Like many of us, I’ve struggled with life and happiness levels. Have you experienced this too?
It’s normal for moods to fluctuate, but there are many easy practices you can do that will greatly increase your happiness.
Read on to find out scientifically approved methods to elevate your mood!
1) Go for a walk
Have you ever felt down or stuck, and then taken a walk and felt better? I know I have!
As much as I can be resistant to routine, starting my day with walking has transformed my life. A short walk can change moods, get rid of anxiety and is good for you from an exercise perspective.
What science supports this? There’s practically an overload of doctors and psychologists presenting reasons why walking is so powerful.
But here’s an interesting one that you may not have heard of.
I’ll give you a clue, it’s related to eye movements.
One day, whilst taking a walk, Dr Francine Shapiro realized that her exercise was reducing many negative feelings.
She took this idea to the lab and discovered that it was, at least in part, due to the way the eye scans the landscape from side to side, and that this has a desensitizing power over negative emotions.
Her research showed this to be so important, that she was able to develop the technique EMDR. This is a form of therapy that has been used with great success to treat PTSD and depression.
A short walk gives you access to some of the healing potential of this modality of therapy, for free!
2) Go “Forest Bathing”
People are designed to be outside, and it’s only in recent history that many of us find ourselves indoors most of the time.
So, it’s no surprise then, that spending time in nature makes you feel good.
The name Forest Bathing or “Shinrin-yoku”, was coined by Japanese scientists and has since been tested by scientists all around the world.
Don’t live near a forest or nature? That’s ok!
One of the interesting things to emerge from the research is that you don’t need an excessive amount of greenery to improve your happiness. Two hours per week is more than enough.
What if you really can’t get outdoors for that long? Well, if so, virtual reality has the answer.
I know from personal experience that when I was stuck in the city, time spent in nature in VR made me feel great.
Scientists have tested this too and found that people can experience huge benefits from time in virtual nature.
3) Get some sun and Vitamin D
Want yet another reason to go on that walk? Sun/Vitamin D exposure!
Being deficient in vitamin D is not much fun, as people who suffer from the aptly named SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) will know.
Maybe you’re thinking, it’s a sunny day, can’t I just sit by the window?
The answer is no.
Why? Studies have shown that the amount of sunlight that comes in, even from rooms with big windows, is a tiny fraction of what you get from going outside.
You can even test this yourself by downloading a light meter app on your phone and checking the difference in lumens inside and outside. The results will shock you, as they did me!
For those of you living in colder, cloudier climates in northern hemispheres, there may not be enough sun to give you Vitamin D, and so you can consult your doctor to see if Vitamin D supplements are suitable for you.
4) Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
If you’re like me, there are times when you’d rather just stay inside than stick to a commitment, such as going for a walk, meeting a friend or doing a group activity.
However the trick is to remind yourself why you wanted to do this in the first place. You had a good reason right?
Push yourself when you can and you will experience the endorphin buzz of doing something that you don’t really want to do. You also invite new experiences and chances into your life that would not have happened if you simply succumb to staying indoors.
5) Build and maintain a support network
Another benefit from meeting with friends or joining a class, is that you can deepen your bonds with people and make new friends.
Even if you are an introvert, humans are social creatures who rely on others to stay well and happy. This is proven by research from scientists such as psychologist Saida Heshmati, who have studied the effects of love and friendship on wellbeing and health.
In a busy life, it can be tempting to put these connections to one side, but you will benefit in so many ways if you make time for socializing.
When you face tough times your friends will (hopefully!) be there for you, and you can do the same in return.
6) Do something nice for others
Having friends gives us opportunities to help others and make our world a better place. And the same goes for random people you haven’t even met.
Have you ever felt touched by help from a stranger? Maybe you had a heavy bag and needed some help, or dropped money on the street. Perhaps someone gave you a kind smile when you were feeling sad.
These are examples of people showing compassion. As great as it feels to receive these acts, it also feels amazing to do them for others. This is especially meaningful when you know that a small act can change someone else’s whole day.
Once again neuroscience proves the benefits of compassion as special areas of the brain light up when we experience it. The study also shows that compassion can be trained, so if you start doing something for someone regularly, you can strengthen this happiness-increasing habit.
Here are some examples of kind things you can do for people:
- Assisting someone with a baby
- Helping someone crossing the road
- Smiling at a stranger
- Leaving surprise notes of encouragement in random places
- Sending a heartfelt thank-you note
- Surprising someone with a meaningful compliment
7) Keep a gratitude journal
If you do the nice gestures in the list above, you may feel gratitude for the responses you get.
Ever have a day where it feels like nothing good has happened?
Just look for the simple things. Perhaps you saw a pretty flower that you saw on the way to work.
Or maybe you bought a candle from the shop. Think about that candle and how you can use it to make the mood special the next time a friend comes over.
8) Design a meditative practice
Ok so this is another one we’ve all heard of – meditation is proven to make you happier.
But wait – there’s more.
For some of us, especially some neurodivergent people, meditation can seem like an impossible chore.
If that sounds like you, try one or more of these tips:
- Listen to guided meditations from YouTube or Spotify
- Try an active meditation such as Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong
- Join a meditation group – doing it together is easier and more motivating!
- Repeat a mantra or use an instrument repetitively
- Find another way to meditate – get into the alpha state by doing something you love!
And to come full circle, go on a walk in nature and really pay attention to what you see!
I hope that this article has shown you how you can do some really simple things to increase happiness.
Adopting even one of these strategies will improve your life, and inspire you to add more.
Have fun with it!
I’m off to take a meditative walk in a sunlit forest, while rescuing a baby squirrel and then writing it down in my gratitude journal.