buy happiness and it really is proven that spending money on “things” doesn’t bring true happiness, especially not to your wallet. Try spending your money on experiences like a day trip to a theme park or water park, or maybe a weekend road trip up the coast? When you’re old and wrinkly you’ll definitely have more stories to tell about the places you’ve been and the things you’ve done as apposed to talking about all the make-up and clothing you bought when you were 33 years old.