Happy people eating together

The secret to feeling happier is more achievable than you think, with science proving why these small steps can make you feel more positive

The latest research published in the Review of General Psychology suggests that being happier is all about the small things. The study found that our everyday choices and actions have the greatest impact on our happiness levels – more so than wealth, possessions or our genetics. Cherry Casey uncovers 11 surprising things we can start doing right now to be even happier, all backed by science…

1. Stand tall

Science suggests the way we stand and sit may have an impact on our mood. Dutch scientist Erik Peper found that when his students made a conscious effort to sit up straight or walk tall without slumping their shoulders, they found it much easier to conjure up positive thoughts and memories. A  study by Clark University also found that simply smiling can actually lead to a feeling of joy.

2. Plan ahead

Planning a holiday or just a break from work can dramatically improve our happiness, but a study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a holiday. This is because we enjoy the sense of anticipation and our happiness levels are boosted for eight weeks. Even if you don’t have the time or budget for a holiday, putting something in the calendar to look forward to is an instant way to lift your mood.

3. Take time for you

With the rise of JOMO (the joy of missing out – the opposite of FOMO, meaning the fear of missing out), simply focusing more on the here and now, spending time away from the distractions of your phone or giving yourself some dedicated ‘me-time’ could help improve your wellbeing, according to high achievers such as Oprah and Bill Gates. This has been proven by new research published in Biological Psychiatry, which found that meditation ­– taking the time to sit still and focus on your breath – has markedly positive effects on the brain. The participants who meditated showed greater measures of connectivity in the brain associated with calmness and stress.

4. Turn up the volume

While listening to feel-good tunes sounds obvious, science has proven that music can affect our brains in more ways than we think. Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics found that listening to rhythmic music can alter our brainwave speed, with slow beats encouraging slow brainwaves associated with a calmer or meditative state. Even more prescriptive, listening to Weightless by Marconi Union apparently slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure and lowers levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and is proven to be more relaxing than any other music tested to date.

5. Help others

It sounds like a no-brainer, but doing good makes you feel good, too. A study by the University of Louisville showed that those who more regularly participated in meaningful activities such as helping others or listening to a friend’s problems feel more purposeful and happier than those who participated in purely pleasure-seeking behaviours. Action For Happiness have found that even small acts of thoughtfulness – a gesture, a smile or a kind word – can help you feel positive.

6. Sweat it out

It’s well known that exercise releases mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins, but research by the American College of Sports Medicine has shown that getting active for 30 minutes also releases serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – all hormones that can make us feel instantly happier. It’s not just about the physical activity, either: a study by happiness app, Happify, found that the social interaction that comes with being on a sports team or exercising together can significantly boost spirits and self-esteem by giving us a sense of belonging.

7. Keep track of the positives

A study by psychologists at published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that keeping a note of things we’re grateful for can help us feel more optimistic. The study’s group of participants, who wrote about things they were grateful for across 10 weeks, felt more satisfied and hopeful about their lives than those who simply wrote about major events – they even reported fewer physical ailments including colds and headaches.

8. Choose yellow

According to a recent study, eating bright yellow foods like bananas and poached eggs can actually help you feel more cheerful. It’s also been proven as the colour most associated with happy, healthy people, according to a study published in BMC Medical Research Methodology.

9. Go for a swim

According to research by marine biologists, being near water plugs the brain with happy hormones including oxytocin, while reducing cortisol. Water has such a calming effect that even the shower, which helps us shut off everyday stimuli like phones, traffic noise and chatter, can be a welcome break for the brain.

10. Spend time with animals

Just five minutes spent interacting with a pet could help the brain release endorphins and feel-good hormone dopamine – according to research published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, even watching fish glide around in a tank reduces blood pressure by 4%.

11. Learn something new

According to Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness, learning is a core need for our wellbeing. The sense of accomplishment we feel when we learn something new – whether it’s through Spanish lessons or squash sessions – massively helps boost our confidence and self esteem.

Did you know that eating certain foods can have a significant impact on your mood? Check out our five foods that can boost your happiness levels.

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