23 WAYS TO BE HAPPIER
I think it’s safe to say that most of us would like to find ways to be happier. Happiness is like a battery-powered laptop. We need recharging if we’re to remain in a positive mental state. Let’s take a look at brain science and emotions and find out how to be happier!
EMOTIONS ARE COMPLEX
6 BASIC EMOTIONS
Psychologists say that we have 6 basic emotions. Happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger. All of our other emotions are built from these six universal emotions.
As an aside, for the writers and the intrigued observers among us, I’ve adapted a chart from Cornell University with motion cues.
I’m confident that if you’re reading this, you have an interest in emotions and therefore are adept at reading emotional cues—or you’re related to me and making me happy by reading!
WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?
The diverse group of structures Papez outlined in his paper is now known as the limbic system. Flash forward almost 100 years. Many scientists argue that saying something as complex as emotion is handled by one group of brain structures is an oversimplification. The limbic system is thought to be involved in much more than emotion.
THE LIMBIC SYSTEM
The limbic system seems to raise the ire of scientists. They ought to read my post!
A QUICK RUNDOWN OF THE LIMBIC SYSTEM SO WE CAN GET TO HOW TO BE HAPPIER, ARMED WITH SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE
NEUROTRANSMITTERS IN A NUTSHELL
These parts of the brain communicate via neurotransmitters. A neurotransmitter is chemical substance released by a neuron. (a nervous system cell specialized for electrical and chemical transmission of signals.) So, to repeat, neurotransmitters are used to communicate with other neurons.
We use our awareness of neurochemical transmission to design drugs, investigate the causes of disease, and improve our comprehension of behavior! (Such as the topic of this post!)
Trying to correlate any neurotransmitter to one function is an oversimplification! But I’ll give it a go!
ENDORPHINS (BETA ENDORPHINS)
HOW TO BE HAPPIER
FIGHTING NEGATIVITY BIAS
Leading behavioral research shows that as much as 70% of our thoughts are negative. After all, 2/3 of the basic emotions are negative. Human brains have a negativity bias, which is rooted in our ancestral need for survival.
We continually scan our environment for threats. Negative thoughts outnumber our positive thoughts daily, and negative thoughts have a greater impact on us than positive thoughts.
Okay, so brain science tells us negative emotions are ingrained in our chemistry. We need to fight our built-in negativity bias to be happier.
POSITIVE SELF TALK
Here’s another fact. Our brains are neuroplastic! This means if we repeat positive ideas and thoughts to ourselves often enough, we’ll begin to believe them. Let’s concentrate on the other 33% of our thoughts–the positive ones, instead. Methodically developing positive self-talk feeds your brain the positivity that it needs to drown out the negative.
All right! Now that we know the science behind emotions, let’s look at 23 ways to be happy.
23 WAYS TO BE HAPPY (HURRAH! A LIST!)
1.REFRAME THE NEGATIVE THOUGHT
Accept the negative feeling, thought or sensation, label it and verbally express it. Such as, ‘I can’t handle this!’
Reframe it: ‘I have gone through tough times before and found a way through them. I can handle this as well.’
We don’t want all that excess cortisol release!
2. HAVE AN OPEN MIND
Be open to new places, people, and experiences. When you’re flexible and open to change, your happiness can increase.
Avoid real rockslides if at all possible.
3. CHAT WITH ACQUAINTANCES
Even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being.
If you’re at the park, talking about how your dog got into the garbage or your kid ate 14 marshmallows while you took a nap will make you happier.
For the record, Louie is a thief! He goes into the boys’ rooms, takes an article of clothing & taunts them into a game of tag.
4. CHAT WITH STRANGERS
It may sound strange to you, but you’ll feel part of a greater community if you make connections. Even chatting at the grocery store about how green the broccoli is increases happiness. (If you want to know why you like or don’t like broccoli, I have an interesting post here.)
5. MAKE EYE CONTACT
If striking up a conversation seems daunting, simple eye contact offers benefits, too. A Purdue University psychologist studied how people felt when a subject walked past and either made eye contact, made eye contact while smiling, or completely ignored them. Even brief eye contact increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging.
6. PUT DOWN THAT SMARTPHONE IN PUBLIC
Sure, we’re connected to others through our smartphones, (My hand is raising) but this constant connection has a strange effect. It diminishes our connection with the people in our immediate social world. Using your smartphone sends a signal that you’re not interested in interacting with the people around you.
7. SAY HELLO
Now that the covid restrictions are lifting, we may actually share elevators with strangers again. The next time you walk into an elevator, (or are waiting in line anywhere) make eye contact.
Just saying ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ can put a smile on someone else’s face.
