Happiness is a loaded term, and can easily be confused with related, though dissimilar, terms like pleasure or mood. In fact, true happiness has little to do with cultivating a consistently good mood or amassing a multitude of pleasurable experiences. Because it can be so difficult to obtain a long-lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment in life, it is important to start by practicing small behaviors that, over time, add up to a more positive outlook. We asked life coaches and mental health experts to share their favorite tips to be happy.
Erin Stair, MD, MPH, and the founder of Blooming Wellness, suggests doing laughter exercises or trying a laughter yoga club.
“Laughing, even ‘fake’ laughter boosts endorphins and it’s also a form of progressive muscle relaxation,” she says.
Do One Kind Thing Every Day
“This is what we call a ‘Positive Activity Intervention.’” Dr. Stair explains. “Small acts of charity help cultivate feelings of gratitude and subsequently happiness. Charity doesn’t have to be a huge, complex endeavor. Charity starts at home and can be small, kind, every-day acts.”
Buy a Coffee for a Stranger
When going through the drive-thru at a Starbucks, have you ever stopped to consider how nice it would be to secretly pay for the person behind you? Or, while standing in line for a coffee, have you ever considered purchasing the order of the person next to you? Hypnotherapist and life coach Melissa DaSilva recommends doing just that.
“Random acts of kindness not only make others feel good, but you as well,” she says.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary
DaSilva also recommends turning your bedroom into a sanctuary worthy of your inner goddess (or god). Prioritizing sleep turns out to be extremely important: Studies show that sleep interruptions or delayed bedtime have a bigger effect on people’s moods than a lack of sleep overall.
Spend Time with Dogs
Dr. Erin Stair also notes the strong connection between time spent with dogs and human happiness.
“Dogs lower our blood pressure; alleviate stress and improve mood,” she explains.
Linger on Positivity, Not Negativity
For most of us, our brains are wired to ruminate on negative emotions like worry, resentment, sadness, and jealousy. This is because we’ve formed neurological pathways over time, and these can be very difficult to change — but it is possible. David Bennett, a certified counselor and life coach, explains how to break the cycle.
“One tip I use with my clients is to stretch out happy feelings a little longer. Happy about that raise? Mindfully be happier for just a little longer. Smiling about your favorite song? Hold it a few seconds longer. Even right now, think about something happy, smile, and practice holding that feeling out. You’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel, for longer.”
When was the last time you added relaxation time to your daily planner?
“Most of us schedule out the things we don’t like (work, meetings, dental appointments) but do the things that make us happy ‘on the fly.’ The result is that we often don’t end up doing the good things. Schedule out the things that make you happy. Not only will you be more likely to do them, but you’ll have them to look forward to,” counselor David Bennett explains.
Establish a Routine
Board certified art therapist and counselor Jill Howell swears by sticking with routines that generate joy.
“Establish a routine,” she says. “Pick what works for you and to do it EVERY day, whether it is waking up in the morning and going straight to your yoga mat, going for a walk, spending 15 minutes coloring, or enjoying a hobby. Having a daily practice, something that you look forward to, can really make a difference for your mental well-being."
Regardless of how much effort you make to bring happiness into your life, it’s unrealistic to expect to feel happy 100 percent of the time. When you feel sad, try sitting with your emotion. Acknowledge it, breathe through it, and trust that it’s okay to feel sad and that you don’t need to change the feeling immediately.
“We can only experience happiness if we know sadness, anger, fear, and a host of other feelings humans experience. No one lives in a constant state of happiness 100 percent of the time,” says Dr. Nancy Irwin. “Validating all feelings and the fact that they are fleeting as opposed to fixed traits can allow one to be happier.”
Nearly every mental health expert agrees that mindfulness can be extremely helpful for improving happiness. Deborah Norris, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and psychologist, explains how to reap its benefits.
“When individuals are feeling anxiety and worry, these are both associated with a non-present state of mind,” she explains. “As in worrying about what has been or what may be yet-to-come. Mindfulness practices such as meditation induce present-minded awareness, helping to lessen feelings of anxiety or helplessness and increase feelings of empowerment. Results will vary for different individuals, but the important factors are consistency and paying attention to what works for you. Some may see benefit from a one-hour practice twice a week while others might need a daily practice, even several times a day, for shorter lengths of time.”