How to be happy: It may be life’s greatest question. We all know those people who just seem effortlessly happy, boasting a genuine smile and a positive outlook despite what may be going on in the rest of the world. Yet being happy doesn’t just happen: It takes a little bit of work on our part, but even just making that commitment—deciding to be happy—goes a long way.
I have suffered with Fibromyalgia for 27 years now, and while for the most part I am able to maintain a pretty normal life, the reality is that some days it really gets me down. If I didn’t figure out how to be happy in a way that worked for me, I believe that my life would be very different indeed.
And how, exactly, did I learn how to be happy? A few different ways, actually: For starters, I adopted the mindset that even on the worst days, there was always something to feel grateful for, something to appreciate, something to smile about. Discovering yoga and meditation was a total blessing to me, and though I will never be a “bendy Wendy”, even just five or ten minutes of yoga makes a world of difference in my mood. I’ve also found that getting out and paying it forward is another great way to lighten my mood—I can often be spotted buying The Big Issue from a homeless person or supporting one of my favorite charities in various ways.
And so, in that spirit of paying it forward, I am sharing my top five tips on how to be happy.
1. Be grateful. A recent US study concluded that people who wrote a daily gratitude list were more optimistic and had less visits to the doctor than those who did not. It also suggested that by searching for something to be grateful for increases emotional intelligence.
Start here: Every morning when you wake up—before you even get out of bed—create a mental list of everything you are grateful for. If you’re having a hard time getting started, think of the most simple things: “Today, I am grateful for my breath. I am grateful I have a bed. I am grateful for my legs.” The practice will continue to grow from there.
2. Exercise. The University of Bristol determined that desk workers who exercised during the day were more productive, calmer and had better concentration and problem-solving abilities than those who didn’t do any exercise. They suggested 20 minutes of brisk walking at lunch time and some gentle yoga stretching throughout the day was all that was needed to feel the benefits.
Start here: If exercise isn’t already a part of your routine, start with a morning, mid-day or evening walk. Use this time to call a loved one, or turn on some calming music to accompany you.
3. Be kind. There is good evidence to suggest that paying it forward can push our happy buttons: The University of Oregon says that being charitable activates the happy part of the brain almost to the point of literally creating a warm glow. Do something for somebody else each day!
Start here: Next time you buy a coffee, juice or tea, treat the person next in line to their drink. A win-win for everyone.
4. Get outside. Science has proved that the smell of freshly mowed grass releases five chemicals with stress-relieving properties that work on the amygdala and hippocampus to stimulate the emotional and the memory parts of the brain. Being out in nature helps to connect you with the elements to move out of the thinking mind and into your body.
Start here: At least once a day take off your shoes and place your bare feet on the earth. This practice is actually called “Earthing” (yes, it is a thing), and it is used to ground your energy and still your mind.
5. Enjoy the simple things. Take pleasure from the simple things in life, such as snuggling up on the couch in your PJs, watching an old movie and eating popcorn. We all know the activities that make us feel joyful, we need to make more time to indulge in them and trigger those happy, feel-good thoughts.
Start here: Schedule in a “me” day—or even a “me” hour. Do something that is just for your own pleasure and delight.
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