Be More Mindful
If you are not already meditating at least once a day, you should start. A type of meditation that is easy to do, isn’t tied to any particular religion, and has been proven to rewire parts of your brain to better handle stress is “mindfulness” meditation. Mindfulness is a state of relaxed present alertness. Whenever you are aware of how your senses are experiencing the present moment (allowing your thoughts to pass through you without impacting your feelings or reacting to them) you are being mindful. W.B. Yeats said, “the world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day during normal activities like eating and drinking, but you should set aside a special time each day for focused mindful meditation.
Find a comfortable chair, a mat on the floor, or a place in a room where you won’t be disturbed. Breath in full and deep and exhale at a steady comfortable rate. Enjoy the physical sensation of breathing. Relax your face, neck, shoulders, back, and any other parts of the body that might feel tense from the work of the day. Close your eyes, or focus on a spot just below eye level. As your mind begins to wander, bring your focus back to your breathing and let the thoughts drift away. It’s important not to judge any thought you might have, or get frustrated that you cannot avoid thinking for more than a few seconds. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but about creating a healthy awareness of our mental, emotional, and physical states. Eventually you will learn to have more awareness of the sensations in your body while quieting your mind.
Sometimes ambient instrumental music playing at a low volume, or even white noise, can help you to let go and just enjoy the peaceful awareness of the rise and fall of your chest. Set a timer and start with a very manageable goal, such as five-minutes once a day. Your aim should be to eventually work up to thirty minutes a day, either at one time, or broken up over two sessions.
There are numerous “mindfulness meditation” scripts online and apps to guide you if you become filled with thoughts of “Am I doing it right?” The best indicator of success is how you feel after a session.
Meditation should leave you feeling refreshed, more aware of your environment, positive, and more connected to others. Your new peace of mind will put you in a happy mood, and you may experience less physical pain or pent up emotions in your body after making mindfulness a daily habit. You were not meant to allow feelings to control you; by rewiring your brain through mindful meditation, you can literally change your brain in a powerfully positive way.
The simple act of smiling is an all-natural way to deliver the “good” drugs to your brain. The neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin are both released when you smile. Dopamine activates your brain’s “pleasure center” while serotonin is the main ingredient in most prescription anti-depressants. Endorphins are also released while smiling, and they reduce your body’s perception of pain (natural opioids). Make smiling a regular habit to keep your brain fed by happiness supporting chemicals.
Smiling also has other less scientific benefits, such as making you appear more attractive and being contagious. When a person sees someone smiling, it makes them want to smile back; this increase in happy feelings can be quickly shared between friends or even strangers. With all of this positive energy being passed back and forth–good interactions are bound to happen!
Go to Bed
There is a direct connection between our mood and how much sleep we are getting. Not getting enough sleep will make you irritable and more easily stressed out, while adequate sleep supports a general sense of well being. Over time, not sleeping can support serious consequences. Insomnia has been linked to chronic mood disorders like anxiety and clinical depression.
The foundation for a good night’s sleep starts before you put your head to a pillow and close your eyes. Taking simple steps towards a better sleep routine will help you to spend less nights tossing and turning. Make your bed and bedroom as comfortable as possible with a good mattress and pillows. Use blackout curtains on windows around the bed. Fill an oil diffuser with lavender aromatherapy oil to help you relax. Avoid ingesting caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol for at least two-four hours before bedtime. Eat a satisfying, but not overlarge meal two hours or more before trying to sleep, and skip the late-night sugary snacks.
Turning off stimulating phone and television screens thirty minutes before bed and meditating, praying, or reading a book will help produce the right brain waves required for deep sleep. Your body functions on a natural circadian rhythm, so avoiding activities that are in conflict with your natural tiredness will help you fall and stay asleep. When sleep really becomes difficult, try natural supplements and teas with ingredients such as chamomile, valerian, L-theanine, and passionflower to induce sleepiness. Prescription sleep medications often contain dangerous drug interactions and unwanted side-effects, so try to find a natural supplement that helps you fall asleep. Homeopathic remedies sold over-the-counter work well for most people when combined with some of the other habits mentioned in the previous paragraph.
For most adults, seven hours of sleep per night is ideal for a well-rested brain and therefore happier mood. Additionally, if your work schedule allows, getting in a short 15-30 minute power nap between 1-3pm (when circadian rhythms cause most people to feel drowsy) will work better for maintaining a happy mood then fueling up on more caffeine or sugar.
People are spending more time indoors and online than ever before, but that is not a habit that leads to happiness. Writers from the past like Thoreau and John Muir knew the value of nature on a person’s psyche. One 2015 study showed that participants who took a 50-minute nature walk experience less anxiety, fewer negative thoughts, and more positive emotions. Outdoor exercise like running, biking, hiking, kayaking help us feel more creative, connected, relaxed, and content. This type of activity also releases natural endocannabinoids in the brain which is where “runner’s high” comes from. Being in nature puts are bodies in harmony with our ancestral roots. We all need to fight to preserve the world’s natural spaces for many reasons, but our own health and happiness should be considered among them.
If you’re feeling depressed, go serve someone else. One of the main traits of depressed people is excessive rumination. Rumination means focused attention on your negative traits. For some people this pastime becomes a debilitating habit. By actively seeking out ways to help other people, you limit the amount of time you’ll spend ruminating.
Helping someone else not only feels great, but improves your own self-esteem and feeling of self-worth. Volunteering is a great way to get connected to new networks of people which can spark new friendships and an empowering sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. If you don’t have a lot of time during the week to volunteer for a cause, even donating to a charity online will activate the brain’s reward center; this is something psychologists have referred to as “helper’s high.”
Don’t Make Happiness Your End Goal
Feeling happier at any moment is easier than you think; long lasting contentment is often what eludes us.
Doing things to change your brain’s chemistry, starting healthy habits, and helping others will make you a happier person, but that shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. Focusing too much on your own feelings and working too hard at being happy will actually lead to unhappiness and frustration in the long run. Chances are you won’t be able to consistently put all of these suggestions into practice, even if you know they are good for you, and you experience the positive results for yourself–but that’s okay. Accepting when we fall short is an important step towards actually accepting who we are. We are complex beings with the capacity to feel many different emotions, and all of those emotions have value if we reflect and learn from them in positive ways. 2 Corinthians actually instructs us to “delight in insults, hardship, persecutions, and difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In our increasingly automated and technology-dependent world, being able to be the voice of reason will be even more crucial. “We urgently need ‘new, human-centered thinking—considering happiness, wellbeing, purpose and meaning’ in policy-making,” says Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum.
Instead of chasing happiness for your own enrichment–pursue work that fulfills you, learn to live unselfishly, be grateful for what you have, know your values and why you uphold them, and use your new happy outlook to be a thought leader who makes life better for those around you.