Ask someone what they want out of life and the vast majority will tell you that they want to be happy...
But ask the same person what would make them happy and you’ll probably get a list of specific criteria they need in order to create a life that will make them happy.
Maybe it’s a better paying job, a partner, kids – whatever it is, chances are it’s something external and beyond their control. But what if you could be happy now? Without the better paying job, the partner, the kids…?
Here we examine 10 very simple ways to be happy, now.
1. Be grateful
My dear old Nana used to tell us to count our blessings – having lived through World War 2, she knew it was the little things that matter most. Fast forward a couple of generations and daily gratitude practice is all the range. You can even buy a gratitude journal at Target.
And it isn’t just a fad. Scientific research shows that expressing gratitude is good for us. A 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Difference found that people who routinely express their gratitude experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.
In addition to this, a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology found that people who started jotting down the things they were thankful for in a gratitude journal slept better and longer than they did before.
So how do you go about becoming more grateful? Well, there are lots of options, including ready-made gratitude journals. Other options include; daily gratitude meditation, counting lists of the things you are grateful for on your fingers, taking photographs of the things you are grateful for or writing thank you letters.
2. Get more sleep
Remember the last time to had a really good nap? Nope? Me neither. In fact, with today’s hectic lifestyles, it’s probably fair to say that the majority of us haven’t had a regular nap since toddlerhood.
But since sleep deprivation contributes to grumpiness, overwhelm and stress perhaps it’s a habit we should be working on. Scientific studies show that napping can reduce your blood pressure, increase your alertness, boost your creativity and even improve your mental health.
Of course, napping is just one way that you can get more sleep – so if a daily nap isn’t realistic for you then maybe you could try a regular early night instead.
Do happy people smile because they are happy? Or are they happy because they smile? The truth is that it could be a bit of both.
Scientists researching the impact of Botox injections found that our facial expressions actually reinforce the way that we are feeling. They discovered that people who’d had Botox and couldn’t frown were generally happier than people that could frown.
“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain—there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” said psychologist Michael Lewis.
We don’t know for sure how this works, but psychologists think it is a type of “feedback loop”. The jury is out on whether just smiling can make you happy, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to give it a go.
4. Random Acts of Kindness
If you’ve ever walked away from a charity or volunteering event with an additional spring in your step, there’s a valid reason why.
Research has shown that random acts of kindness and altruism make us feel really good. In fact, according to one American study, donating to charity has the same impact on our brains as eating chocolate or having sex. Surely no one can argue with that!
Researchers found that the act of giving caused the region of the brain that’s responsible for cravings and pleasurable reward to light up. The area responsible for the production of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, was also strongly active.
So other than giving to charities, volunteering or presenting a gift unexpectedly, what are other ways in which we can carry out random acts of kindness?
Taking part in or establishing a pay-it-forward scheme is one popular way that you can give to others, specifically strangers, and is two-fold in its benefits. Not only do you get to feel great, but you set the wheels in motion for others to feel great and do good too.
Examples of pay-it-forward schemes include paying for a coffee for the person behind you in the queue at the café, buying an extra lotto ticket for a stranger on the street, or washing your neighbour’s car after washing your own.
5. Get moving
It’s a well-known fact that keeping active and healthy is good for the body and good for the mind. And if you exercise regularly enough, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
It’s no coincidence that that steep hill climb, extra long ride on your bike or gruelling swim has left you feeling good – and not just because you survived.
Exercise causes our brains to produce a cocktail of chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine that create the feeling of euphoria both during and after a workout. So it makes sense that this is why it’s recommended so highly for sufferers of depression, stress and anxiety.
A recent imaging study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that intense exercise boosts two critical neurotransmitters that drive communications between the brain cells that regulate physical and emotional health.
“Major depressive disorder is often characterised by depleted neurotransmitters,” said lead author Dr. Richard Maddock.“Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these.”
But before you start thinking you need to complete a marathon so as to get that natural ‘high’, rest assured you don’t. Any exercise is beneficial for happiness - so why not make it extra fun by thinking outside the box?
Rollerskating, paddle boarding or fun runs could all be a good place to start.
6. Step away from social media
In a society obsessed with selfies, social media and technology in general, it’s hard to imagine how we ever lived before.
Photos of food, status updates and ‘check-ins’ of an enviable nature have become very much the ‘norm’, and being more than a metre from our phones sends many of us into a minor panic.