8. OFFER A COMPLIMENT
Making someone else feel better can put a smile on your face, too. (‘shoes’ looks random over there. It ended up misplaced but you get the idea.)
9. GO TO THE LIBRARY
The library has a quiet calmness, the smell of all the books, and the possibilities for adventure. Neuroscience hypothesizes that reading increases ‘functional connectivity with the visual cortex.’ It’s proven to make you smarter!
And if you feel smart, you’ll feel more confident. Plus, you can chat with the librarian! (#4)
When we read, our brains release several neurotransmitters. (oxytocin for one) Through building this sense of connection to the characters, we often don’t know where our feelings end and their feelings begin. This can help us feel more connected and less lonely as we realize that we are all human beings who experience a wide range of emotions.
11.TELL A STORY
The brain of the person telling a story actually syncs with the listener. Stories help us feel a greater sense of connection to one another. They can increase our empathy and often help reinforce our highest ideals such as compassion and kindness.
12. HELP YOUR KIDS (AND GRANDKIDS) BECOME BETTER READERS
Improving reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter. This also improves communication within the brain.
13. SOAK UP THE SUN
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) causes symptoms of depression in the fall and winter, when daylight is less abundant. Research indicates that SAD is linked to lower levels of serotonin. This disorder affects 5% of Americans and can last for up to 40% of the year, depending on where you live.
OK, that’s too much math so just get out into the sun.
I know, you’re rolling your eyes. As we talked above, exercise is thought to release beta-endorphin!
If you’d like, I can send you a hefty pdf that goes over this in more detail. Just email me! Exercise will improve your mood, aka happiness! It releases endorphins! HIIT is proven especially effective at endorphin release! Here’s a quick workout to get you started.
I hate to give Marie Kondo a nod, (because I don’t enjoy cleaning) but order and organization brings a sense of well-being.
16. DECORATE WITH ONLY THINGS YOU LOVE
Don’t keep staring at that hated poster on your wall. Get rid of it. Have things around you that make you smile. If you’re surrounded with things you love, it will bring you happiness. If you don’t like something, donate it! It will feel cathartic to clear it away. Plus you’ll help someone else who may love the item. (Although maybe this mug would make you smile?)
17. GET ENOUGH REST & DON’T USE ELECTRONICS CLOSE TO BEDTIME (I suppose this is two things, which is why # 17 is longer.)
The hormone melatonin is derived from serotonin. This nighttime melatonin production is stimulated by neural input from a structure in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It acts as a master circadian clock for the brain.
Melatonin is believed to have a number of other functions as well. It is thought, for example, to modulate immune system activity and to act as a free radical scavenger and antioxidant. Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked.
I love cherries!
Neuroplasticity to the rescue! Once you open your mind to the idea that you can be happier, you have started on the path.
When you find things that make you happy, repeat them daily! Whatever they are, keep doing them.
20. ONLY SIX WORDS & YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR WEEK
Check out this post to try one small technique. Maybe it will work for you!
Mindfulness can help relieve stress, quiet your mind, improve your focus, and boost your self-esteem. It helps to clear your mind so you can recognize & better control those negative thoughts.
‘Oh, there’s that thought again. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of who I am.’
Mediation decreases serum cortisol (‘serum’ is the cortisol in your bloodstream, causing havoc). Meditation also increases gray matter in our brains!
22. MAKE OTHERS HAPPY
For example, subscribe to my newsletter! You’ll make me happy.
Actually, there is a phenomenon ‘helper’s high.’ It’s a feeling of euphoria that happens when you do a charitable deed. It is linked with greater longevity and healthy. It’s hypothesized that acts of kindness release endorphins.
If you flip the coin, studies show that deficits in empathy intensify conflicts and human suffering. We need to combat that with kindness. In so doing, we also help ourselves.
23. TREAT YOURSELF
Eating a piece of dark chocolate, listening to music, or watching a favorite TV show releases endorphins, too. Much as I love chocolate, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I started writing this post, only because these aren’t as interactive. That said, treating yourself will make you happier.
Be careful though. Too much of some good things can cause issues. Here’s an article in Scientific American that discusses kids and screen time.
BE HAPPIER AND LIVE LONGER
There is a recent body of research on telomeres, the endcaps of our chromosomes, which shows that long-term stress not only shortens these endcaps, it can also lead to an earlier death. (boo cortisol)
Developing a positive emotional state, be it from volunteering, a smile at the coffee shop, a chat in the line at Trader Joe’s, exercise, reading, or mediation may increase the likelihood of you sticking around a while longer.
If you’ve got a strong negativity bias, I feel for you. You are not alone. It gets tiring but keep fighting! Focus on the positive and reframe.
The time to be happy is right now!
What makes you happy? I’d love to know in comments!
