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How To Be Happy in Life – Most Important 3 Steps

NOTE: This article is intended to enhance your quality of life and improve your happiness. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have clinical depression or a medical disorder please seek the advice of a medical professional right away.
 

Life will always have ups and downs, but what can you do when the negatives seem to have outweighed the positives? Improving your quality of life may seem like a huge task, but don’t worry – turning things around can be easier than you expect.

We have the key tips, tricks and research on how to be happy in life:
 

1) Treat Happiness as a Goal

Happiness naturally comes and goes, but a happy lifestyle is an achievable goal.

As with any goal, you first need to identify exactly what you are trying to achieve. Easier said than done – for some, happiness may have been out of the picture for so long that it feels like a stranger. Spend some time getting reacquainted. What is happiness? What does a happy lifestyle look like to you? Picture yourself as a happy person — what do you wear, how do you speak, what hobbies do you have? This looks and feels different to everyone. Determine what happiness is to you, what’s getting in your way of having a happy lifestyle, and get creative — draw happiness, write a story about being happy, or talk to a friend about how you might choose to be happy.

Once you know where you want to end up, you can plan how to get there (don’t worry – we have more tips coming!). Most importantly, keep an eye on your progress:

 

Track Your Happiness

Tracking your mood can give you a realistic view of the natural flow of your emotions and insight into what situations may trigger a sad mood or feelings of frustration, and what aspects of your life bring you happiness (there may be more than you expect). Journalling is a thorough way to track mood, can provide a place for reflection on how to be happy, and help you to see the importance of your life’s journey. It may also have added benefits — a 2013 study showed that daily expressive writing significantly improved the mood of participants [1]. If longhand narrative isn’t your style, smartphone apps are an easy way to log your mood and reflect on monthly summary charts.

TIP: Remember to be happy with what you have by keeping a daily gratitude journal. Write down the 3 things you are most grateful for out of each day before going to bed.
 

Once you have a clear idea of where you’re starting and what you want, begin working towards a happy lifestyle with these tips:

 

2) Support the Mind-Body Connection

Happiness really does come from within. The brain, glands, and the nervous system require support to create chemicals that trigger feelings of happiness, satisfaction, elation, relaxation, and joy. These physiological processes can be helped or hindered by what you eat, how you move, how you sleep and what you think about. Focus on the following four items first:
 
 

Regular Exercise

The data is clear – physical activity is a fast-track to being happy. Most of us have heard that aerobic and weight training exercises release endorphins, but what does that really mean?

The brain registers exercise as a type of stress — pressure on joints, muscle contractions and stretching, and an increased heart rate signal that there is physical stress occurring in the body. The brain releases endorphins to block any pain and distress signals, and to replace them with feelings of euphoria. A short workout each day is enough to maintain a good mood – these feel-good neurotransmitters peak after 20 minutes of exercise and can remain active in the body for up to 24 hours! [2]
 

TIP: Another stress-blocking protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is also released during exercise. BDNF has the added benefit of “resetting” memory neurons which can promote feelings of happiness, clarity and positivity after working out [3]. Exercise can refresh you from an anxious, frustrated or stressed mood.

 
Natural resistance to these feel-good neurotransmitters builds up over time. The biggest boost to endorphins and BDNF release occurs when you start exercising or increase the intensity of your workouts. A happy lifestyle is an active lifestyle!

 

TIP: Exercising outside may have even more benefits. Studies show that spending at least 20 minutes outdoors in pleasant weather boosts happiness, memory, and optimism [4].
 

 

Eat Healthy Foods for Happiness

Food provides the building blocks for a healthy and happy lifestyle. The happiest minds have an abundance of nutrients available to build feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Studies show that eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats can help to improve mood within 2 weeks [5]. Remember the happiness proteins we mentioned earlier? Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fresh produce may boost BDNF and endorphins [6].

TIP: If you’re looking for eating guidelines to complement your happy lifestyle, check out the Mediterranean diet – it’s rich in omega-3 fats, antioxidants, and healthy carbohydrates, and has been shown to promote happiness [7].

 
You can learn more about mood boosting foods and mood enhancing supplements in our Resource Center articles.
 
Speaking to a nutritionist for personalized advice can help you find the optimal diet for your specific needs.

 
 

Sleep Soundly

Sleep is essential to recover from physical and emotional stress, but did you know that good quality sleep can encourage your brain to remember positive events rather than negative ones? Because sleep deprivation affects the hippocampus, it can suppress the mind’s perception of good things when they happen [8]. For optimal happiness, try to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If that sounds like a dream, grab an afternoon nap or meditate regularly to “reset” your mood [8].
 
 

Think Positively

Even the happiest minds know that there are more opportunities for happiness on the horizon. Do whatever it takes to remain optimistic, choose to be happy, and don’t get stuck in complacency. Listen to upbeat music, read self-help books, and talk to yourself (and others) with affirming words – things are going to get better, they always do!

TIP: Taking a break from watching the news and social media can help to reset the mind from negative thought cycles. Instead, spend that time outdoors in nature, which will help promote optimism and feelings of inner peace.

 
For more detailed information on supporting the mind-body connection, be sure to read our 4 simple tips on how to be happy in life.
 

Speak to a medical professional, such as a psychologist, if you suffer from a serious mental health condition or have trouble breaking negative thought patterns.

 

3) Support Your Social Happiness

A good mood is contagious and surrounding yourself with happy friends and family is a great way to keep a smile on your face. They may also have some good advice for you – the happiest minds want to share their knowledge on how to be happy. But don’t ditch your sad friends in favour of a cheerier crew. Studies suggest that the quantity rather than quality of social interaction is what matters most. Plus, helping a struggling friend, family member, or even a stranger can give you a feeling of satisfaction and highlight your strengths – volunteers are among the happiest people! [9]
 
Don’t be afraid to ask these same friends and family for help when you need to know how to get out of a bad mood. Most people are happy to help.
 

TIP: It used to be said that simply following your interests would lead to a fulfilling career. Recent research has shown that this isn’t always the best track to take. Instead, combining your skills to address an unmet need in your community is the best way to achieve professional success and fulfillment.
 

 

References:

[1] Krpan, K. M., et al. (2013) An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord., 150:3, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3759583/


[2] Anderson, E. & Shivakumar, G. (2013) Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Front Psychiatry., 4, 27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/


[3] Kerling, A., et al. (2017) Exercise increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord., 215. 152 – 155. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28334675


[4] MacKerron, G. & Mourato, S. (2013) Happiness is greater in natural environments. Global Environmental Change, 23:5, 992 – 1000. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378013000575


[5] Mujcic, R. & Oswald, A. J. (2016) Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Public Health., 106:8, 1504 – 1510. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940663/


[6] Wu, A., et al. (2004) Dietary omega-3 fatty acids normalize BDNF levels, reduce oxidative damage, and counteract learning disability after traumatic brain injury in rats. J Neurotrauma., 21:10, 1457 – 1467. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15672635


[7] Ford, P. A., et al. (2013) Intake of Mediterranean foods associated with positive affect and low negative affect. J Psychosom Res., 74:2, 142 – 148. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23332529


[8] Gujar, N., et al. (2010) A role for REM sleep in recalibrating the sensitivity of the human brain to specific emotions, Cerebral Cortex, 21:1, 115 -123. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/cercor/bhq064


[9] Jenkinson, C. E., et al. (2012) Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13:773. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-773