5 more little things you can do today to make you happier

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number The best piece of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, is to help others.  In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping other in order to enrich our lives. Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities–such as concerts and group dinners out–brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

“Our brains are actually wired to serve others.  When we give charitable money and service to others, our brain releases several stress hormones which elevate our mood and cause us to feel happy.  Serving and giving help to others makes us happier, healthier, more prosperous, and therefore greatly blessed and more successful than non-givers.

Selfless service is a wonderful antidote to the ills that flow from the worldwide epidemic of self-indulgence.  The answer lies in helping to solve the problems of those around us rather than worrying about our own, living to lift burdens even when we ourselves feel weighed down.

  • People who give get happier as a result.
  • Happiness is the secret to success.  Charity brings happiness, and happiness brings success.
  • People who volunteer are happier.  You simply can’t find any kind of service that won’t make you happier.
  • Studies show that when people give, it lowers their levels of stress.

”It’s been 7 years since our family first spent our Christmas vacation serving the people of Ecuador.  Our family left on Christmas eve and spent one week in the mountains just outside Riobamba, teaching, building,and getting to know those wonderful people.  I know it changed all five of us in a way that’s indescribable.  If you were to ask any of my kids, they will say it was our best Christmas ever!  Giving instead of receiving is how we spent our holiday break, two years in a row.  It did make us happy… and giving will make you happy!

Family Ecuador

 

7.  Smile – with a positive attitude Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity.  But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

fortune cookie

 

It is simply amazing how much power such a simple gesture holds. Smiling apparently stimulates the brain’s reward mechanisms. Smiling gives a more potent effect than eating chocolate or winning the lottery… and it’s without a doubt much healthier for us. When we smile we exercise the muscles in our face as it creates creases around our mouths and eyes. I don’t know about you but I’m proud of my laughter and smile wrinkles! Did you know that there is a difference between a real smile and a fake smile? Apparently a real smile activates two muscles in the face – one around the mouth and the other around the eyes. When you smile using only the muscles around your mouth, it is often called a ‘social’ or ‘polite’ smile.  A real smile reaches your eyes. It makes them twinkle. Scientists say that when someone smiles at us, we automatically mimic that smile and we can tell whether it is genuine or not.  Isn’t it much better to mimic a genuine smile?  Did you know that people who smile genuinely and often, live longer?  Apparently their mental and physical health is much better as well.

Smiling cat

So tell me you didn’t smile when you saw this pic?  Yep… smiling is contagious

 

 

8.  Plan a trip – even if you don’t take one. As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:  In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.  After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar–even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.  Me?  Just mention the word “vacation” and my happiness meter sky rockets… what about you?

9.  Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness.

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live. I believe that this graphic explains it the best:

meditation

 

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.

10. Show gratitude – increases both happiness and life satisfaction This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you. In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.  Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

I love each one of these… so simple, yet so powerful.  So, this week try to serve someone else, smile more, take time to meditate,  plan a trip (or go on one), and be grateful!  It’s going to be a fabulous week, I just know it!!

 

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