Many of us are guilty of thinking that joy is a journey. We’ll achieve happiness, we tell ourselves, if we accomplish a goal five years from now. We’ll be happy, we think, once we’ve made a big change that will eventually lead us to our ideal life. And though it may be tempting to view happiness as a permanent state for the future, the field of happiness research tells a very different story. Here’s the real truth: We don’t have to work as hard as we think we do to get to a state of bliss. Sometimes a little tweak, shift or new habit is all it takes.
In honor of the International Day of Happiness, we’ve rounded up some tricks to help you get to a positive place — without taking the long road to joy. Go on and give them a try. Happiness looks good on you.
Log some time with your furry friends.
Play fetch with Fido or sneak in a few cuddles with your kitten. Interacting with your pets can release oxytocin in the brain (you know, the “warm and fuzzy” hormone), resulting in that joyous feeling.
Count your blessings.
There’s nothing like a little thankfulness to boost your mood. Research shows expressing gratitude can make you happier. Try writing down three things you’re thankful for at the end of the night.
Remind yourself how great you are.
PSA: You are awesome — you just gotta believe it for yourself. Studies show self-acceptance is crucial to a happier life, but it’s a habit we barely practice.
Meditate, meditate, meditate.
The list of meditation benefits seems endless, but perhaps one of the more positive perks is what the practice can do for your mood. Research shows that allowing yourself a few moments of zen-like escape each day may make you happier.
Listen to music.
Admit it: There’s nothing quite like a solo jam session — and apparently science agrees. Research shows that trying to boost your mood while listening to music actually can help lift you to a more positive state. Press play ASAP.
We didn’t get to where we are without a little help, so why not extend that same generosity to someone else? Not only will your kindness influence others, studies show it’ll also make you happier, too.
Hang out with someone who is happy.
Joy really is contagious. Research shows the more you surround yourself with positive people, the happier you’ll feel. Time to go catch up with your BFF?
Drink a glass of milk.
Dairy contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps create serotonin (the “happy” chemical in the brain). Milk: It not only does the body good, it does the brain good too.
Plan a vacation.
The anticipation for a trip is almost as good as the trip itself. Prepping for a vacation has been shown to increase our happiness levels, the New York Times reported. The warm sun or the exciting slopes are just an added bonus.
Get in a good workout.
Consider this our love letter to exercise. Not only is it good for your body, but it’s equally as beneficial to your brain. When you work up a sweat, you release endorphins, immediately upping your happiness levels. Go ahead, get moving.
Spend money on experiences.
A fulfilling life doesn’t lie in our possessions — it’s found in the experiences we have and the people we share them with. If you’re going to spend a little moolah, spend it on a trip, a concert or any other experience that will bring you joy. Science says you’ll be happier in the long run.
Fake a smile.
We get it — smiling may be the last thing you want to do when you’re in a sour mood, but it could help to turn that frown upside-down. Research shows faking a smile can help elevate our mood, even if we’re not genuinely into it right away. Talk about the power of suggestion.
Take advantage of your backyard or stroll a park you’ve never been to before and thank yourself later. One study found that going for a brief walk in nature can help improve your mood and alleviate stress.
Make some new friends.
Research shows making friends increases our happiness and well-being. Join a club, talk to your coworker or strike up a conversation in the grocery line — you never know what kinds of new connections you can make.
Take a cozy bath (like Barry the dog).
If that isn’t the look of happiness, we don’t know what is. Plus, research suggests that warm baths make us feel warm on the inside, too.
Get enough sleep.
More sleep = A happier you. Too little shuteye slows down our cognitive processes and increases the risk of depression. Try hitting the pillow 30 minutes earlier each night or taking a nap in the middle of the day.
Embrace the aging process.
Most people wish they could avoid aging, but studies show that we’re happier as we get older. Experts theorize this could be because the older we get, the more we reflect on positive experiences. Sounds like a great reason to love those birthdays.
Follow the “golden ratio.”
This theory, developed by positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, exerts that for every one negative experience you have, you should have three positive ones in order to achieve happiness. Makes sense to us!
Show your appreciation for someone else over email.
Technology isn’t all bad. Take a break from your overflowing work inbox and switch gears to a different kind of email. “We fight so hard against the negative and we forget to tell people how powerful a two-minute positive e-mail could be,” Harvard-trained researcher and Before Happiness author Shawn Achor told Oprah last year.
Find the perfect temperature.
The weather outside has a direct influence on how we feel on the inside. One study found that happiness is maximized at an approximate 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep a one-sentence journal.
Sometimes the most mundane moments turn out to be the loveliest source of happiness. Research shows recording these everyday events may make us happier later on because we appreciate them a lot more when they’re revisited. In other words, if you ate a scrumptious chocolate brownie on Wednesday, write it down.
Stop to smell the flowers, literally.
Eau de Happiness? One study on how scent affects joy found that participants who were in a floral-scented room selected three times as many happiness-related terms than negative terms.
Have more sex.
A study by the Institute For The Study of Labor found that people who have sex at least four times a week are less depressed and and happier overall. Those who frequently engage in the activity also make more money and it can keep your heart healthy.
Just TRY being happy.
Can you think yourself to joy? Some researchers believe so. According to two experimental studies, taking happiness into your own hands can boost your well-being.
Spirituality and religion have been linked to higher happiness and well-being, according to a review of studies on spirituality and health. Sometimes it helps to know you’re connected to something greater than yourself.
Celebrate little victories.
There’s power in small moments. Whether it’s getting an answer correct at trivia or catching your favorite song on the radio, indulge in the little “wins” of your day. “I think when we take time to notice the things that go right — it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day,” Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., author of How to Get People to Do Stuff, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “That can help with our moods.”
Think of happy memories.
Research shows nostalgia makes us happier and more optimistic. Time to dig out those old yearbooks?
Skip the small talk and go deep.
Anyone can talk about the weather. Let yourself get a little more connected and have a substantial conversation with someone — research shows it will boost happiness and well-being.
Read a positive message.
Nothing puts a smile on our face quite like encouraging words from a stranger — and one woman is doing that in a big way with a country-wide positivity project. Michele McKeag Larsen, founder of The Joy Team, has been setting up billboards in several cities across the U.S. with messages like “Happiness is contagious” in hopes that it will bring a smile to someone driving by. “The more you surround yourself with positive messages, positive images, positive people, the better life gets,” Larsen previously told HuffPost.
Spend money on someone else.
Investing in other people really does pay off — for them and for you. According to one 2008 study, spending money on others promotes your own happiness.
Become a better listener.
How much do your really pay attention to your conversations? Researchers theorize the more we listen, the happier and more meaningful our lives are — particularly within our relationships. As Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Talk to someone IRL.
Put down that phone and log some real FaceTime. We’re social creatures (and not just on the Internet), so it’s time we tap into those resources. Research shows we simply feel better when we’re around other people.
Lower your expectations.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a lackluster New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. It’s no secret that expectation can lead to disappointment if the bar is set too high (in fact, research backs this up). We’re not implying that you should set the bar low, but sometimes realistic ideas make you happier in the long run.
Look on the bright side.
There are perks to seeing life through a glass half full. Try looking for a silver lining in any situation. Optimists are not only more joyful, they also may live longer. That’s a lot of extra time to be happy.