Happiness is one of those things that we always seems to be looking for, but for some reason, rarely feel like we totally have. It's why ways to be happier is the topic of countless self-help books and articles — most of us are struggling to achieve it on some level.
According to psychology professor David G. Myers in a piece for Psychology Today, some of this comes down to the personalities we were born with and things that shaped us in our early years. However, research also shows that another significant part of the puzzle is our daily behavior and how we choose to act each day.
"If social psychologists have proven anything during the last 30 years, they have proven that the actions we take leave a residue inside us," he wrote. "Every time we act, we amplify the underlying idea or tendency behind it. Most people presume the reverse: that our traits and attitudes affect our behavior. While this is true to a certain extent (though less so than commonly supposed), it is also true that our traits and attitudes follow our behavior."
Dr. Myers referenced a study in which half the participants were told to present themselves in a confident and self-enhancing light in an interview, and half the participants were told to present themselves self-deprecatingly. Sure enough, after the interviews were conducted, the half who had spent time focusing on their positive traits expressed higher self-esteem than those who hadn't. The bottom line: Our actions have very real effects on our internal feelings.
So for those of you looking for concrete ways to feel happier on a daily basis, here are seven things you can start doing today that can help cultivate happiness in your life.
1. Savor The Moment
In another piece for Psychology Today, author and psychologist Barbara Markway stressed the importance of savoring the moment when trying to feel happier daily. "Look around your environment and take note of one thing that you often take for granted. Bring mindful attention and awareness to it [...]. Try to hold onto this awareness for 15-20 seconds or so, to let it really sink in," she said. So take note of that morning cup of coffee or the warmth and comfort of your bed as you snuggle in at night — these are good things in our lives that we might not even usually notice.
2. Take Care Of Yourself
Markway also suggested prioritizing your self-care. Exercise, drink enough water, and simply get enough sleep. If we're not taking care of our body's basic needs, we're compromising our ability to manage our moods and cope with the the daily stressors life throws our way.
3. Cultivate Thankfulness
Psychologist Erin Leyba noted the importance of practicing thankfulness when it comes to being happy. "Research strongly suggests that gratitude, or a thankful appreciation of aspects of your life, can result in positive changes to your brain, heart, energy level, sleep, exercise patterns, enthusiasm, and mood. Gratitude is also strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness," she wrote.
She specifically recommended writing a letter or note to someone you're grateful for who you may have never properly thanked, like a teacher or loved one, and taking the time to write down what you're grateful for in a journal several times a week.
4. Get Creative
In a piece on ways to feel happier, professor of psychology Adrian Furnham said activities that engage in our skills and achieve a definite and clear goal — like painting on a canvass or decorating a wall in our home — are the most gratifying and "happy-making." He noted that these are also often the activities where "immediate self-awareness disappears and sense of time is distorted." So sign up for that watercolor class, or write that short story! You just may find it's the best part of your day.
5. Don't Focus On Money
Furnham also noted that happiness is only weakly related to income, and that research shows that great wealth absolutely does not make for happier people. Once our basic needs, like shelter and health care, are met, happiness and money do not seem to correlate. So if you think that a yacht and a penthouse will be the solution to all your problems, science shows differently! Instead, try being conscious of the good things you probably already have.
6. Schedule Something Fun
In a Huffington Post piece on simple ways to feel happier instantly, psychologist Barbara Holstein recommended scheduling something fun that you can look forward to in the relatively immediate future. The anticipation of something like a dinner with friends, or a weekend get-away can instantly boost your mood during a particularly stressful moment.
7. Call — Do Not Text— A Friend
In the same HuffPost piece, psychologist Nancy Mramor stressed the fact that social contact is deeply tied to happiness, but not the superficial contact of social media. Instead, she recommended getting together with a friend to go for a walk, or even just calling to catch up and say hi at the end of the day. It's super simply but yields extremely positive results in your personal happiness quotient.
Happiness is definitely a journey with ups and down, but it also shouldn't have to feel like some far off, unattainable goal reserved for "maybe some day." Simply being conscious of what we have and what we're grateful for, and making time for a few simple daily changes can have concrete and noticeable affects on how happy we feel day-to-day.