We all want to be happy. After all, aside from making us feel better, happiness is thought to make us live longer, healthier, more productive lives. But is it really possible to make yourself happier? Whilst it's true that some of us are genetically predisposed toward a more pessimistic bent, and that certain circumstances which influence our happiness levels are beyond our control, you may be surprised to learn that researchers believe that at least 40% is down to our day-to-day choices and activities. And the key to enduring happiness? Frequency, rather than intensity - it really is the little things that count most. Try one or two of these 25 science-backed hacks to happiness today and start reaping the benefits...
1. The Strictly Come Dancing inspired secret to a young brain in old age
What better way to increase your happiness and boost the youth of your brain then by dancing? Make like the Strictly stars and dance boogie your way to better brain health and a happier state of mind. According to a new study published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, dancing has been proven to increase the area of the brain that declines with age. The results also showed a noticeable behavioural change in the subjects in terms of improved balance. The study suggests that learning a new routine each week is the best way to boost your brain health and help you stay happy. So, you know what the late Sir Bruce Forsyth would say - Keeeeeeep Dancing!
2. Spend your money on buying yourself time
We all know what a spontaneous splurge on a gorgeous handbag or pair of shoes can do to our mood (temporarily), but it turns out that it's actually best to spend our hard-earned cash elsewhere if we truly want to feel happy. According to a study of 6,200 people by the British Columbia University, individuals said they experienced greater happiness if they used the sum of £30 to save time, e.g by paying for others to complete their chores, than they did if they used it to buy a physical item. Dr Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist professor at the University of British Columbia, said, "In a series of surveys we find that people who spend money to buy themselves more free time are happier - that is they have higher life satisfaction."
3. Buy yourself flowers... or treat yourself to a new perfume
Wake up and smell the roses - because they could banish the morning 'blahs', according to a Harvard University study. People who looked at a small bouquet of flowers soon after waking up experienced a boost in positivity and energy. In another study, participants used three times as many happiness-related words when asked to recall life events in a room scented with floral fragrance.
4. Take a selfie
Hate having your photo taken? Participants in the University of California, Irvine's study instructed to take a smiling selfie every day for four weeks enjoyed a surge in happiness, as well as becoming more comfortable and confident on camera. Feeling shy? Don't worry, you don't have to show them to anybody! Still not convinced? The moods of the other two groups of participants, who were asked either to take photos of things that made them happy, or to snap images they thought would make someone else happy (before sharing them with this person) also improved.
5. Wear sunglasses
Squinting makes your brain think you're frowning, according to research conducted by Alex Korb, professor of Neuroscience at UCLA. But "putting on sunglasses stops your brain from thinking, 'Oh my God, I must be worried about something'. It's really just a simple little interruption of that feedback loop," he told The Week.
6. Scrap the small talk
A study by the University of Arizona found that unhappy people engage in three times as much small talk as the happiest amongst us. Happy people, meanwhile, have twice as many meaningful discussions. Next time there's an awkward conversational lull, try discussing whether you'd give up a kidney. According to an experimental dinner party study, this kind of conversational gambit could not only make the experience more enjoyable, but even net you a date. 7. Take the tube to work
If you usually drive to work, you could benefit from slumming it on public transport once in a while. In a recent study, New Yorkers who swapped their cars for the subway for a month not only experienced an upsurge in positive feelings regarding subway trains, but a boost in overall wellbeing.
We're constantly told to slow down and focus on the task or experience at hand - a mindful mind is a happy mind, right? But with too little time in the day and too many to-dos to tick off our lists, multitasking still tends to be the default mode for many of us. According to research, though, whilst multitasking doesn't help you get things done more efficiently, it does make you happier. Oh, and taking short breaks during your workday to watch funny online videos has been proven to enhance happiness and energy. The emotional payoff could outweigh the potential costs of procrastination, according to researchers. So don't worry too much about that Facebook habit - it's officially good for your mental health.
9. Get out of the office during your lunch break
Eating lunch at your desk makes you miserable, according to researchers, whilst eating in an office canteen leaves your mood unchanged. For a mood boost, though, eat outside, preferably in a green space such as a park. And for optimum benefits? Walk there. In another study, otherwise sedentary people who took 30 minute walks during their lunch breaks three times a week for ten weeks reported feeling more positive about their jobs on the days that they walked, and in the afternoons versus the mornings. Feeling down? Make sure you do it with a spring in your step. Walking 'like a happy person' makes you feel happier, according to research. 10. Get a pet
You already know that your cat could save your life, but did you know that pet owners live happier lives than non-pet owners, too? And if you're more of a dog person, it's even better news - dog owners are happier than cat owners.
