Confessions of a Techie

Going on the ride of your life.

5 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in the Next 5 Minutes

... and you'll be surprised how long the good feeling lasts.

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Happiness is a lifelong pursuit of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. But while it could take years of persistence to deeply transform your life, there are scientifically-tested strategies that have been shown to provide an immediate happiness boost. Such activities provide a modest but lingering increase in happiness, but when practiced consistently over time, they become happiness habits, energizing you to live your dreams and passions.

Here are 5 such strategies that you can practice right now, to get a shot of healthy psychological nutrients:

1. Do some jumping jacks.

Aerobic exercise boosts one’s positive mood. In 2005, Researchers at Chicago State University and the University of Minnesota analyzed 158 different studies conducted between 1979 and 2005 [1]. They found that the effect of aerobic exercise was consistently positive, and was especially noticeable when one started an exercise session while feeling a little more "down" than usual. In other words, physical exercise can lift you up when you need it the most. In a more recent study, researchers at Halmstad University in Sweden analyzed 15 different studies and found that physical exercise can be an effective treatment of mild and moderate depression [2]. Body and mind are inseparable. A couple of minutes of jumping jacks may go a very long way.

2. Call a friend or family member.

Positive social connections are a cornerstone of happiness and health [3]. A conversation with a friend can have a lasting positive effect, increasing your energy and cultivating motivation. In fact, simply belonging to a social group or having a minimal personal connection with another person creates lasting and significant drive [4]. If there are people around you right now whom you like and appreciate, walk up to one and talk with them—or pick up the phone and say hi.

3. Write down 3 things you are grateful for.

Many people maintain a journal in which they write down the things for which they are grateful. The simple exercise of acknowledging your good fortune by identifying “three good things,” has been shown to provide both an immediate and lasting effect on happiness [5]. In a study published in 2012, positive psychologists Stephen Schueller and Acacia Parks tested this strategy in an online setting [6] and found that the benefits lasted as long as six months. A small uptick for six months in return for just five minutes of writing is a pretty good deal.

4. Imagine the best-case outcome for your near future.

Research consistently shows that imagining your “best possible self” makes you significantly more optimistic [7], delivering a range of positive emotions. When I met with coach Caroline Miller during Ride of Your Life and asked her about the path to inner peace, she suggested to “pretend” being an optimist when thinking about the future: “The world is a random set of events to pessimists. Optimists, on the other hand, believe they control the things around them. So, in some ways, you have to pretend you’re an optimist.”

In line with common belief, thinking positively (yet realistically) about the future is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take a few minutes to imagine and write down the best-case scenario for the coming months or years. You may be surprised to discover how bright this possible future may be.

5. Set an intention for the day.

One of the most established and validated models of psychological wellness was published by Carol Ryff of the University of Wisconsin nearly 20 years ago [8]. It includes six elements that constitute happiness, of which one’s autonomy is the most prominent. Setting a daily intention to guide your day puts you in the driver’s seat, where you can make conscious decisions, rather than react to incoming demands. You may not be able to get your way all the time, but simply being aware of what you intend to accomplish will provide you with a sense of purpose, and an opportunity to be consistent in the way you interact with the world.

If you’ve made it here to the end of this post, give it a shot right now — what is your daily intention?

 

[1] Reed, J., & Ones, D. S. (2006). The effect of acute aerobic exercise on positive activated affect: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7(5), 477-514.

[2] Josefsson, T., Lindwall, M. and Archer, T. (2014), Physical exercise intervention in depressive disorders: Meta-analysis and systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24: 259–272.

[3] Cacioppo, J. T. and Cacioppo, S. (2014), Social Relationships and Health: The Toxic Effects of Perceived Social Isolation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8: 58–72.

[4] Walton, G. M., Cohen, G. L., Cwir, D., & Spencer, S. J. (2012). Mere belonging: the power of social connections. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102(3), 513.

[5] Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.

[6] Schueller, S. M., & Parks, A. C. (2012). Disseminating self-help: positive psychology exercises in an online trial. Journal of medical Internet research, 14(3), e63.

[7] Meevissen, Y., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 42(3), 371-378.

[8] Ryff, C. D. (1995). Psychological well-being in adult life. Current directions in psychological science, 99-104.

Ran Zilca is a research scientist, entrepreneur, and author.

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