‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ they say. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? More and more people are becoming so stressed by everyday life that it becomes difficult for them to find any time for true happiness. Sure, you might get joy from a few things here and there – like reading a book or spending time with your loved ones – but when you are surrounded by negative news all day, stress and anxiety get to the best of us. And if we add in the fact that we are living through a horrible pandemic, keeping one's spirits up may seem impossible.
That being said, there are many simple changes you can make in your life to find joy. No, we aren’t saying so... science is! Here are a few expert ways to conquer happiness.
1. Practice smiling
Yes, that’s right. A study published in Psychological Science in 2012 states that practicing a smile and pretending to be happy when you are a little tense can actually help lower your stress levels. The researchers intended to evaluate whether manipulating positive facial expressions would influence cardiovascular and affective responses to stress. For this, they gave 170 participants two different stressful tasks while holding chopsticks in their mouths in a way that produced a standard smile, a Duchenne smile (one that reaches your eyes), or a neutral expression. The team found that all smiling participants, whether they were aware of smiling or not, had lower heart rates during stress recovery than the control group did.
The study concluded the following: “These findings show that there are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.” So, you see, there’s some benefit in pretending to be happy!
2. Sleeping more will help make you more positive
We know that sleep helps our body relax and repair itself. Getting a good night of sleep also recharges our brain and makes us more productive. It turns out that sleep is also crucial for happiness.
Research from 2011 published in BPS Research Digest observed that sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a face recognition task throughout the day, the researchers examined how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. They learned that the people who worked through the day without taking a nap were sensitive to negative emotions like fear and anger. However, a little afternoon nap helped reverse that negative reactivity while also boosting ratings of positive (happy) expressions.
3. Spend more time with your dog
Well, sure, you don’t need anyone to tell you to spend more time with your dog. But, guess what? Science says that doing so will be great for your mental wellbeing. A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology notes that our oxytocin levels (a hormone responsible for social bonding and happiness) shoot up when we interact with dogs. Other studies have also proved that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and also ease loneliness.
Basically, dogs make people feel good, particularly those people more resilient to stress. And while that’s not surprising, playing around with your furry friend will lift the mood for both you and your dog.
4. Indulge in nostalgia
The next time you’re feeling nostalgic about the past, don’t let the feeling go away. It can help increase your optimism, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers of the study asked participants to reminisce about a nostalgic event and write about it. At the same time, another group was asked to recall and write about an ordinary event. They found that the nostalgic accounts carried a considerably higher proportion of optimistic expressions than the ordinary stories. In another study, the team made the participants listen to either a nostalgic or a neutral song. Those who listened to the nostalgic song reported higher levels of optimism than the other group.
In conclusion, researchers note that nostalgia raises self-esteem, which, in turn, increases optimism. So, every once in a while, dig out those old photo albums or home videos and don’t hesitate to spend ample time looking through them.
5. Wear bright clothes
Never shy away from wearing bright clothes. They have the power to lift your mood. A study from the University of Hertfordshire in England discovered that the choice of clothes we wear in the morning is strongly related to our mood. More often than not, people tend to wear denim jeans when depressed - the researchers said. They found this after interviewing 100 women about what they wore when they felt depressed. Their analysis further revealed that putting on some 'happy clothes,’ those that are made from “well-cut, figure-enhancing, and made from bright and beautiful fabrics” can make us feel good.
6. Spend time outdoors
Making time to go outside on a nice day isn’t just good for your health, it can also make you happy. A study investigating the benefits of nature found that exposure to green spaces can improve your mood and cognition. The researchers asked participants to go for a 50-minute walk in either a natural or an urban environment. They discovered that the ones who took the walk through nature had decreased anxiety and better working memory.
Another study from the University of Sussex said that being outdoors made people happier. The team studied the responses from 22,000 people and asked them to chronicle their emotional states at points of the day in an app. Their location was also recorded and cross-posted. They found that the participants were considerably happier outdoors in all-natural environments than they were in urban environments
7. Devote some time to helping others
While spending money on someone else can make you happy, just being a little extra kind to others can make a positive impact on your mood too. The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology published a study that analyzed the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Twenty-seven experimental studies were included in the review, and it was found that being generous to others can benefit one's well-being - even if it means giving someone a nice compliment or listening to what they have to say.
8. Plan a vacation, even if you don’t actually take one
Going on vacation gives us a great thrill. But simply planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it - says a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life. The researchers interviewed 1,530 people, including 974 vacationers, and discovered that the vacationers felt the happiest before the trip. In other words, the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage, as people tend to relish the sense of anticipation.
Travel, of course, isn’t high on everyone’s agenda due to the ongoing pandemic. But planning a trip for sometime next year (when things will hopefully be much better) can certainly lift your spirits.
9. Call your parents
Scientists say that whenever you’re stressed, simply picking up the phone and talking to your parents can help. And if you're a parent yourself, make sure to pass this information on to your kids. Based on the findings of a 2010 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, simply hearing your mother’s voice can work as a stress-buster.
For the study, the researchers made a group of seven 12-year-old girls perform a speech and solve a series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers. This made the girls nervous. But once a third of the girls spoke to their mother on the phone, they were instantly calmer. What’s more, they became completely relaxed and continued normally after the call.
“It’s clear from these results that a mother’s voice can have the same effect as a hug,” lead researcher Leslie Seltzer was quoted as saying. While you don’t need a reason to speak to your parents or kids, calling them when you might not be able to see them in person can be particularly heartening.
Share these tips and tricks with all your loved ones!