10 Secrets to a Happy Life
In a happy variation of "fake it 'til you make it," researchers have discovered that we humans tend to feel whatever emotion we're portraying in the moment. So practice that smile: you'll help yourself feel better, and when people around you smile back you'll know you helped them feel better, too.
Picture Your Future as Happy
Our thoughts have a strong influence on our brain chemistry, so when you think about a future event, visualize yourself being happy. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to let go of negativity and fear, and actually recreate yourself as a positive and happy person.
Dance, Play, Move
We all know about the benefits of exercise, including the release of endorphins -- those lovely brain chemicals that help us feel good. Jogging will release endorphins, of course, but so will any kind of sustained movement that you enjoy -- dancing, biking or a brisk, long walk. The important thing is to keep moving.
Share a Laugh
Along with exercise, laughter helps our brains release endorphins that help us feel happier, less stressed and more connected to others. Perhaps that's why it's easier to laugh with a group than by ourselves -- laughter is contagious. So cultivate your sense of humor and seek out people and situations that make you laugh. You'll be happier -- and healthier -- for the experience.
Create a Work/Life Balance
The advent of technology has blurred the line between work time and personal time -- and we've paid a price in higher stress and reduced happiness. Take back your personal life by creating clear boundaries between work and play: you'll feel more connected to friends and family, and more satisfied with the quality of your life.
One sure way to let go of your troubles is to focus on helping someone else. Give something back by practicing kindness with the people around you. Whether it's donating your time to a worthy cause, making an effort to help a friend, or simply holding the door for a stranger, the effects of kindness are cumulative: the more nice things you do for people, the better you will feel.
Have a Happy Marriage
Researchers have documented the benefits of marriage and committed partnership: the companionship, support, love and sex that come with a strong relationship all combine to increase our happiness quotient. New research shows that happiness is contagious: if your partner is a happy person, chances are you will be happier, too.
Make Time for Things You Enjoy
Do you ever fall into bed exhausted and thinking of something you wanted to do, but didn't have time for? Stress, worry and remorse are not paths to happiness, so take a hard look at your daily schedule and cut out the time-wasters. Use the time to you save every day to pursue at least one activity that gives you pleasure and helps you let go of stress -- even for a little while.
Change Your Routine, Try Something New
Scientists know that keeping our brains stimulated -- learning new things and trying new activities -- is a great way to keep memory and motor skills intact as we grow older. And now research shows that people who regularly engage in new experiences have more positive emotions than people who don't. So vary your routine from day to day, and if you feel like having an adventure, go for it.
Focus on Happy Memories
If it's true that you can decide where to focus your thoughts -- and it is -- consider changing how you think about the past. Instead of dwelling on mistakes and unhappy memories, gently let them go and focus on memories of times when you felt happy, fulfilled and successful. You can't change the past, but you can keep it from holding you back. So when you choose to recall a memory, make it a good one.
Sharon O'Brien is a psychotherapist and freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.