The more research that is done in the field of happiness, the more it becomes clear that happiness is a choice. It is estimated that 40% of our happiness is within our own control, based on what we choose to focus on and do with our time.
If that’s the case, let’s explore what we can do right NOW to maximize our happiness!
1 | Get enough sleep
I can’t emphasize this one enough. I know some people struggle with insomnia, and we’ll cover that in a future post, but barring that, you should be ensuring you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
This goes doubly for children. In our household, we were recently dealing with our increasingly surly and uncommunicative 15-year-old son. He constantly complained about school and homework, answered questions with one word grunts, and slouched around the house as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. While it would have been easy to chalk it up to unavoidable teenage angst, I had a suspicion that the real reason was that he wasn’t getting enough sleep.
We already have bedrooms designated as non-electronic zones (no phones, TV, or computers), but what he was doing was putting off studying until his 10:00 bedtime, then studying in his room from 10-11. I instituted the rule that it was lights out at 10, no exceptions, and if he had studying to do, it would have to be before then.
I’m not kidding when I tell you that the change in his personality happened overnight. He’s back to the cheerful, communicative child he used to be. All because he’s getting enough sleep!
I know for myself, when I’m not getting enough sleep, every task seems difficult and insurmountable. The smallest stumbling block seems like an epic battle. A funny look from a stranger seems like an attack.
Get enough sleep! ‘Nuff said.
2 | Get a dose of nature
The Japanese have a lovely name for the idea of getting out in nature. It’s called “forest bathing.” As you can see from the forest bathing website, recent research has associated being in nature with
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
What to do if you don’t have a forest nearby? Visit a park with lots of trees, take a walk in a neighborhood with lots of mature trees, find a spot in your own backyard underneath a tree, spread a blanket down and lie down and look up through the branches.
I don’t always have time to spend time in a bona-fide forest, but I find that even a 15 minute stroll through our neighborhood can give me a boost.
3 | Appreciate what you have
If you let yourself be exposed to too much social media and advertising, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting things. It always seems like someone else has the perfect watch, shoes, sweater, car, kitchen, bathroom, or house. But chances are, you already have enough. If you have a safe, warm place to sleep, enough food for you and your family, and clothes to keep you warm and dry, you have enough. In fact, you probably have more than enough.
Appreciate what you have — family and friends, hot water on demand, the ability to buy good, nutritious food, the ability to appreciate beauty and good intentions…
Your appreciation can extend to all things big and small. While I always appreciate my family and our health, I also appreciate little things like the invention of the Kindle. I specifically remember lugging around giant novels, being in the last few chapters of them, and wishing I could just tear out the pages I was reading so I didn’t have to carry the entire book around with me. And now I can carry the entire Harry Potter series with me in my pocket!
4 | Spend time with loved ones
Human beings are social animals. We’re wired to interact with others. There have been numerous studies showing that happiness and longevity are linked to social connection. While extroverts can immediately see the logic in this, those of us who are introverts sometimes find this counter-intuitive.
I happen to be an extreme introvert, and most of the time, I’d rather spend a night alone than with others. However, the truth is, I already spend the majority of my day with other people. I work in an office, and I live with my husband and two teenage children. So of course, if given the chance, I value the idea of an evening alone.
*But*, if I lived alone, and worked alone, I’m positive I would be craving more human connection.
So, I try to always appreciate the time I spend with loved ones, even if it means I don’t quite get as much time alone as I’d like. I try to remember that there may be a time in the future when I will have too much time alone so I can continue to enjoy my family time.
5 | Turn off the electronics
Binge watching TV shows or Youtube videos and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram all feel like relaxing ways to spend our time. The thing to remember here is, a little goes a long way. Twenty minutes of mindless electronics per day is plenty. You have much better things you can be doing with your time!
Cutting out electronics could save you hours a day. With those extra hours, you could be writing a note to an old friend, taking a walk, planting a garden, cleaning out the junk drawer, or getting more sleep (see #1 on this list!)
Making this one simple change will skyrocket your happiness. Just give it a try!
6 | Take a walk
OK, I admit this is actually the third time ‘taking a walk’ appears on this list. The first time was in #2, and the second time was in #5. But really, sometimes the easiest thing you can do to boost your energy and get a little perspective is to take a walk.
Your walk doesn’t even need to be outside. If you’re in the office and find yourself staring at the screen unproductively, it can be helpful to walk the halls for 5 minutes. Or, if you can get out for a few minutes, just walk on the street for a bit. Seeing other places, moving your body, and giving your mind a rest can fuel your mood and productivity. There’s a good chance you’ll think of a solution to the issue you were wrestling with as soon as you give your mind and body a chance to wander a little.
7 | Help someone else
Helping others will give you a boost. It’s another part of being wired as social animals. We just can’t help it. Not only do we feel happy to have helped someone, but it makes us feel needed.
Keep in mind that helping someone doesn’t mean you need to travel to Africa or the inner city to help those in most need (although those are completely admirable things to do!) Helping someone can be as simple as tutoring a nephew in math, carrying a heavy load of groceries for an elderly neighbor, or baking cookies for the new person in your apartment building.
Of course, you can also look for volunteer opportunities through your church or community center. These are a great way to help people and feel part of a larger community as well.
I even see helping people at work, above and beyond the normal tasks, as a way to find happiness in helping others. Just remember to ensure your actions actually feel like help to the recipient!
8 | Create something
This is one of my favorite ways of giving myself a lift when I’m in a funk. Look for ways to create something. This could be sketching a drawing, baking a loaf of bread, playing a song on the piano, writing a letter, putting together a photo album for a grandparent, or knitting a sweater. This is what you do with all the time you free up from putting your electronics down!
I would even consider creating space and orderliness as an act of creation. So clean out the junk drawer, go through an old box of photos and organize or digitize it, clear books you no longer need from your shelf and donate them.
This act of creation will give you a sense of satisfaction that you can reflect on later.
9 | Do something you’re really good at
There’s bound to be something at which you excel, or at an activity where you enjoy continually improving your skills. Maybe its singing, or taking photos, or playing chess. Spend more time doing the activities for which you have a natural affinity. And no, watching TV and spending time on screens doesn’t count!
If you’re struggling to figure out what this activity might be, think back to your childhood. What did you do in your free time? What did you play? When were you the happiest? Is this an activity you can replicate? Play with legos, color in a coloring book, sculpt animals out of clay, sample and re-mix music. Reach back and remember what your loved doing with your time.
10 | Appreciate what an amazing person you are
Make sure the story you tell in your head about yourself is a positive one. One that reflects your unique talents, your achievements, and the good you do for others. There are things you can do, connections you can make, ideas you’ve generated, that no one else in this world can. They are a product of your unique self and your particular experiences, skills and knowledge. Don’t forget to appreciate and celebrate this to yourself!