7 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Increase Your Happiness

7 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Become More Happy

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self and WebAngerManagement.com

If I had to live my life again, I would   read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”  – Charles Darwin

The questions   “Where can I find happiness?”,   “How can we be happy?”, and   “How can I be happy?” have been asked by philosophers for thousands of years. Only in the past 20 years has science taken a research approach to answering such questions. This burgeoning field is known as positive psychology and tests which exercises, mindsets and activities truly add to our happiness, our well-being.

Here are 7 of the top scientific answers to the question,  “How can I be happy?”

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Positive psychology answers the burning question…How Can I Be Happy?

1.     How Can I Be Happy? Practice Self-compassion

While self-esteem has to do with how you feel about yourself generally, self-compassion involves how you treat yourself when things go badly. The goal is to treat yourself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When someone else makes a mistake, most people will react with some degree of kindness and understanding. Self-compassion seems to turn down the volume on anger typically associated with huge mistakes while still maintaining your sense of personal responsibility. A 2007 study at Duke University found that ‘inducing self-compassion may decouple the relationship between taking responsibility and experiencing negative affect.’ The way in which you do this is to speak to yourself as if you were a three-year-old child. This allows for mistakes (which are a major path for learning), screw ups, and errors. Self-compassion seems to be related to greater resiliency (i.e., the ability to bounce back from difficulty). Work at speaking to yourself with kindness.

 

2.     How Can I Be Happy? Pursue life goals with meaning.

What is the meaning of your life? Having life goals which are personally meaningful is a major facet of happiness, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at U.C. Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Those folks who pursue wealth or fame won’t boost their satisfaction with life because, just like new possessions (think of the new BMW!), they bring only passing joy. This is due to the idea of the hedonic treadmill  “you adjust to new situations and possessions remarkably quickly. Once you adjust, the happiness fades. On the other hand, goals that increase happiness are challenging yet attainable, involve personal growth, and have some internal value. So, what is it you love to do? In what areas of life does time seem to stop? In which activities do you lose yourself? Look at these questions to discern where your meaningful goals lie.

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3.     How Can I Be Happy? Breathe.

Most adults only use 20% of their lung capacity. This means that you are frequently oxygen deprived. As the brain runs on oxygen (and glucose), it is critical to remind yourself to take deep breaths throughout the day to increase happiness, psychological flexibility and the more positive emotions.

Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Breathe into your abdomen or belly. As you breathe in, your belly should inflate like a balloon. As you exhale, your abdomen should collapse or be pulled in toward your spine. Focus on breathing out all the old stale air in your lungs. Repeat 5 times. Your breath is one of your most powerful tools to break the cycle of negative emotions and cultivate positive ones.

 

4.     How Can I Be Happy? Get out in nature.

Take a leisurely stroll outside. Gaze at the trees, the clouds, the plants and the birds. Studies have shown that a mere 20 minutes spent in a natural environment has a restorative effect on the mind. Remember to breathe deeply during your stroll. Recently, a study came out in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showing the vast mental health benefits of spending 20 minutes per day in nature. Twenty minutes surrounded by trees, birds, plants and fresh air decreases anger, increases vitality, energy, mood and happiness. One of the best ways to get feeling better is to reconnect with nature. Numerous studies have linked increased energy and well-being to exposure to nature.  A simple wilderness walk leads to increased feelings of happiness, less anger, and better immune system functioning.

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5.     How Can I Be Happy? Exercise.

Studies show that individuals who exercise more than 20 minutes per day, sleep at least 7 hours per night, and eat healthy foods that are naturally colorful have reduced feelings of anger and irritation, higher levels of happiness and well-being.  Have you worked out today? If not, take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes (outside in nature of course!) to increase your level of happiness and satisfaction with life. Studies show that sweating three times per week reduces symptoms of depression roughly as well as antidepressants.   Exercise ups the production of “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, and of proteins that improve connections between brain nerve cells.

