- To be happier, a person must add pleasure or meaning to their life.
- Happiness can come from the outside in—from a person's actions to their mind.
- One deep breath can turn down a person's “fight-or-flight” instinct and activate their “rest-and-restore” mode.
Feeling down? Got the blahs? This post provides 10 easy ways to feel happier in 30 seconds or less—and every technique is based on the best research available.
But first, what is happiness?
Of all of the definitions of happiness, my favorite is from psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, who defines it as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.” I find it true that neither “pleasure” nor “meaning” alone quite describe happiness. You need meaning to give you a sense of purpose in life, and you need pleasure to give you a sense of joy or well-being in the present moment.
If you want to be happier, just add pleasure or meaning to your life (assuming your pleasures or purposes do not harm you or another person). You’ll discover that you’ll not only be happier in the moment, but you'll also increase your ability to be happier in the future.
The following happiness enhancers will increase your immediate sense of pleasure or your sense of your life’s meaning, or both—in the blink of an eye. You don’t need another person to help you, and you can practice the techniques almost anywhere—at work, at home, outside, in your car. Only your willing mind is required.
How to Become Happy in 30 Seconds or Less
1. Take one deep breath.
Just one deep breath can turn down your “fight-or-flight” instinct and activate your “rest-and-restore” mode. Got 15 seconds more? Take another deep breath. You’ll feel even more content.
2. Find something in your day that triggers a feeling of gratitude.
You had a good breakfast, you have a job, or you enjoyed reading the newspaper this morning. Absorb that feeling of gratitude for a few moments. Lingering on a positive experience helps embed it in your brain.
3. Take time to appreciate something that didn’t happen during your day.
No one in your family got sick, you didn’t have car trouble, and you didn't fight with anyone. Remember to keep things in perspective.
Many people think of happiness as something that comes from the inside out, or from your mind to your behavior. But happiness can also come from the outside in, or from your actions to your mind. The deliberate decision to smile, for example, actually activates happiness-inducing chemicals, as described here.
5. Slap a label on your negative feelings.
Angry. Helpless. Sad. Anxious. Just labeling your emotions can ease your suffering. Attaching a label shifts activity from the emotional part of your brain to the thinking part, making you hurt less and feel more in control. (Learn more here.)
6. Sit up straight.
Poor posture can actually cause negative emotional states. Studies show that people who slouch experience more bad moods, lower self-esteem, and poorer confidence than those with upright posture. Sitting up straight can cause positive emotional states—a sense of confidence, assertiveness, and a happier mood. Good posture also helps your physical well-being and prevents many types of neck, shoulder, and back problems. So to lift your mood, pull your body upward. You’ll feel happier.
7. Notice the small pleasures in life and appreciate them.
Author and Psychology Today blogger Rick Hanson writes about the health and happiness benefits of “taking in the good” in his groundbreaking book, Hardwiring Happiness. He recommends appreciating the little things, noting, "Most opportunities for a good experience arrive with little fanfare. You finished an email, the telephone works, you have a friend.” For the best results, bring pleasant objects, thoughts, and people to the foreground of your awareness. Linger for five seconds or more on a good experience to allow it to sink into you. Your happiness level will steadily increase.
8. Appreciate yourself.
Think of one thing you’ve already accomplished or handled well today or focus on a good quality you’ve demonstrated—a start to a project, a phone call, or even an honest talk with a colleague that ended well. Drawing your attention to your strengths will lift your spirits.
9. Find positive meaning in negative events.
If you experience a setback, can you find a rapid way to turn it into lemonade? Start by thinking about the setback as a challenge rather than a failure. That should take five seconds or less. In the remaining 25, begin to think about how to move forward.
10. Use a desktop photo to remind you of the purposes and pleasures of your life.
A photo of your family, your travels, or a favorite saying can be restorative and promote moments of happiness. Taking a “micro-break” and enjoying a photo of a natural scene can promote good health by lowering stress and blood pressure—as well as happiness. To keep from getting used to a particular photo, periodically change it up.
Why Practice Happiness Habits?
The benefits may seem obvious; after all, feeling happy feels good! But the value of happiness habits goes even deeper. In Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson points out that negativity is hardwired into our brains. We are predisposed to pay more attention to bad things than good things. This negativity bias has helped us survive by making us aware of possible threats, problems, and stressors in our environment. However, if we are ruled only by our negativity, we miss opportunities for pleasure, joy, good relationships, and humor. Happiness activities help balance out the negativity bias so that we see and experience the positive aspects of life.
Experiencing and absorbing moments of happiness has long-term brain benefits. Happy experiences and thoughts can actually grow new neural circuits in your brain. These neural structures provide you with inner strengths such as resilience, gratitude, enthusiasm, and happiness.
So try these small steps. You’ll find not only that your Happiness Quotient rises with every micro-moment of happiness, but also that making yourself happy becomes easier as you practice.
Note: If you suffer from mental health issues like depression or you are going through a catastrophic life event, these activities may not help enough. Consider seeing a therapist.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
© Meg Selig, 2016
Selig, M. 2009. Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. Routledge.
Ben-Shahar, Tal. 2007. Happier: Can You Learn to Be Happy? McGraw Hill.
Wollen, Malia. “How to Breathe.”
Bradberry, Travis. “This is how to be happier, according to brain science.”
Hanson, Rick. 2013. Hardwiring Happiness. Harmony.