There are a few things that are universal for all humans. We all need food and water. We all need some form of shelter. We all want to be loved. We all want to be happy. I know that we have all met those people who it’s hard to believe that are looking for happiness or that they get pleasure from anything other than making themselves, or others, miserable, but those people, too, want to be happy.
At the end of the day, when we are being honest with ourselves and others, sometimes feeling happy or thinking positive can be hard. Our American culture, that demands so much from us, doesn’t leave much time for taking care of your physical health, let alone on your mental health.
If you’re in the same boat as me, and I think this is a very large boat, and you feel like your happiness quotient could improve, here are 15 tips on how to get you there.
Focus on mental health.
1. Understand what happiness is and what you think you’re lacking.
If you can’t identify a problem, you can’t fix it. Define what happiness means to you, what it doesn’t mean, and in which areas you feel lack.
2. Build yourself a plan and learn how to stick to it.
Now that you understand what happiness means to you and what else you want, figure out a plan on how to get there. Good things to include on this plan are:
- Start a mindfulness practice. It sounds like something Woo-woo they teach in yoga classes in Boulder, but the science is there. Meditation, doing menial tasks mindfully, does actually change your brain for that better. If you haven’t meditated before, or if you think can’t, trust me, you can. My favorite way to get started is with an app called Headspace. Its breaks it down into simple easy to digest bites and before you know it, your brain will be quieter and happier.
- Find a sense of purpose.
- Even if it’s just to feed Spot and take him for a walk when you get home, people that have a sense of purpose often report a greater sense of happiness.
- Exercise. Eat right. Get adjusted. - We’ll talk about those a little farther down.
- Go to those hippie Boulder Yoga classes. You might be amazed the effect they have on your brain. (Everyone at work knows, if I don’t get my midday yoga class in, things might be a little rocky.)
- Whatever it is that makes you feel a little better during the day, stick to it. Get some accountability to help you, even if it’s just a great app like Superbetter that game-ifise healthy habits to get your feeling better.
3. Take a break from social media. (Right after you share this post ;-) )
Life isn’t about Likes, posts, and Shares. When you start seeing your life as a series of metrics that validate how good you are, you will never measure up. Ditch the social media for a few days and see what you enjoy for the sake of just enjoying it, instead of asking a bunch of people you barely know for feedback on it. In the same vein, other people are posting to gather imaginary internet points. I’m willing to bet that their lives aren’t nearly as glamorous or interesting when the phone is done taking pictures. Another great app to help you break the addiction is Forest. I haven’t installed it yet, but with time spent off your phone, you grow a virtual forest. A pretty and satisfying way to help reduce phone addiction.
4. Build a life that you don’t need to escape from.
We have a “treat yo’self” mentality, which is fine in moderation. But sometimes, treating ourselves (with a night out, bingeing on Netflix or a new videogame for a day, shopping spree) is a way for us to try and cover up our unhappiness or anxiety about life. Instead, build yourself a life that you don’t need to escape from. Do the boring, fiddly things. Tidy your house. Fold your laundry. Do your grocery shopping and cook those healthy meals that you’ve been telling yourself that you’ll start. Then when you treat yo’self, it’ll actually be a treat.
5. Take control of your story.
Everyone’s been in a bad place in life before. Lots of people still are. But it’s important to realize that getting out of it is possible. It may take some time, but while you’re working on these other steps, it’s helpful to remember that your story is still being written. Just like Sam and Frodo’s story didn’t end after they were taken by Orcs in Mordor, your story won’t end when you’re in a dark place. Look at your goal: A new job, starting a new chapter in your life, overcoming a bout of depression, destroying The One Ring; and look at where you are now from the perspective of having succeeded. Your Now is a part of your story, and it can be hard, but it’s part of your journey to your goals. Good stories require conflict, and the sooner you can make that conflict work for your story, the better.
Part of controlling your story is working on controlling your past. For some reason, our brains LOVE to remember bad things. They play on repeat the greatest hits of things your screwed up recently, 5 years ago or from when you were 5 years old (Or maybe that’s just mine, but I don't believe I’m alone here. Like I said before, we’re all sitting in the same big boat here.) So as out brains get stuck in this cycle, they get better at generating negative thoughts. If we’re sad a lot, our brains basically find it easier to stay sad.
But there’s still good news! It doesn’t have to stay that way. Your brain can learn new tricks! As these negative thoughts continue to creep into your brain, come back to your mindfulness practice, actively focus on remembering positive memories, and/or just remind yourself that you are awesome! Because you are, and on those days where you don’t feel like that’s true, remember that I know it’s true and think you are awesome!!
Remember earlier where I said we’d come back to exercise and eating right, we’ll here we are. Your physical health is just as important to your brain as your mental health is.
