23 Ways To Be Happier

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!

Louie waiting for his laptop to charge
Louie waiting for his laptop to charge. He may need some help with the typing, too, but we'll save that for another post!

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.

What Makes Us Happy Scientifically Science blog
It's terrifying to note that 4 of the 6 basic emotions are negative!

 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!

Thank you!

Brain Science and Emotion Louie is happy
Hurrah! You're reading my post!

WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?

In 1937, neuroanatomist James Papez described what came to be known as the Papez circuit.

The Papez circuit consisted of a group of structures that Papez hypothesized were the anatomical basis of emotions.

Click Here

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 diagram
There was a surprising lack of consensus on which structures are part of 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

AMYGDALA
A collection of nuclei found in the temporal lobe that helps coordinate responses to things in your environment, especially those that trigger fearful and anxious emotions.
HIPPOCAMPUS
Although considered part of the limbic system, the hippocampus is associated with preserving and retrieving memories rather than emotion.
PARA HIPPOCAMPAL GYRUS
An area of the cortex that plays a role in memory. It impacts mood, motivation, and judgement.
CINGULATE GYRUS
Involved in various aspects of emotion and memory, also impacting mood, motivation, and judgment.
SEPTAL NUCLEI
Thought to be especially important to pleasure, reward, and reinforcement.
MAMMILLARY BODIES
2 groups of nuclei that are involved in memory and have extensive connections with the amygdala and hippocampus.
FORNIX
A fiber bundle that carries information from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies and then on to the thalamus.
HYPOTHALAMUS
Controls hormone release via the anterior pituitary and can exert widespread influence over bodily states to maintain homeostasis.
For more on the limbic system click here
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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!

CORTISOL

CORTISOL
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands. It has a number of effects on the body that are thought to be carried out in order to help the body deal with a stressor that lasts longer than a few minutes.
Click Here
Cortisol increases blood pressure and cardiac output, providing more blood to your skeletal muscles in case the stressor you're dealing with involves some sort of physical exertion (like running from an axe-wielding murderer)
When the pathways that release cortisol are stimulated too much (for example in someone who faces extreme stress on a daily basis), this can lead to physical and psychiatric problems. High cortisol levels are implicated in mood disorders like depression.
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DOPAMINE

DOPAMINE
Dopamine's contribution to processing rewarding experiences is much more complex than a simple equation where dopamine = pleasure.
Dopamine has too many functions to list, including movement, reward, memory, attention, sleep regulation, motivation….and many many more!
Formed from tyrosine which is turn is formed from phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid for the production of several neurotransmitters, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Phenylalanine is found in most protein-containing foods such as milk, eggs, cheese, nuts, soybeans, chicken, beef, pork, beans and fish.
YUM!
DOPAMINE STRUCTURE
Dopamine Pathways
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SEROTONIN

SEROTONIN
Serotonin is formed from the precursor tryptophan. Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid, meaning we must get it from our food. Some foods that have tryptophan include egg whites, soybeans, sesame seeds, milk, rice and dark chocolate.
GET YOUR TRYPTOPHAN!
Serotonin is often linked to mood. In truth, serotonin’s role is complex. There is a long list of serotonin’s functions, including appetite, blood clotting, and sleep, and in many cases, not totally understood.
SERATONIN PATHWAYS
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NOREPINEPHRINE (ADRENALINE)

NOREPINEPHRINE
A hormone & brain neurotransmitter that plays critical roles in nervous system function. It is the primary neurotransmitter for the sympathetic nervous system, where it is associated with arousal, alertness, and attention. (Don’t you love it when assonance comes into play?)
Like any neurotransmitter, the actions of norepinephrine depend on the type of receptor it activates, and where the receptor is located.
Norepinephrine is produced from dopamine in a reaction catalyzed by an enzyme.
Click Here for more about enzymes
Norepinephrine structure
NOREPINEPHRINE PATHWAYS
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OXYTOCIN

OXYTOCIN
is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide (which means a hormone that can act as a neurotransmitter….way to make it complicated!)
OXYTOCIN STRUCTURE
Oxytocin is thought to have a variety of effects ranging from increasing uterine contractions during labor to influencing social interactions.
Some researchers have found oxytocin to be associated with negative emotions and aggression
Click Here
Still others hypothesize that oxytocin might be involved in promoting responsiveness to social cues in general, whether they be positive or negative.
The true range of effects on behavior is clearly, still unclear!
I keep saying that, don't I?
OXYTOCIN PATHWAYS
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ENDORPHINS (BETA ENDORPHINS)

ENDORPHINS
Peptide neurotransmitters and hormones produced in the central nervous system & the pituitary.
Endorphins are in a class of substances called ‘endogenous opioids.'
'Endogenous' means produced by the body and opioids is tacked on to the name, because they bind to the same receptors that opioid drugs bind to.
By binding to opioid receptors, beta-endorphin can elicit natural pain-relieving effects that have been found to be more potent than morphine!
Its best understood effect is natural pain inhibition. Beta-endorphin is released during stress and is thought to play a role in the stress response.
Beta-endorphin is also thought to interact with the dopamine system and be involved with rewarding experiences.
Some research suggests beta-endorphin plays a role in the positive effects exercise can have on mood.
More here
Happy Guy
Endorphin structure
I seem to qualify everything in this post!
In truth, the role of beta-endorphin in positive mood states is still not fully understood.
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HOW TO BE HAPPIER

Now that we’ve got the brain anatomy, brain science & emotions knocked down, let’s look at how we can use the information to make ourselves happier!  (That photo is sideways but I’m not changing it. I like the symmetry of the flowers. And it fits better this way!)

