10 Easy Activities Science Has Proven Will Make You Happier Today

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A thankful message, spending on others, listening to music, happy daydreams and more…

Science can make you happier. Do at least some of these activities today and feel the positive vibrations flow. Keep it going for a week or longer and feel your mood lift.

1. Mentally subtract something good from your life

People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done. But what about the good things that did happen that might not have?

Say you’d never met your partner or friend or got that job? What would life be like without some of those things we take for granted?

Thinking about what might not have been can be tremendously powerful if used in the right way. Counter-factual thinking can create meaning in life and, and can increase satisfaction with what you have (Koo et al., 2008).

So, mentally subtract something good from your life to really appreciate it.

2. Send a thankful message

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps us enjoy what we have.

Evoke it right now by sending an email, text or letter to someone who has helped you in some way. Thank them for what they have done for you, however small.

It’s easy and quick and one study has found that practising gratitude can increase happiness 25%. Another found that just three letters over a three-week period was enough to reliably increase happiness and life satisfaction (Toepfer et al., 2012).

3. Spend money on someone else

Money can make you happy but only if you use it in the right way (see: how to spend wisely).

One of the easiest ways is by spending it on others. So, why does spending on others increase your happiness?

“It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy. It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships. And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.”

So, buy a friend a present today or take them out to lunch. You’ll feel good about it, I promise.

4. Get some exercise

What’s the number one strategy that people use to feel better, increase their energy levels and reduce tension? Exercise.

It doesn’t have to be a marathon; a simple walk around the block will do the trick. We all know it’ll make us feel better to get out and stretch our legs, but there are always excuses to avoid it.

If you’re at home, make time for a trip that doesn’t involve the car and does involve your legs. If you’re in the office, make sure you get out for a walk at lunch-time instead of eating sandwiches in front of the computer.

5. Listen to music

Number two on the list of all time top strategies people use for feeling better is: listening to music.

Music can influence mood in many ways but most people rate its power to manage our positive moods as the top reason they love music. We particularly like the fact that it can make our good moods even better.

Even sad music can bring pleasure as many people enjoy the contradictory mix of emotions it creates.

6. Make plans…

Remember those childhood days leading up to Christmas when you couldn’t wait to rip open your presents? The pleasure in anticipation was just incredible.

Research on the psychology of happiness shows that anticipation can be a powerful positive emotion. We enjoy looking forward to things much more than we enjoy looking back on them afterwards (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).

So, make a plan now and try to always have something to look forward to, however small.

7. …with friends

The best types of plans to make are with friends.

It’s not just that you’ll have the pleasure of anticipation; it’s also that you’re keeping the friendship alive.

One study of 8 million phone calls has found, not exactly surprisingly, that when people call each other back, their friendships are much more likely to survive (Hidalgo & Rogriguez-Sickert, 2007).

If an economic incentive might help motivate you to make plans with friends, then here is one from research that attempted to put a monetary value on different types of social relationships (Powdthavee, 2008):

“…a move from “seeing friends or relatives less than once a month” to “seeing friends or relatives on most days” is now estimated to be worth an extra £85,000 a year for a representative individual”

In other words: you’d have to earn £85,000 ($130,000) more a year to make you as happy as if you saw friends or relatives on most days of the week.

So, not only is staying in touch with friends good, but it’ll save you a lot of effort trying to earn more money at work.

8. List 3 good things that happened today

At the end of the day, before you go to bed, spend a few minutes thinking about three good things that happened today. They don’t have to be that amazing; just three things that made you feel a little better. You can also think about why they happened.

In one study in which people carried out this exercise, their happiness was increased, and depressive symptoms decreased, fully six months afterwards (Seligman et al., 2005).

If you’ve done some of the things mentioned here, then you’ll already have at least three things for your list.

9. Practice your signature strengths

Simply put this means doing things you are good at. Whatever it is, people are usually cheered up when they do things at which they excel.

Think about things that you are good at: it could be social skills, physical skills, sporting skills or anything really. It could be making someone laugh or giving someone a helping hand.

Then take some time during the day to use that skill. When people practice their signature strengths it makes them happier.

10. A happy daydream

If you’re less of a doer and more of a dreamer, then this activity is for you: have a happy daydream.

Over the course of the day our minds tend to wander a lot, but directing that mind-wandering in a positive way can be very beneficial.

In this research on life-savouring strategies, positive mental time travel was found to be one of the most effective. In the study people thought back to times in their lives that gave them pleasure; moments filled with success, love and friendship.

The mind may try to fight back by travelling back to past embarrassments or failures, but keep it locked into a happy daydream for the best boost.

Go on, sit back and have a little daydream…

Image credit: Victor Nuno

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 24 July 2013

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License