Living the Questions

Finding peace in uncertain times.

15 Habits to Cultivate Lasting Happiness

Raise your happiness set-point with these proven strategies.

Happiness is circular. Happy people have happy habits, which in turn, makes them happier. Here’s a list of habits that have a high chance of giving you a happiness boost. 

1. Savor the moment: Look around your environment and take note of one thing that you often take for granted. Bring mindful attention and awareness to this. Try to engage all your senses. Notice the positive feelings and associations that go with it. Try to hold onto this awareness for 15-20 seconds or so, to let it really sink in. 

2. Practice non-judgmental awareness of yourself and others: Most people, including yourself, are doing the best they can with the resources they have in any particular moment. No one wakes up and says, “I think I’ll screw up my life today.” Give yourself, and others, a break.

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3. Cultivate realistic thinking: You don’t have to necessarily be a positive thinker. Sometimes healthy skepticism is appropriate. Try to be balanced in your thinking, though. For example, what is the evidence for (insert worrisome thought or idea)? What are the implications? How likely is it to happen? What coping skills do you have in place if the worst were to happen?

4. Connect with others: We are inherently social and have a fundamental need for belonging. Having social support is a buffer in times of stress. Connecting with others can also help put problems in perspective; others can give you useful feedback.  

5. Resolve conflicts proactively: Treat emotional issues as temporary and solvable. Use assertiveness skills. Realize you can be kind without having people walk all over you.

6. Develop good self-care practices: Exercise, eat healthy most of the time, get enough sleep, be kind to yourself, and develop good boundaries. Here’s a list of 80+ self-care ideas. Pick one to do today.

7. Share gratitude and love: Express gratitude to those who have made a difference in your life. Send a card. Write a letter. Visit in person.

8. Focus on the good: Write down three good things that happen each day. Take pictures. Journal. Keep scrapbooks (they don’t have to be fancy). This helps reorient our brains to the fact that things are actually going pretty well.  Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the new book, Hardwiring Happiness, has popularized this phrase ("focus on the good").

9. Live like you're on vacation: What makes the time we spend on vacation better than the time we spend at home? We are open to new experiences. We are trying novel things. At home there are plenty of things we could be doing that would be novel and/or fun, but there's no urgency. Plan a time to be a tourist in your own town. 

10. Fake it: Studies show that if your face is in a smiling position (such as holding a pen long-ways in your mouth), it sends signals to your brain that you are happy. If you don’t want to put a pen in your mouth, simply focus on turning up the corners of your mouth ever so slightly. Imagine that even your eyes are smiling.

11. Have fun and laugh: Laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce certain stress hormones, defend against respiratory infections, increase memory and learning, improve alertness and increase creativity. Enjoy these quotes about laughter.

12. Spend money: You can buy happiness, but it helps to spend it on the right things, such as experiences or other people. No one said on his or her death bed, "I wish I'd bought more stuff."

13. Simplify your life: Too many things, too many activities, too many choices—really too much of anything—can cause stress and decrease happiness. Here’s a great website to give you some ideas on simplifying.

14. Curtail Comparisons: Remember that we all have joys and sorrows. Too often we’re comparing how we feel on the inside to how someone else looks on the outside.

15. Live an authentic and meaningful life: Be true to yourself and live in line with your values. Ask yourself, what do you want in life? What small steps can you take to move in that direction?

 

Let’s Keep in Touch!

Follow me on Twitter.

I also write at The Self-Compassion Project, with its own Facebook page here.

I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. My husband, Greg, and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.

Photo credits: D. Sharon Pruitt

 

Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience. She is the author of four popular psychology books and has been featured in media nationwide.

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