9 Easy Ways to Be Happier
Most people equate happiness with a sultry Caribbean beach, but a snowy mountain in Colorado may be more accurate. It turns out that cold temperatures can improve your mood. (Good news at this time of year.) Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that blowing cold air up participants’ noses put them in a better frame of mind than did blasts of hot air. So if you need a boost, dial down the thermostat.
Remember Whence You Came
Don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. When you swap stories about the Bad Prom of 1989 or the Amazing Cross-Country Trip of 1971 with others, you view yourself in a more positive light and form tighter bonds, says Dan Buettner, the author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way ($26, amazon.com), a book about the happiest regions in the world. He also recommends “land-mining your home with photos and memorabilia, so you’re constantly reminded of your history.” Adorning a hallway or a highly trafficked room with sentimental objects is a good way to start. (See, Grandma knew what she was doing.)
Mulling over past failures can be tempting (you feel as if you’re gaining insights and finding answers). But over time this behavior may lead to feelings of helplessness. Research shows that ruminators are more likely to be depressed, due to a downward spiral of emotions. First you begin obsessing, which makes you lack the mental clarity to come up with potentially good solutions to problems; as a result, you lose confidence and feel unhappy, says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University. So instead of going over something again and again, distract yourself with a movie or a game. (How about Scattergories?)
Spread the Wealth
Giving away money can make you happier than spending it on yourself, studies show. The same may be true of buying things for others rather than yourself. So if you’re going for coffee, take a colleague’s order and foot the bill. Pick up a treat for a friend that you would normally impulse-buy for yourself at the checkout counter. And tip generously. The payoff will be yours.
Eat a Snack Around 2 p.m.
That’s when levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, can take a nosedive, according to Eric Braverman, a physician in New York City and the author of The Edge Effect ($13, amazon.com). Ideally, choose one that contains mood-boosting nutritional powerhouses, like B vitamins (B6, B12, and folic acid, found in dairy products and leafy greens) and complex carbohydrates (try whole grains).
Get a Move On
“For some people, exercising at high intensity three times a week for just 30 minutes at a time can provide the same benefits as some of the most powerful psychiatric medications,” says psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar. Research suggests that during that half hour of exercise, the human body can increase the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which can have an antidepressant effect. Yoga, for its part, seems to have additional calming (and happy-making) effects on both the brain and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Limit Your Options
“When you make a choice, you generally want the best,” says psychologist Barry Schwartz. “That means you tend to consider everything that’s available, which can be overwhelming.” Not to mention stressful and anxiety producing. Whenever you find yourself paralyzed by indecision, whether you’re shopping for a new car or a new nail-polish color, quickly try to whittle down your options to a few choices. Then pick one and move on.
Or learn to hula. Or join a quilting bee. Just find something that occupies 100 percent of your attention while you’re engaged in it. You’ll be more motivated and focused—feelings that promote happiness, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. Case in point: Buettner says that in Denmark (characterized as the most thriving country in the world when it comes to well-being, according to a recently published World Gallup Poll), a majority of the population reports belonging to a social club.
Make Your Bed
“When I was researching my book on happiness, this was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over,” says author Gretchen Rubin. Turns out, people are happier when everyday tasks in their lives are completed. And if hospital corners don’t do it for you, test out other small ways to make your life more efficient and pleasant. Shoot for concrete changes: hanging a key hook in your entryway, finally moving your banking online. Or they can be behavioral: say, cracking the code to curing your persistent tardiness.