Sure, everyone wants to be less stressed and happier in general — but is it really up to us? A study out of Harvard University suggests that around half of our level of happiness is based on genes. That’s right: some people are born to be happier than others. No, it’s not fair, but luckily, there’s the other half: the things you can do to take control of your own happiness. Here are eight super simple ways to boost your happiness.
Give yourself quiet time
Most of us are faced with decisions from the moment we wake up (eggs or cereal?) until we go to sleep (book or Netflix?). Of course, having options is great, but sometimes it’s just too much. Decision fatigue can really mess with our moods. The antidote to the stress of decision making the antidote to robotic living is to place self-care higher on your priority list, says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.
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“Human beings are driven by our unconscious,” Dr. Walfish tells SheKnows. “The gasoline that motivates our behaviors, thoughts, wishes and desires is rooted in the unknowing or our unaware state of mind. For this reason, it is crucial that each of us finds a way to be alone and embrace solitude for a period of even 15 to 20 minutes each day in which we simply sit still, tune into ourselves and take our emotional temperature.” Give yourself time and space each day, a distraction-free time when you don’t have to make decisions.
Revisit your childhood passions
When you were growing up, there were probably activities that you truly loved to do, things that really made you happy. But many of us don’t make time for hobbies or past times any more. Try to remember your childhood favorites were — perhaps playing games, reading for pleasure, drawing or exploring — and try doing it as an adult.
The Harvard study found that happier older people returned to their roots when it came to happiness. “When you are older, you have more opportunity to return to the activities you associate with happiness,” the study’s director Dr. Robert Waldinger said in a statement.
Check in with yourself
If you’re a people pleaser and/or a mom, you’re probably used to putting other people’s needs and feelings before your own. Before this becomes too much of a habit, remember to check in with yourself. “We need to ask basic questions like, ‘How am I feeling at this moment?’ or if you’re an advanced emotional temperature taker, ‘What do I really want to do about that business decision I need to make?’” Dr. Walfish says. Regular check-ins will prevent you from neglecting your own feelings, wants and needs.
If you’re stressed, you’re probably also exhausted and may not be up for exercising, but according to the Mayo Clinic, if you get moving, it could make you happier. It’s no secret that exercise releases endorphins — those are the feel-good neurotransmitters that cause a “runner’s high.” Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did something good for your mind and body. That’s a double win for happiness.
Create & maintain relationships
Connections with other people are important. The problem is that when you’re working, running a household and taking care of your family, it can be hard to keep up with friendships. But, according to the Harvard study, it’s pretty important. “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” Dr. Waldinger said in a statement. That’s reason enough to pick up the phone and make plans with friends, or to make some new connections.
Meditation isn’t for everyone, but if you haven’t given it a try, we highly recommend you do. Meditation can help you relax, focus and tune into your innermost feelings, moment-to-moment. “This is extremely useful in a marital relationship, especially if both partners participate in individual meditation,” Dr. Walfish explains. “This process also helps you separate what you are feeling from your mate’s emotions. When the heat goes up and emotions become powerful, defenses rise and communication often shuts down, becomes aggressive, or goes awry. The more self-awareness you have, the greater your options are in healthy communication.” (Ready to start? Check out our beginner’s guide to meditation!)
Set up regular family talks
As easy as it may be to come home, scroll Instagram for a while, then go to bed, taking the time to communicate with your partner and your family can actually make you much happier. “Develop regular ongoing communication,” Walfish says. “Talk, talk, talk with each other. Talking is the glue that holds relationships together.”
Everyone’s definitely busy, but having regular family dinners or family meetings, where you all share what’s going on in your lives and show support for each other can go a long way in the happiness realm.
Nostalgia has a bad rap as something that makes us sad or long for the past. But according to a study out of the University of Southampton, feeling nostalgic can actually make us happier.
In the study, subjects were asked to think about a nostalgic event and write about it, listen to a nostalgic song and/or read the song’s lyrics. You can try any of those — or really do anything that brings back positive memories of something you experienced in the past.
“Memories of the past can help to maintain current feelings of self-worth and can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future, Dr. Tim Wildschut, co-author of the study said in a statement. “Our findings do imply that nostalgia, by promoting optimism, could help individuals cope with psychological adversity.”
Try a few of these strategies and keep up with it regularly — you’ll be surprised how much you can do to boost your mood and feel happier for the long haul.