I’ll be happier if you subscribe! Thank you.
This is such a great post and really informative! I will definitely be following some of these tips, thank you for posting this 😊💕
Thanks so much for stopping by!
These are great tips for being happy. Currently I am working out weekly to try to help my body get in shape. I have seen that I am happier and I love that. It’s crazy to think how many things can affect our happiness. I really learned a lot and enjoyed reading and learning about ways to be happy.
I’m happy that you found my post informative. Good for you to work out! Go endorphins. Thanks!
Great explanations of why we think the way we do. Thanks for the list of ways to make ourselves more positive. I always love your GIFS!
I love GIFS, too! You’re welcome. And thank you!
That’s weird that humans have a negativity bias when they also have a optimism bias, that something bad won’t happen to them like dying in a car crash
That’s an interesting point. Human brains are an enigma, all right! Thanks.
I love the information in this post! I appreciate the strategies to maintain positivity – essential for elements for happiness. Thanks for sharing.
Absolutely. Positivity is a main ingredient for happiness. Thanks, Jodie!
Your posts make me happy! Thanks!
And your comments make me happy! (I’m smiling right now!) Thanks.
Great post and great ideas. I do a lot of these things, such as exercise, which makes me happy. You have given me some new ideas, too. Thanks!!
How fantastic that you’re exercising and garnering benefits, such as happiness! I’m glad that my post inspired you. Thanks so much.
Reading this was informative. Made me chuckle here and there too. Infusing with specks of happiness
I’m pleased that you noticed! One of my main objectives is to make you smile. It makes me smile, too! (We’ve checked off several numbers on my Happy List.) Thank you so much!
The human brain is an amazing thing! It is so interesting how it controls our emotions and can be programmed and reprogrammed simply by our thoughts.
These are wonderful suggestions to be happier! I am always surprised by how a quick hello or smile can completely change our mood. Thank you so much for sharing!
I’m so happy you like my suggestions. Our brains are endlessly intriguing. I could write posts just about neuroscience and psychology. (I need to hold myself back!) You’re right about moods and casual interaction, which is why I included it in my list. I was noticeably cheered by the cashier at the store last week! And by you, for taking the time to comment! Thank you so much!
Great post and it does help reconfirm some of the things I do in my daily routine to make me happy. Something that I was surprised wasn’t on here was animals. I wonder how much they actually do contribute to happiness. Keep up the good work. Mike
Excellent point. I did consider including animals! (Louie makes me smile many times each day.) With all the research and my focus on social interactions, I let the concept of comfort animals go this time around. Maybe I’ll research animals and happiness for another post. They deserve it. Thanks!
Great post! It’s always the simple, little things in life that we tend to forget about that actually helps with making us happy. It’s not always easy, but being consistent even with a couple of these things can bring about amazing results!
I agree, it’s not always easy. Negativity bias is strong. Consistency with the simple, small actions is key to recharging the happiness tank. Thanks for pointing that out!
These are such great ways to work on your happiness! It’s so important to have a good mindset and be happy, even though its not always easy! Thanks so much for sharing!
I’m so happy that you like my ‘happy list.’ No, it’s not always easy to have a good mindset. Which is partially why I spent the time researching! We’ll keep at it! Thanks so much, Charity!
I’m always impressed with the amount of research you devote to your posts. I thought the advice to re-frame negative thoughts into positive ones was the best advice.
I agree, Amy. It’s difficult to reframe, but with practice that’s it possible. Thanks!
Excellent information! I definitely have a lot of negative thoughts and a negative outlook on most things. I try very hard to be happier and do many of the things suggested. I really need to work on exercising and putting down my phone in public. Thank you for the tips!
You’re not alone! We’re butting up against our DNA here. I struggle with negativity, too. Meditation is a good method for me to reset. I know you can find ways to exercise more and put your phone down in public. We’ll keep at it! Thank you!
I absolutely loved reading this! I love the positive message you are spreading with this, along with all of the interesting information! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
I’m so happy that you think so! We all need more positivity. Thanks, Melissa!
This is such a helpful and indepth post. You’ve mentioned so many great tips. Decluttering and meditating are two things that I love to do and definitely make me happier overall.
I tend to overdo in depth so I appreciate that you put that adjective in the plus column! started decluttering last year and am surprised by how lighter it makes me feel. And I love the sustainability factor of donating items and imagining that someone has found a fun treasure. Now I’m happier that these methods have made you happier overall! Thanks.
Wow! I’m shocked at the statistic that 70% of our thoughts are negative. That’s eye opening along with the basic emotions info too. That helps to understand how our brains work, though, as it means we can work to change it. Thanks for the interesting information and the helpful list! I’m one of those people that love to talk to strangers, so I agree that can help make you feel happier 🙂
I too was shocked at that 70 % statistic. I like talking to strangers, too. There’s a freedom and happiness with not having any subtext or agenda. I’m so happy you like my happy list! Thanks.
