Everybody wants a quick fix to make their lives better. It seems like everything that will make life better exists “out there.” I would be happier if people were nicer to each other, if my job wasn’t so stressful, if those stupid diets actually worked, if I had a better car, if I had the right partner…”
I think we all know deep down that externally-driven happiness is fleeting. It’s never perfect for long because another problem comes up, or we decide that something else is missing.
Instead, I suggest an approach that creates internal happiness, independent of your external circumstances or other people, and creates long term happiness, not just fleeting happiness.
Creating Patterns of Happiness Every Day
Rather than looking for a quick fix, work on developing your patience to create habits and patterns that feel good and gradually improve your overall happiness with life. Here are some things you can do every day to feel a little bit better.
- Practice deep breathing. Deep belly breathing (where you feel your diaphragm expand, not just your chest) lowers your stress levels, increases energy, and helps you manage your emotions. Different emotions are linked to different breathing patterns. When you’re anxious, angry, stressed, etc., your breath is rapid and shallow. However, when you’re relaxed, your breath is slow and deep. But most of us have never been taught how to manage strong emotions using the breath. You can influence your mood by consciously slowing and deepening your breath. The next time something has you on edge, inhale deeply through the nose, filling your lungs completely and expanding your belly, hold your breath for the count of three, and exhale deeply and completely through your mouth. Do this 10 times and intense emotions will lose their hold on you.
- Take a hike (or a stroll in the park). If you work in a windowless office, you know the feeling of “there’s an outside?” A disconnect with nature may contribute to unhappiness. A Finnish study suggests that even short visits to nature areas have positive effects on perceived stress relief. Make a 20-minute walk part of your lunch break to boost your mood and unplug from your worries. Try to be fully present while you walk, noticing the sights, smells, and sounds around you to avoid ruminating. Bonus feel-good activity: Bring a bag to collect discarded bottles and trash to make the path better for the next person.
- Pick a good earworm. You know how annoying it is to have the wrong song stuck in your head? It’s the same when you worry. Those horrible earworm thoughts eat away at your happiness. But an epic track can change everything. It’s almost impossible not to feel better when your favorite song comes on. Play your favorite song a couple of times. Sing out loud. Let those positive vibes become your daily earworm.
- Slooooooow down. Put your fork down between bites (you’ll be amazed at how quickly you will feel full, if you avoid shoveling food into your mouth). Put the fork down as soon as you take a bite, thoroughly enjoy every bite, and don’t pick it up again until you’ve finished that bite. This one simple trick helps you relax the frantic stressful rush to do more. Life is much nicer at a slower pace!
- Smile more. Force yourself to smile, even if you’re not feeling happy. Smiling tricks your brain into thinking “life is good.” Boost your mood by not only smiling at other people more, but also smile at yourself every time you look in the mirror. Hold even a forced smile for 2 minutes, until it turns into a genuine “Duchenne smile” (crinkly-eyed) that influences your mood and outlook.
- Keep scrolling (or unplug completely)! Avoid online arguments. When somebody posts something on Facebook that gets your hackles up and you’re just itching to launch a scathing retort… pause. It’s easy to lash back, especially at strangers, but do you know what you just did? You gave some random troll power over how you feel! JUST KEEP SCROLLING. Leave the war of words to the trolls, and give your attention to a feel-good meme or video. Better yet… unplug! Go offline to limit your intake of situations and opinions that upset you.
- Share the love. Social connection is a huge factor in happiness but it’s easy to fall out of touch when life gets in the way. Make it a point to reach out to someone you’re not in daily contact with. Letting people know you care helps you feel stronger and happier. A compliment can brighten someone’s day. A gift of time or effort makes a huge difference. Listening can help someone find a solution. An encouraging note to a friend or relative who is struggling feel supported. “When you feel an impulse to help, do it. When you think about what has made your day, it’s often small acts of kindness given or received,” says Meg Selig, author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. And Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert said it perfectly: “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends, and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
- Appreciate three things. I love this practice. Whenever you think about something that’s going wrong or isn’t working, make yourself find and appreciate three positive aspects about the situation. This forces you to shift your focus toward something that feels better, and it gives you an opportunity to choose a better response.
There’s nothing huge or life-upheaving here. These simple patterns are easy to adopt and will encourage everyday happiness.
How much of our happiness is genetic: https://cla.umn.edu/psychology
How the breath influences your mood: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6332/1411
How being outside makes you happier: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_nature_makes_you_kinder_happier_more_creative
Daily happiness: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/changepower