Caren Osten

The Right Balance

What Choices Can Make You Just a Little Bit Happier?

6 ways to boost your mood and improve your life.

Posted Dec 04, 2019

Photo by Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash

If you could bring 5% more happiness to your life, how would you do it? This was the question posed—at my request—to the subscribers of Daily Haloha, a new app co-founded by entrepreneur Amy Giddon. Daily Haloha provides its participants with a daily, fill-in-the-blank prompt aimed at creating connection and community. But not any sort of connection—rather one that asks you to reach inside yourself and share that bit with a stranger. The goal: to create a space for more We and less Me.

The field of positive psychology is dedicated to the study of what makes us happy and successful, what brings our lives meaning and purpose, and what relieves our stress and nurtures our relationships. So when Amy and I discussed the opportunity for me to create my own experiment, using approximately 150 anonymous responses from the Daily Haloha community— which spans the globe—I jumped at the chance.

“At every moment in your life you have a choice, and through your choices you create your reality,” said my teacher, Tal Ben-Shahar, an author and former Harvard psychology professor. Amid the hurried pace of our tech-filled existence, it’s easy to forget that you have choices to make, such as—How do you spend our time? What brings you joy? Which relationships makes you feel good? Do you hold on to this or that emotion or let it go? It is all of these choices that add up to a lifetime.

So given the choice, how would you make your life just a little happier? We’re not talking huge changes here, but just a small percent. 

Here’s what we learned about the choices this sampling of 150 respondents would make to bring 5% more happiness to their life.

1. Make time to prioritize positivity. Many people wrote about wanting to bring more positivity to their daily life, which you will see in the replies below. Research shows that infusing our days with positive emotions through activities, hobbies and connections—sometimes with an air of play or a measure of comfort—can boost our mood and make space for added happiness. Expressing gratitude on a consistent basis, by simply bringing an awareness to our blessings, is also a powerful strategy for increasing positivity.

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I will …

  • Smile more often.
  • Listen to music while I get ready for the day.
  • Say three things I am grateful for every night to remind myself how lucky I am.
  • Play with my dog.
  • Think about the happiness I already have in my life.
  • Drink some matcha tea.
  • Read more.
  • Try to travel more.
  • Play—do a handstand.
  • Cook a fabulous meal.
Photo by Andrew Neil
Source: Photo by Andrew Neil

2. Hold on to and nurture your healthy relationships.

“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives,” writes Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and author who specializes in relationships. Research confirms that spending time with the people we care about and who care about us is the number one predictor of happiness. Relationships are hugely beneficial to our emotional and physical well-being, and protect us from loneliness, recently labeled a growing epidemic in the U.S. So it’s no surprise that many responses referred to relationships and ways people would choose to nurture or improve them.

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

  • Will lovingly hug my kids and then tickle them mercilessly.
  • Will spend more quality time with friends and family and less time dealing with e-mail.
  • Will hang out with my pals.
  • Need to see my grown kids more often.
  • Will surround myself with people I love.
  • Will send funny memes to a friend having a challenging time.
  • Will close a few open issues with people I love.
  • Will communicate with my family.
Photo by Danielle Macinnes/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Danielle Macinnes/Unsplash

3. Setting goals is an important step to success.

Setting and working towards ambitious, realistic goals gives our lives direction, and brings us a sense of meaning, purpose and accomplishment. Research shows that goals motivate us and a positive attitude can increase our level of persistence and our resistance to setbacks. Many of the respondents saw goal-setting as a way to boost their happiness.

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

  • Will keep my room clean.
  • Will have more ‘want’ to do and fewer ‘should’ do.
  • Need to get organized.
  • Would spend more time in nature.
  • Will do at least one social thing a week with a friend that I feel close to.
  • Want to pick up new hobbies and keep learning as a way to help me grow.
  • Need to be more financially stable.
  • Will get rid of things I don’t need.
  • Would work from home.
  • Want to go to zero-waste.
Photo by Dan Meyers/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Dan Meyers/Unsplash

4. Being kind and compassionate—both to others AND yourself—is win-win.

Being kind is a no-brainer. It make us happier, more connected, and less stressed. Taking it one step further, when we see someone experiencing emotional pain, and are moved to alleviate the suffering—that is compassion. Acts of kindness and compassion can boost the giver as much as, and in some cases, more than the receiver. Kindness and compassion are simply good for us and good for the world.

But we aren’t always so good about treating ourselves with kindness and compassion. And self-compassion is simply offering that warm and caring outlook to ourselves, rather than judging and criticizing. Research by Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer suggests that people who have more self-compassion lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical.

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

  • Need to be kinder to strangers.
  • Can let go of expectations.
  • Will give more, share more, love more and care more.
  • Will be less self-critical.
  • Will give compliments.
  • Will treat myself with love and respect.
  • Will not read or watch the news.
  • Take relaxing, long showers.
  • Will take needed rest and recreation.
  • Need to work less.
  • Am beginning to love myself.
  • Will say ‘no’ more.
  • Will not be dependent on external validation.
Photo by Jacob Postuma/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Jacob Postuma/Unsplash

5. Healthy habits—exercise, sleep and nutrition—make everything else better.

The connection between body and mind has been well documented. We know, for example, that stress impacts our nervous system, putting us into the “fight or flight” response, and conversely, our physiology and how we treat our body affects our emotional state. Exercise is a proven remedy for both depression and anxiety, and studies show that physically active people are happier and more satisfied with their lives. Sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing and a lack of it, according to research, can affect our metabolism and weight, our mood, our heart health and more. What we put into our bodies has great impact on our health, can ward off potential illness, and affects both our mood and our productivity.

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

  • Would like to eat healthier.
  • Should stretch my aching muscles more.
  • Would take naps.
  • Run.
  • Would work out more.
  • Will sleep at least eight hours a night!
  • Am going to do sports.
  • Should drink more water.
  • Will go to bed earlier.
Photo by Xevi Casanovas/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Xevi Casanovas/Unsplash

6. The present moment is the best place to spend your time.

Mindfulness is an awareness of what’s happening in and around us as it’s happening. Simply noticing and not judging. Mindfulness brings us into the present moment, where we are able to slow down, see things with greater clarity, and avoid the weight of worry and regret. So why are we so rarely there? A Harvard study revealed that our minds are wandering 47% of the time—in other words, nearly half of the time we are doing something our thoughts are elsewhere. Mindfulness allows us to create space in the present, where perhaps we can see beauty where we didn’t notice it before, and see growth, transformation and change where we may not have seen the possibilities. The replies below reflect the potential benefits in living in the present. 

To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

  • Will find more time to be quiet.
  • Will try to live in the moment, whether at home or at work.
  • Need to stop dwelling in the past.
  • Will stop worrying so much about everything.
  • Try to remember that my kids are young and cute now and they won’t be this age forever.
  • Would spend 15 minutes meditating each morning.
  • Need to let go of some things.
  • Will sit back and watch my daughter.
  • Will try not to focus on the all the negative things I can’t control.

So now maybe you want to give it a try: To bring 5% more happiness to my life, I…

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