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.
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.
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.
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.’
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 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.