I LOVE your layout of all this information! It’s easy to skip over what I do know, and flick through and learn more to fill my knowledge gaps. Not to mention the sleeping panda – adorable!
I’m pleased that you noticed! That’s why I do it, so it easier to scroll to the parts you prefer to read. The panda is a cutie all right! Thanks, Rachel!
Wow this blog post has taught me so much. I had no clue about the 70% – that is so wild!! I love your tips and tricks, I am going to try my best to be happier and make more effort being happy for myself
That 70% stat is wild, I agree! It’s not always easy but I’m happy that you’re going to try to be happier. Thanks, Rosie!
I’m always smiling at strangers and saying hello (even when they then cross to the other side of the street, haha) but kindness is free so I love complimenting people too, even if I don’t know them. Paying it forward, I guess. Love your 23 tips, Sue, some great ones in here!
HAHA! Yes, I’ve had that happen too. Otoh, I had a nice chat with a stranger at the grocery store this AM. We’ll both keep at it. I’m happy you like my 23 ways to be happier tips! Thanks so much, Lisa.
Aw this is such an important post, and one that really resonates with me. We’re all striving for happiness, but really there are so many ways that we can achieve that- and it’s different for different people. Thank you for sharing these ideas x
I’m pleased that my post resonated with you!That’s why I’ve got 23 ideas! Hopefully there’s something here for everyone. Thanks!
Great tips!! My friend always have anxiety but when she gets away from the phone, she feels better. Thank you for sharing these great tips!
Ah! Putting down that cell phone is working for her. I love that validation of my ’23 Way To Be Happier’ list! Thanks for sharing it with me!
Amazingly well researched as always, but also a pleasant, fun read with some real tangible tips on how to be happy. I’m a little too happy right now after warm chocolate chip banana bread with melted butter.
I do enjoy research and fun. I’m happy that you found my post combined both! Oh yes, treat yourself works, all right. (I’m not going to qualify that, just enjoy!) Thanks, Eva!
These are some great tips! I try to use a lot of these everyday to give me a more positive and happy mindset. Happiness radiates from you which is something I try to do daily as there’s nothing better! Xo
Elle – ellegracedeveson.com
Agreed! There’s no downside to sharing kindness, like too much sugar. (!darn!) Good to hear that you’re a radiator of positivity! Thanks!
I couldn’t agree anymore with the advice you’ve written in your post here, everyone goes through a emotional phase, I’m generally a happy guy all the time, some things can upset me, but I like to move on, put things behind from the past and try and live a loving life 😁
You’ve got the reframing of thoughts knocked down! Good for you! Thanks so much.
Lots of wonderful ideas. Thanks for sharing them! And doing all that research!
And thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment!
Such great tips! Humans are so complex, aren’t they? Think I only have one emotion at the moment and its TIREDNESS haha!
Maybe it’s time for a little nap? ha! Kidding aside, I have days like that, too. Be gentle with yourself! And thanks.
Lovely informative post! I love the way you delved into the science before giving some useful tips! I particularly love the one about making other people happy 🙂
I’m fond of that tip, too! Thanks so much for mentioning that you like my organization. And for stopping by!
Wow! I really appreciate that you took the time to research and explain the scientific reasons behind everything.
You’re very welcome! And thanks.
This is such an interesting post, I have learnt quite a lot around the reasonings behind everything!
Also great tips on how to be more happy. One thing that makes me happy is doing something I love, like getting creative and crafty.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
I love creativity, too! Finishing a craft project, not to mention gardening, painting, or cooking are great ways to find happiness. (OK, I can paint walls, not canvases but you know what I mean!) I had to make tough choices w my list or the post would gone from 23 Way to Be Happier to 101 Ways to Be Happier! Thanks for pointing out crafty and creativity as two more ways to be happy! And thanks for stopping by.
These are really great tips and I love how you’ve gone into detail about emotions! Complements make me happy, especially when it brightens someones day. Thank you for sharing these tips. I’m a happy person, but it’s always good to embrace new things! Em x
I agree, which is why I leaned into an altruistic angle. Helping others helps our psyche too. Thanks so much!
What a great post. I love all these suggestions on how to be happier.
Your taking the time to comment makes me so happy! I’m glad you liked my post. Thanks, Michelle!
These are good tips! By the way, as well as sun, aerobic exercise — walking, running, biking and swimming — significantly increases serotonin production in the body. You need about 30 minutes to get the serotonin “high.”
30 minutes for a serotonin kick? Thanks for the tip! And for stopping by!