You may think that success will make you happy, but science disagrees: happiness makes people successful, not the other way around. Positive psychology research has demonstrated that happy people achieve more.
“When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it”, writes Shawn Achor in The Happiness Advantage. Happiness can galvanise job performance, raising sales by 37 per cent, productivity by 31 per cent, and accuracy by 19 per cent.
That’s all well and good, but what if you’re having a bad day or even consider yourself a ‘glass-half-empty’ person? Luckily, research has shown that you can train your brain to feel happiness. Here are a few simple tricks to help you feel happier right now.
1. Be grateful
In a study on the effects of gratitude, university professors Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked participants to write down in a journal five things that had made them happy during the day. The participants only did this once a week, but after two months the people who kept a gratitude journal reported increased physical and mental wellbeing in comparison to the control group. Regularly counting your blessings in a gratitude journal is a simple but powerful way to become happier and more satisfied. If you’d like to explore other simple ways to cultivate gratitude in your life, try buying a surprise present for a loved one or sending someone a handwritten thank-you note.
2. Focus on your breath
A new study found that just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation for three days can significantly reduce stress levels. The long-term effects of mindfulness are even more astonishing: a Harvard study discovered that in eight weeks, meditation can change the chemistry of your brain by stimulating activity in areas associated with compassion and self-awareness. A simple mindfulness meditation practice you can fit into the busiest of days involves observing your breath and any occurring sensations quietly and without judgment for five or 10 minutes. When thoughts eventually flood your mind, acknowledge them and let them go. Be kind to yourself even when you get distracted: mindfulness is a process, not an end goal.
3. Pack your swimsuit
If you’re having a really rough day, here’s a quick tip that’s guaranteed to lift your mood. Studies show that vacations don’t necessarily makes us happier, but looking forward to them does. Fostering anticipation is a great way to feel happier instantly. To maximise the effects of savoring things in advance, make sure that you spend more money on experiences than on things – studies show that experiential purchases provide longer-lasting happiness.
4. Look at something incredible
Awe. That indescribable feeling we get when we look something beautiful or majestic. It’s an understudied emotion, but scientists have discovered that it can transform the way we perceive our surroundings. Research has shown that eliciting a sense of awe makes us feel like we have more time. Experiences of awe enhance our well-being by making us more present and satisfied with our lives. Do you need to stand atop a fjord to feel awe? Not at all. A photo of a mountain peak, a symphony by Beethoven, or the kindness of a stranger can also provoke that sensation.
5. Sign out
A University of Michigan study demonstrated that Facebook use makes us feel less satisfied with our lives. Another study of the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that Facebook causes envy among users. You don’t need to stop using Facebook completely, but spending hours looking at your coworkers’ vacation photos is bound to make you feel worse. Sign out of Facebook once in a while, or use the platform to connect with a friend you haven’t seen in a while – reaching out to other people will improve your mood.
7. Form a habit
If you want to enhance your wellbeing in the long term, commit to putting at least one of the ideas above into practice over the next month. It takes longer than 21 days to form a habit, but the journey to happiness is a fun one – don’t put it off.