We live in a quick-fix kind of world, complete with one-minute meals and instant ab workouts. It's nearly impossible to find the time to sit down and contemplate permanent ways to be happier. We're in luck, then, because there are lots of little tricks out there that immediately plant a bit of cheer — and there is scientific research to prove how they actually work.
Maybe our society has heartily adopted instant gratification because our bodies have responded so well to the small adjustments we introduce to it. As you'll see below, it really doesn't take much for our brains to naturally produce the happy chemicals like serotonin and dopamine; it takes even less for us to get drunk off of them.
Of course, we should still keep in mind the big-picture stuff, like eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly. That base level of joy is linked to living longer, a stronger immune system, and reliable physical function as we get older. But psychologists also say the happiness we cultivate on a daily basis turns into a long-term factor in our lives, and we end up having more positive emotions than the average person. We just feel like we're a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
All sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Here are 11 ways you can make yourself instantly happier.
1. Hang Out With Someone Who Smiles A Lot
Spend your next Sunday afternoon with someone who is well-known for their ear-to-ear grin. A group of 4,700 people participated in a 20-year-long heart study in Framingham, MA; out of all the incredible data collected, it was discovered that happy people are contagious. Anyone who hangs around them gets an instant spike in joy — in fact, your happiness level will raise 15.3 percent in a small amount of time.
2. Put On Red Lipstick
Before you scoff and accuse me of being vain, you should know that there are scientific studies that prove the power of a little lip color. In 2011, researchers from Harvard University and Boston University found that makeup-wearing women felt more confident, and other people perceived them to be more competent and reliable than their bare-lipped counterparts. (Which is obviously incredibly problematic, but take from it what you will.)
Also, a 2013 French study found that red lips were associated with higher levels of estrogen and overall positive perception of the face. All those positive vibes coming your way are likely to boost your mood — but only if you enjoy wearing red lipstick in the first place, of course. Otherwise, just discount this one and keep rocking those bare lips.
3. Smell Some Citrus
The journal Chemical Senses released a study showing that having a fruit like a clementine around can immediately boost your mood. When aromatherapy is done with patients, just the scent of citrus curbs stress and anxiety, and aids with digestion.
4. Massage Your Calves
This part of our legs is responsible for all sorts of movement — running, jumping, walking, strutting in high heels — but it's easy to forget how important it is to pamper them. Massaging these major muscles increases systemic circulation and helps return venous blood to the heart. Nutrients are delivered more quickly to the rest of the body, while harmful stuff is flushed out.
Plus, massaging your calves can lower your blood pressure right away. A massage therapist can do some good work, but you can also give your own calves some love by simply rubbing them.
5. Voice Your Concerns
I don't mean you should complain more, but you definitely shouldn't bottle up the things that are upsetting you. For example, if your partner has bailed on plans that you've been looking forward to, don't get passive aggressive; speak up in a calm, but firm way. The Journal of Social Psychology published a study showing that people who resolve relationship issues right away pave the way for long-lasting happiness. You'll feel relieved that the problem is being handled ASAP, and it won't ruin the rest of your day.
6. Listen To An Upbeat Song
Pause Adele for a while and download one of the Spotify "Daily Lift" playlists instead. The University of Missouri conducted research showing that people who intentionally listened to music with a positive message were much more likely to smile than those who chose any other kind of tunes. Amp yourself up even more by dancing and singing along like nobody is listening.
7. Eat Mixed Nuts
Researchers at University of Barcelona say that a handful of nuts a day increases the levels of neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. This means you'll be in a better mood and your hunger will be curbed, preventing you from snacking on sugary things that will give you a depressing crash later.
8. Start Sketching
Doodling is something that requires both parts of the brain, which pauses the stress cycle and forces you to be in the present moment. It's a great, fast way to get yourself out of the fight-or-flight mode — and suddenly feel better mentally. You don't have to be an artist of any kind. Jotting down a few stick figures on a napkin or penciling a potential tattoo idea on the corner of your legal pad will suffice. Even better? Regularly incorporating some adult coloring books into your life.
9. Get Upside Down
If you're short on time and can't make it to your local studio for a full yoga class, no problem. Find a spot on the floor of your office and do an inversion — a handstand, plow pose, or even downward facing dog. The point is to get your head below your heart so you get a rush of blood to your brain; you'll instantly feel more alive and alert, and your circulatory system will be very pleased with you.
10. Make Weekend Plans With Friends
Merely anticipating an upcoming get-together can give your brain the rush of energy it needs to get through a particularly stressful day. It's called anticipatory savoring, according to Michelle Gielan, founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research. You get excited about a future experience, but that little fix of happiness transmutes to the present moment. Suddenly, your mundane daily tasks don't seem so boring.
11. Spend Your Money On Someone Else
Turns out you can buy happiness — as long as the cash is being spent on someone other than yourself. A 2008 study gave a group of uninformed participants a $5,000 bonus at the end of the year; those who used at least a third of that to help others scored significantly higher on their happiness test afterwards. The brain's reward center is immediately activated when you commit a selfless act, resulting in a rush of dopamine. It could be buying a homeless individual a warm meal, lending money to a friend in need, or donating to your favorite charity.
Images: Aral Tasher/Unsplash; Giphy (11)