6. Be a part of a community.
We’re not meant to go it alone, and finding a community or a group of like-minded people can help with feelings of belonging and connection to a place. Lots of us don’t live near our families anymore, and it’s normal to feel alone sometimes, especially without siblings or parents nearby. Pick something you’re interested in (or would like to learn about!), whether it’s knitting, homebrewing, reading, or cooking. Find a Meetup in your area, look at your city’s options for events, or even show up at a trivia night and find a team that needs an extra person. Build meaningful relationships and connections outside of the internet. Speak kindly to people, give a compliment to a stranger, step outside your comfort zone (those are also ways to increase your happiness) and make a new friend, reconnect with an old one or strengthen positive relationships that are already there. Incidentally, having strong social connections is also a step in How to Live to 100.
You knew it was coming. But, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. There are many studies coming out that all you need is 10 minutes a day. Go for a 10 minute walk over lunch with a friend in the sunshine (marking off 3 ways to feel better right there!). There’s are apps for this too. 7 Minute Workout is the one I like. I’m sure there’s plenty of youtube videos for short workouts. On the days you feel up for it, or even the days you don't, take a class at a gym, a yoga class, sign up for a race with a buddy to give yourself the motivation to follow through. My favorite exercise “Hack” is to do things that don’t actually feel like working out. Find some form of movement that you enjoy doing, even if it’s just turning the music up and dancing like crazy for 15 minutes. Next thing you know, you’re hooked on it and happier because of it.
I know. Another one that you already knew, but its still good to hear. If you are putting fake, processed, sugary foods into your body, you can't expect it to perform at its best, physically or mentally. Sugar addiction is a real thing! But it can be overcome. There are lots of options to help you get started cooking fresh real meals at home. Consider a delivery service, Purple Carrot or Green Chef, if you don't feel you have time to prep food. And, the best news here: Eating Chocolate does make you happier! Pure dark chocolate is full of polyphenols, a chemical shown to improve mood. Just make sure it’s DARK chocolate. Milk chocolate doesn’t count.
9. Get adjusted
A study designed to test the correlation between chiropractic care and its impact on mental health cited, 76% of those under chiropractic care reported an improvement in their mental/emotional health. Additionally, they also reported positive changes in stress and increased life enjoyment in the months after receiving chiropractic care.
Of the many mental health benefits from receiving chiropractic care, one of the major reasons for the change is the reduction of subluxations. Removing pressure from the nervous system allows the body to return to a state of balance, both mentally and physically. Often people turn to medications that are used to alter their brain chemistry but those looking for a non-medication therapy often find that re-aligning these vertebrae can do wonders for their mental state.
10. Get enough sleep
A well rested brain is a happy brain. When you are struggling to stay awake, it’s hard to focus on doing things that benefit your well-being. Going to bed an extra hour earlier each night lets you process emotions better, your body recovers faster and you learn and process new information better. Fighting to keep your eyes open and process what your boss, loved ones, traffic lights are saying is not a recipe for optimal living.
If these things seem like they take too much time and effort, I feel ya. There are days where metals should be given out for getting out of bed and making it through the day. We’ve all been there. So when those days come around and you want to lock out the world and hide under the covers all day, here are 5 things to do to instantly improve your outlook.
Cuddle your cats, cuddle your kids, cuddle your SO. Cuddling, hugging, kissing, all increases your oxytocin, that happiness hormone.
12. Count your blessing.
It may sound trite, but science says it works, Think of 3 things you are grateful for and write them down. If 3 was easy, keep going. In that dark moment, how many things can you think of that you are thankful for? These don’t have to be monumental items either. There are someday where I’m grateful for my dishwasher, restaurants that deliver, and, in spite of my black thumb, my little cactus collection that hasn’t died.
13. Watch a funny video.
Be sure to include youtube in your list of things you are grateful for, because videos like these exist! Here’s some to get you started:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGeKSiCQkPw - Ultimate Dog Tease
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxpgpcRq5Qw - Hey Jude Cute Kid
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ4T9CQA0UM&feature=youtu.be - Guy on a Buffalo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp_LQDn0W04&feature=youtu.be - 21 Century Fox recorder
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnPsjCQXywM - Ultra Spiritual Boulder
14. Plan a vacation
You don't have to take it. You don't have to even think you’ll ever take it, but just the act of dreaming it up has been shown to increase your happiness levels.
15. Have a good cry
There’s no shame in letting it all out. Many studies have shown that crying is actually good for your mood. To quote a friend of mine from high school, “each tear drop is like a ball of stress leaving my body.” And it’s true!
Finally, get help if you need it.
As an extension of the suggestion above to find a community, sometimes your social circle or group of friends aren’t equipped to help you. You may want to reach out to a professional--it’s not a sign of weakness or that there’s something wrong with you. It means that you’re a normal person who needs help with something. If your sink was leaking, what would you do? Probably examine it and see if it’s something you can easily fix. If it’s still leaking, maybe do some research and see if you find anything to help. And if it’s still leaking? You’ll probably call a plumber. Same thing with you--sometimes you need to call in a professional and there’s no shame there.
Hopefully this helps you to have just a little more happiness in your everyday. Remember, you’re awesome and you’re not alone. We’re all in the crazy boat ride together. So let’s spread some kindness, eat some dark chocolate and go for a walk and talk about things we’re grateful for (Here’s a bonus. I’m grateful for you! Thanks for taking the time to read this!)
I know there’s PLENTY that I missed. What do you to do feel happier?