Yes – you know these people. They seem to glow from the inside, full with authentic happiness. How are they doing it?
There is some serious research about “positive psychology” going on, about what makes people happy. Martin Seligman is one of the fathers of positive psychology, and led some serious research in this area. I found some of the results surprising because I already did it subconsciously all my life. I’d like to share some of my habits with you and sum up scientific results about happy people as golden rules for happiness:
- Positive activities diary. It sounds simple, but research shows that remembering the little things that went well over the day can make you feel more happy. When you’re about to fall asleep, try to think of all the things that went well during the day: that nice talk with the barista at Starbucks, that call from your father, that smile from your kids – be grateful and appreciate the fact, that little things can make you happy! It can help to start a positive activities diary: Every day in the evening time, try to find three events from the present day that made you happy. Over time you will find yourself more aware of the little things that make you happy in your everyday life, just like happy people do.
- Meet happy people. Research shows that if you are together with happy people, you’re more likely to be happy yourself. Look at your life: Are there any people who literally suck out the energy of you, leaving you behind devastated and without any positive feeling? Try to spend more time with friends, who push your emotions up, who give you a good feeling!
- Foster positive activities. Yes, there are certain days where you get out of bed, and everything is wrong, you’re grumpy and you just want to yell at everybody to leave you alone. To be honest, I don’t have these periods in my life at all. I really try to be happy all the time. Just trying to be happy lets you actually feel better. I reward myself, I’m a very self-gratifying person (e.g., I survived that horrible painful meeting with my dentist? I deserve a marvelous breakfast for that). And I challenge my negative thoughts!
- Mindfulness and acceptance. As mentioned in the last sentence above, it is important to celebrate the small victories as well as the big events in your life. I notice each and every little thing that goes right during the day, focusing on the good things rather than the bad things. And I try to live my life with mindfulness – meaning that I appreciate easy-to-come-by pleasures such as a good café latte or that cute puppy from the neighbor.
- Feelgood music mix. According to psychological research, music has a great power on your mood. I always have my personal “feel good” folder with my favourite mp3’s that lift up my mood instantly, when I feel depressed or down or anxious. Furthermore, I use these music doing things I don’t like, e.g. the household. I hate vacuuming, I really do. But it’s so much more fun with a good techno-remix, plus over the loudness of the vacuum it’s unlikely that anybody hears my rusty tuneless voice. Try to find your personal uplifting music and listen to it at least once a day!
- Physical exercise. I started my workout when I was twenty. I kept it as a weekly routine to hit the gym at least two or three times a week. Of course I had periods in my life, when that was not possible due to exams or other stuff. I noticed that I started to feel uncomfortable and in a strange mood when I didn’t get to work out for more than a month. Psychological research backs me up: Exercise releases endorphins that make you happy. It has a depression- and anxiety-decreasing effect. On the other hand, you should try to get enough
- Sleep! And relax! Your body needs sleep, appreciate this fact. Give your body the time to relax, recover and reboot. A lack in sleep has a significantly bad effect on your mood. Furthermore, take some time off during the day with mediation, unplugging the phone and be there, just for you. Meditation or just a few minutes off for yourself, practicing stomach-breathing (deep long breathing into your stomach) can increase your personal resilience. Happy people take their time off, for rebooting and recharging their batteries.
- The world is your catwalk. According to a recent study, people feel happier when they take long strides while swinging their arms and holding their heads high. Sounds silly? Just try it. Hold your head high and take long strides the next time you walk somewhere. Remember – the world is yours, it is your personal catwalk 😉
- Focus on the positive aspects of life. Seligman pointed out that there is something like “learned helplessness” in depressed people, they aren’t able to help themselves, being dependent on other people. On the other hand, there is something like “learned optimism”! Optimists have a realistic view of life, knowing that bad events will go by, they’re temporary. Defeat is not their fault, it’s because of circumstances, bad luck or other people. Confronted by a bad event in life, happy people tend to perceive it as a challenge rather than a problem and try even harder. Nothing lasts forever!
- Give. Whether it is time or something else. Give something to other people. Psychological research shows that spending money on other people makes you more happy than spending that money on yourself. Spending time for or with other people has a crucial effect on people’s happiness – research shows that volunteer work is good for both mental and physical health! Scientists say that the act of making a (financial or other) donation triggers the reward center in our brains that is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria.
- Spend quality time with friends. Depressed people often fail to leave their house for any social activities. They simply don’t have the motivation or the energy to do so. Furthermore, texting friends or seeing them via webcam seems to be so much more convenient. It’s a trap! Don’t get too comfortable, studies show that it has a dramatic effect on your happiness when you actively go out and meet friends or invite them over for a face-to-face talk. Technology is fine, but it can’t replace everything, especially when it comes to social connections!
- Get out! Happy people choose activities outside, and if it is only for a walk. Fresh air is essential for happiness and provides a sense of vitality; furthermore, the sun has a mood-enhancing effect as well (even if it is the sun in winter, it’s always better to get real daylight instead of artificial light from bulbs).
Have fun including these habits and activities in your life! It’s all up to you to include more happiness in your life…
About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, men’s issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.