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. 

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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.

Bearing the weight of negativity can be exhausting.
Negative thoughts often provide constant worry leading to anxiety that makes it difficult to be self-aware and to relax.
Our negative thoughts bring our failings into focus and make us unsure about our abilities.
Thinking negatively can make situations seem worse than they really are in a moment.
Click Here
Our mind makes unfair judgments about our behavior, our integrity, and the possibilities that may be right in front of us.
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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.

Awareness and Cortisol Hawk
Hawks keep on fighting

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.

The Science of Being Happy Science blog
Positivity!

Having positive thoughts affects how you think and cope with stress

People who have more positive thoughts tend to feel more life satisfaction.

They've found a way to be happier!

All right! Now that we know the science behind emotions, let’s look at 23 ways to be happy.

23 Ways to be Happy Smile

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.’

Gathering information
Reframe the thought!

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.

Don't Get Caught in a Rock Slide_Hire a Guide
Have an open mind!

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. 

Playdate
Chat it up!

 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.

CRISPR IS LIFE-CHANGING
I just came across this in the middle of the floor.

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.

23 Ways to be happy smile at strangers
Make Eye Contact!

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.

Put down that smartphone to be happier
Put down that smartphone to be happier

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.)

Brain science and emotions compliment word cloud
Compliment others!

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)

 

Top 10 classic books to improve your brain
The choices are dizzying!

10. READ

 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.

A few book recommendations here!

The Best Way to Keep Your Brain Sharp is to read
Reading stimluates neurotrasmitter release

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.

Tell a Story science blog
Brain sync!

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.

I’ve got a few book recommendations. Here and here.

Favorite Animal _LOUIE
Louie is developing white matter galore

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.

23 Ways to be happier Sunshine and Louie
Get outside and soak up some sunshine. (Sunscreen recommended)

14. EXERCISE

I know, you’re rolling your eyes. As we talked above, exercise is thought to release beta-endorphin!

Here’s a hefty pdf that goes over it in detail. 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. 

What is the 7 minute work out? Not riding these silly bikes.
I'm sure they'll be riding hard as soon as they're done posing for this pic.

15. DECLUTTER

I hate to give Marie Kondo a nod, (because I don’t enjoy cleaning) but order and organization brings a sense of well-being.

How to keep your brain in shape READ
I wouldn't want to dust these stacks!

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?)

How to be happier
If I had my morning coffee in this mug, my cortisol levels would skyrocket.
Ways To Be Happier
These are currently in my shopping cart...

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.

23 Ways To Be Happier
I'm not suggesting that you go out and purchase melatonin. You could eat cherries instead for a natural source. Definitely turn off the electronics b4 bed!

 Melatonin production can be inhibited by exposure to blue wavelength light! 

This is why it's best to avoid using electronic devices close to bedtime!

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!

Cherries have melatonin
Melatonin-rich! Full of antioxidants.

18. BELIEVE

Neuroplasticity to the rescue! Once you open your mind to the idea that you can be happier, you have started on the path.

23 Ways To Be Happier Get Outside
Believe in yourself

19. PRACTICE

When you find things that make you happy, repeat them daily! Whatever they are, keep doing them.

 

The Science of Being Happy_ coffee
Repeat the good things!

20. ONLY SIX WORDS & YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR WEEK

Check out this post to try one small technique. Maybe it will work for you!

23 Ways to Be Happier
Try it!

21. MEDITATE

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.’

23 Ways to be happier meditate
You probably guessed that this isn't me!

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.

Science blog Susan Berk Koch
Release those natural endorphins!

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.

Brain science and emotion __chocolate and endorphins
Yes, I ate this

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! 

Yellowstone River
Ready...set...go!

What makes you happy? I’d love to know in comments!

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You'll be happier! (I will be, too)

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62 thoughts on “23 Ways To Be Happier”

  1. 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.

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  2. 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!

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  3. 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!!

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  4. 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!

    Reply
    • 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!

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  5. 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

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  6. 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!

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  7. 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!

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    • 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!

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  8. 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.

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  9. 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!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  10. 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! 🙂

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

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  12. 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 🙂

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    • 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.

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  13. 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

    Rosie

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  14. 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  15. 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

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  16. 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.

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    • 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!

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  17. 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

    Reply
  18. 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 😁

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  19. Wow! I really appreciate that you took the time to research and explain the scientific reasons behind everything.

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  20. 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 🙂
    Aimsy xoxo
    Aimsy’s Antics

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  21. 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

    Reply

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