 

6.     How Can I Be Happy? Focus on Gratitude

Practicing gratitude, the simple act of counting your blessings, has been demonstrated to increase levels of happiness, according to Lyubomirsky. One critical component to cultivating happiness seems to lie in spending time with others who are less fortunate than you. This is largely because the mind naturally makes comparisons. When you compare yourself to someone more fortunate than you in some way (e.g., wealthier, prettier, smarter, more successful), you feel worse about yourself. Yet when you compare yourself to someone less fortunate than you, you feel better about your situation.  So volunteer, visit an old relative, and be grateful for all that you have the clothes on your back, a bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, the ability to walk on your own, and so on. Get specific. Get back to basics. Appreciate all that you normally take for granted. It will make you happier!

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7.     How Can I Be Happy?  Learn Realistic Optimism

The simple explanation of realistic optimism is that it is the practice of looking for the best in each person and situation. Studies show that practicing being more optimistic can improve your outlook on life. Martin Seligman found that participants who learned realistic optimism had a significant increase in happiness and a reduction in depressive symptoms.  Lyubomirsky had volunteers write for 10 minutes per week about their dreams for the future and ways they could achieve them. Six months later, she checked in with them again, and found that they were happier, even if they had stopped their journaling.  What’s more, you can start with little steps.  Whenever something bad occurs, think of the positive that might come out of it.  It takes practice. It feels uncomfortable at first. But it gets easier. Keep at it!

Oxytocin Not Just For Cuddling Anymore – Now Linked with Anxiety & Bad Memories

The Many Faces of Oxytocin…Augments Bad Memories, Fear and Anxiety as well as Promotes Bonding and Trust

July 22, 2013 — The ‘love hormone’ oxytocin has been all the rage in scientific circles for several years due to it’s involvement in trust, single pair bonding, friendship and love. Yet, recent research seems to indicate that the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, can also strengthen negative memories and increase the intensity of anxiety and fear. This is an entirely new role being uncovered for the fan favorite neurotransmitter.

Negative social situations, such as being the target of bullying, getting yelled at by the boss or embarrassed by a teacher, seem to be reinforced and strengthened by oxytocin. And perhaps, oxytocin may be part of the trigger for dread – anticipatory worry – and anxiety. This comes at a time when oxytocin is being studied for use as an anti-anxiety agent.

The reason is that oxytocin seems to strengthen our social memories – positve AND negative – in one particular region of the brain, according to researchers at Northwestern University.

If a social experience is negative or stressful, oxytocin seems to activate an area of the brain that intensifies that memory. Further, it seems to increase the odds of feeling dread and anxiety in anticipation of future stressful events.

Ongoing research seems to indicate that oxytocin also augments positive social memories and, thus, intensifies feelings of well being as well.

The findings are critical as chronic stress is one of the primary causes of anxiety and depression, while positive social interactions lead to emotional health.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions,” stated Jelena Radulovic, the lead author of the study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The paper was published July 21 in Nature Neuroscience.

Oxytocin is famous for it’s involvement in mothers and breastfeeding

This is the first and only research to link oxytocin to social stress and its apparent role in increasing anxiety and dread in anticipation of future stress. Northwestern scientists also discovered the brain region responsible for these effects — the lateral septum — and the pathway or route oxytocin uses in this area to amplify fear and anxiety.

The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule — ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) — that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. ERK causes enhanced fear, Radulovic believes, by stimulating the brain’s fear pathways, many of which pass through the lateral septum. The region is involved in emotional and stress responses.

The findings surprised the researchers, who were expecting oxytocin to modulate positive emotions in memory, based on its long association with love and social bonding.

“Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research,” said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student in Radulovic’s lab and the study’s lead author. “With this novel animal model, we showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system.’

The new research follows three recent human studies with oxytocin, all of which are beginning to offer a more complicated view of the hormone’s role in emotions.

All the new experiments were done in the lateral septum. This region has the highest oxytocin levels in the brain and has high levels of oxytocin receptors across all species from mice to humans.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Oxytocin involved in fear, stress and anxiety as well as trust

Experiments with mice in the study established that

1) oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and

2) oxytocin increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Expert consultant for Pixar

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought (for a free PDF copy, visit Guide to Self and click on the book icon on the left of the page)

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Journal Reference:

  1. Yomayra F Guzmán, Natalie C Tronson, Vladimir Jovasevic, Keisuke Sato, Anita L Guedea, Hiroaki Mizukami, Katsuhiko Nishimori, Jelena Radulovic. Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3465

 

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.