Yet, with all good things comes the bad. According to the 2015 annual National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey, one in two Australian teens suffers from FOMO (the fear of missing out) as a result of social media.
The subsequent impact of this is increased occurrences of depression and anxiety. And it’s much same when it comes to adults. Findings from a 2015 study by the Happiness Research Institute revealed that people who don’t use Facebook felt happier than others.
“Facebook distorts our perception of reality and of what other people’s lives really look like. We take into account how we’re doing in life through comparisons to everyone else, and since most people only positive things on Facebook, that gives us a very biased perception of reality,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of the institute and lead researcher.
So, if you want to be happy, then ditching or at least curbing your social media habit more regularly might help you.
7. Surround yourself with other positive people
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘misery loves company’ and have maybe even experienced it yourself. It’s the friend who’s always a Debbie Downer, the bearer of bad news and negativity and the one you avoid meeting whenever possible.
So, it makes sense that it should work the other way round too, right? Well, the research says so.
A report in the British Medical Journal found that happiness is contagious and the more happy people you’re connected to, the happier you are yourself.
“If a social contact is happy, it increases the likelihood that you are happy by 15 percent,” said James Fowler, lead researcher. “But every extra unhappy friend increases the likelihood that you’ll be unhappy by 7 percent.”
But, if that’s not enough of a motivation to rid yourself of those Debbie Downers, then maybe further benefits will be. Because being around happy, positive people also inspires you to achieve your goals and make changes in your life for the better.
So, when it comes to who you want to spend time with, think about those people who you have fun with, those who make you laugh, those who inspire and motivate you and those you would most like to be like.
8. Hang out with your furry friends
As a nation of animal lovers, Australians need no convincing when it comes to the joys of having a pet. In fact, 2015 Roy Morgan research revealed that a higher proportion of us live in a house with a cat or dog than with a child.
And with 38 percent of the population living with a dog, compared to 23 percent with a cat, it’s not hard to see why dogs have earned themselves the reputation as ‘man’s best friend’.
So why are so many people willing to give up half of their bed, live with constantly furry floors and wake up to the worst morning breath ever? Simple. Owning pets makes people happy – a fact that’s been proven by many studies.
For example, research from the University of Missouri found that just a few minutes of petting a pooch increases the production of those happy hormones, serotonin and oxytocin in our bodies and decreases stress.
Similarly, pet ownership is linked to a more active and healthy lifestyle, an increase in our social connections and a boost in our self-esteem.
Remember, if you're thinking about getting yourself a furry companion - adopt, don't shop!
9. Spend money on experiences, not things
Remember those clothes you bought and only wore once? Or that trinket that you simply had to have and only a month later you lost? Sure you do. We’ve all done it.
In a world of consumerism, it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that more will make us happy. We convince ourselves that materialistic possession is king and without it, we’ll lead a less fulfilled life.
However, that conviction is wrong. Because psychological research has shown the way to be happy actually comes from experiences.
A study undertaken at San Francisco State University found that while purchases initially made people happy, experiences had a more lasting impression and led to more long term happiness.
The main reasons? Because it fulfilled a need for social bonding, formed important memories and made people feel alive. “As nice as your new computer is, it’s not going to make you feel alive,” said Ryan Howell, assistant professor.
So next time you’re considering how best to spend your money, think about an experience first. Concerts, a special dinner, a day trip or a holiday could all tick the box.
10. Hang out in nature
Hanging out in nature takes the meaning of ‘taking a breath of fresh air’ to a whole new level, as research has found a link between doing so and happiness.
According to a study from the University of Michigan, going for a walk in nature creates feelings of positivity and enhanced mental health, particularly when done in a group.
Similarly, another study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found the more green space in the neighbourhood, the happier people reported feeling.
“Higher levels of green space were associated with lower symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress,” said Dr Kristen Malecki, assistant professor involved in the study.
But it’s not just going for a walk on your lunch break, before work or even venturing out and exploring on the weekends that can have a positive impact on your mood and happiness levels. It’s also about bringing the outside in.
Studies have shown that by imagining yourself outdoors, recalling an outdoor experience, looking at a nature view or the presence of nature through indoor plants can also all help you to feel happy.
There is no reason to put happiness off
No need to wait for the better paying job or anything else for that matter.
You can be happy, now. So what are you waiting for?
Want more feel-good inspiration? Read: Thoughts for better living from 25 of the web's top counsellors.