11. Meet a friend for coffee
Nurturing your social connections is one of the most important things you can do to cultivate happiness. Behavioural economists suggest that, in psychological terms, fulfilling personal relationships boost life satisfaction to the tune of an £85,000 boost in income. Remember, revelling in simple pleasures and close relationships is the essence of hygge, the much-hyped 'secret' of the happiest nation in the world.
12. Go shopping
"Retail therapy has been viewed too negatively ... shopping may be an effective way to minimise sadness," says the authors of a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Research suggests that buying things for others makes us happier than buying things for ourselves, and that spending money on experiences makes us happier than splashing our cash on "things", so why not spend money on an experience you and a loved one can enjoy together? 13. Download a song
If you still like buying "things", invest in items which engage your senses to provide experiences, say researchers. This can include books, music, podcasts and even video games. Listening to upbeat music can have lasting mood-boosting effects, according to research. 14. Try something new
According to psychologist Rich Walker, who analysed 500 diaries covering 30,000 memories of events, those who engage in a greater variety of experiences tend to be better at retaining positive emotions and minimising negative feelings. Does the idea of joining that painting/swing dance/creative writing class still feel too daunting? Research suggests that mastering a new skill may cause temporary increases in stress levels, but that these are outweighed by longer term boosts to positive emotions.
15. Mow the lawn
The chemicals released by a freshly mown lawn enhance happiness and could even fight cognitive decline, according to researchers - who have even developed a fragrance based on the scent. Spending at least 15 minutes a day in the open air will also help you to keep those vitamin D levels topped up, lowering your risk of depression.
16. Watch a sad film
You may not have been surprised to learn that funny cat videos have been proven to increase happiness, but would you be shocked to hear that weepies like Atonement could do the same? Far from depressing you, watching a sad film tends to help you count your blessings, according to researchers. 17. Sing in the shower
Researchers from the University of Manchester have discovered that the sacculus, a tiny organ in the inner ear connected to areas in the brain associated with pleasure, responds to the frequencies associated with singing. Too shy to join a choir? Embrace those bathroom acoustics. 18. Exercise
You might have heard this one before, but, according to science, exercise really is one of the most - if not THE most - effective happiness boosters around. Exercising has been scientifically proven to increase happiness and productivity, decrease stress and help to prevent relapse in depression sufferers. Try running with a friend or joining a yoga class - both are tried and tested mood boosters.
19. Have sex
If you typically get busy once a month, upping the frequency to once a week could be the mood-boosting equivalent of an additional $50,000 (almost £40,000) in income, according to scientists. If you can, do it in the morning, researchers recommend.
20. Drink a cup of coffee
21. Eat a bar of chocolate
Compounds found in chocolate (particularly in high quality dark chocolate) encourage your brain to release anandamide, the "bliss compound" responsible for the runner's high (no running required). Science also suggests eating oodles of fruit and veg (that's 7 or 8 portions a day, as opposed to your standard 5) and including plenty of folate-rich foods and probiotic-packed fermented foodstuffs in your daily diet in order to boost happiness and ward off depression.
22. Start a gratitude journal
Keeping a daily journal of positive experiences boosts happiness, according to research. And sharing these experiences with a friend triples the benefits! Before you go to bed each night, write down at least three things you are thankful for - you can include anything from finding a seat on the train to enjoying a long bath. At least a couple of times a week, take a few minutes to share some of these experiences with a friend, loved one or colleague, particularly at times when you feel you are in danger of being dragged down by negativity.
Nostalgia is officially good for you. Researchers at the Open University have discovered that looking through old photos is more than 10 times as effective at boosting mood as eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, watching TV or listening to music.
Regular meditation is consistently associated with improvements in wellbeing. It even appears to cause areas of the brain associated with negative emotions such as fear to shrink.
25. Savour the anticipation
Planning a holiday makes us even happier than having a holiday, according to research - and the resulting mood boost can last for 8 weeks. In fact, anticipating something as low key as watching your favourite funny film can be enough to boost your endorphin levels by more than a quarter. So keep on planning things to look forward to - big and small, everyday and long term. 26. Complain
The secret to a happy relationship? Complaining. Yes, really - complaining in a "strategic" way can boost happiness, according to Professor Robin Kowalski. Dr Hanna Fry, author of The Mathematics of Love (opens in new tab), concurs, explaining that "the couples who end up doing best have a really low negativity threshold. When things bother them, they speak up immediately and don't let small things spill out of control." 27. Stop trying to be happy
Feeling down? Don't sweat it. Irritatingly, research has found that, the more value someone places on happiness, the less happy they are likely to be. "The effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us more miserable," says Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote (opens in new tab). "That doesn't mean becoming pessimistic, but instead realising that negative experiences are just as important for shaping our lives as the positive ones."
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