No matter how good things are, everyone experiences occasional anxiety and that creeping sense that things could be better. It’s a rare — and perhaps nonexistent — person who can genuinely say that they truly never look at their life with dissatisfaction. However, living an unhappy or malcontent life isn’t particularly pleasant. The good news is, regardless of what’s going on in your life, there are a number of ways to make your life a little bit happier.
While it’s true that there will always be someone whose life seems better than your own, the opposite is also true: there will always be something that you can be grateful for in your own life. With this in mind, practicing gratitude and being thankful for the things that you have in your life can be an incredibly powerful way to make your day-to-day life a little bit happier. Truly appreciating what you have — whether it be a great job, fantastic family or something else altogether — on a daily basis will help lift your spirits.
Establishing an evening gratitude ritual could be a great way to work gratitude into your daily life. In this practice, you spend some time at the end of each day reviewing three things that went well during the day or that you feel grateful for. This helps you end the day on a positive note and trains your brain toward habitual positive, growth-oriented thinking. By identifying three things you're grateful for, you’re training your brain to see opportunity in challenging circumstances, rather than allowing it to develop negative thinking patterns.
Setting goals and reaching for objectives increases satisfaction with our lives, which in turn increases self-esteem, positively impacts our self-perception and helps us believe that we're capable of doing more. Making progress towards a goal creates a positive feedback loop — the further you get along the path, the more revved up and self-disciplined you become. To work this practice into your day-to-day life, consider setting goals for yourself on a regular (e.g., monthly or quarterly) basis. These goals can be personal, professional or some combination of the two. Over the coming time period, reach for those goals, and watch your happiness and self-motivation increase the closer you get to achieving your goals.
Studies show that people who help others and practice altruism are happier. A pair of studies in 2011 — one published in the Journal of Social Pyschology and the other published in the Journal of Happiness Studies — found that giving to others makes us even happier than spending on ourselves, and that kindness might create a virtuous cycle that promotes lasting happiness and altruism. Altruism can be easy to practice even on the job by taking some work off an overwhelmed coworker's plate or bringing treats to the office for everyone to enjoy. Workplace altruism could help make you happier: studies cited in The Wall Street Journal show that happier workers help their colleagues 33% more than those who are unhappy.
Even if you're really happy with where you are in life, it's always good to maintain forward momentum. Regularly checking in with yourself, figuring out actionable steps to achieve personal and professional growth and being clear about what your overall aspirations are can all help you keep growing. This will increase your satisfaction, as it'll help you turns dreams into reality.
Given how much time we spend working, it's important to find a job that you like for more than just the paycheck. If possible, find a job that inspires you and makes you excited to get up in the morning. For many people, aligning their work life with their values can enhance their career-related happiness.
While you'll never be able to stop other people from having opinions on how you live your life, you can control your reaction to their opinions. Learning to stop caring what others think will liberate you from living your life to please others. This will make you happier, as it makes you responsible only for your own happiness.
With how busy everyone always is, we often fail to take time to enjoy little pleasures. To recapture the joy in little things, take time to savor a piece of delicious chocolate or well-crafted latte and allow yourself time to appreciate small pleasures.
Staying hydrated improves mood, as dehydration is known to contribute to stress. When you're dehydrated, fatigue, anger, negative mood and cognitive problems may all arise. Sipping on water throughout the day will help prevent dehydration and help you reap the cognitive benefits of a well-hydrated body. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water — once you're already thirsty, it's too late.
Spending time in nature is an instant — and 100% free — mood booster. Taking time for a walk outdoors, hanging out at a local park or even walking around your block will help cheer you up (particularly if there's sun outside).
Exercise releases endorphins, which literally make it impossible for you to be depressed, so sweating it out is a great way to boost mood and fitness. It doesn't matter how, exactly, you exercise — you just need to get your body moving. Whether it be spin, barre, swimming or something else altogether, anything that raises your heart rate and endorphin levels will also raise your mood.
Well-rested people are happier and less frazzled, so getting enough sleep on a nightly basis is an important tool for modulating your mood. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), most Americans would see improvements in their memory, ability to concentrate, immune system and mood if they got an extra 60-90 minutes of sleep each night. Sleep researchers estimate that most people are currently living less-than-optimal lives and performing at less-than-optimal levels because they're impaired by sleep debt that they aren't even aware they're carrying.
Volunteering to help those who are less fortunate than yourself feels good and will help you appreciate the things you have in life. Studies show that 100 hours of volunteer work a year — which works out to about two hours a week — seems to be the magic number at which point helping others notably increases volunteers' personal happiness.
Expressing your creativity through artistic pursuits such as painting, dancing, woodworking or singing is a great way to ease stress and increase your enjoyment of life. You don't have to be a master artist to enjoy art as a creative outlet, either. The act of engaging in these creative endeavors is enough to boost mood, even if you're never going to be the next Picasso.
Many Americans fail to use their allotted vacation time, choosing instead to leave time that they're entitled to on the table. In fact, according to a poll of nearly 2,600 U.S. adults by Bankrate, 13% of respondents planned to take a quarter or fewer of their vacation days in 2019. Additionally, 4% of respondents didn't plan to take any vacation time at all, and only 28% planned to max out their vacation days in 2019.
Not taking vacations has implications for productivity, mood and overall life satisfaction. Research shows that time off is good for your health (working long hours could increase heart disease and stroke risk) and that time off may boost your productivity in the long run. With this all in mind, taking time off is an investment in yourself — so make sure to take time off from work and fully unplug while you're away. You'll come back refreshed and ready to continue contributing at a high level.
Rather than staying online and having all your interactions mediated through a screen, you should make plans with friends and family in person. Face-to-face interactions with others over a nice meal, at a fun event or exercising together fulfills an important human need for connection that can't be replicated online. These plans don't have to break the bank, either: going for a run together, attending a free or low-cost event or meeting at each others' houses involves minimal cost.
By making use of these 15 tips for achieving greater happiness, you'll find yourself living a more content and healthier life. You'll be more engaged, better able to handle life's little stresses and more prepared to handle difficult situations. By taking care of your happiness, you'll improve your overall well-being, too.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.