Consider yourself to be a bit of a Debbie Downer? A gloomy type predisposed to unhappiness, and there’s nothing you can do about it?
Good news: you may be only half right!
Psychologists agree that just 50% of our happiness is due to our genetic disposition. The rest is made up mostly by how we spend our daily lives, with a final 10% accounted for by the circumstances in which we live.
As the new year dawns, you can capitalize on that ‘blank slate’ feeling by making a few little changes to your day-to-day activities.
So roll up your sleeves, visualize your good intentions, and try tackling these nine scientifically-verified tweaks to shift your perspective 180 degrees.
Building up to your five-a-day last year was a great achievement for your body. But cranking it up to eight-a-day this year will be excellent for your soul.
Researchers at the University of Warwick discovered that within two years of making this change, your feeling of well-being can soar. Indeed, those who shifted from zero to eight fruits a day experienced an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to getting a new job.
Added bonus: your long-term health and happiness will also benefit. Chop it, squeeze it, blend it – just make sure you get to eight-a-day.
Take a trip to the real world
I don’t need to tell you about the pleasures of Facebook. But those dopamine hits that come with the little red dots do not last long: researchers at the Happiness Research Institute (well, who you gonna trust?) report that taking even a week off of social media can improve your happiness rating.
And those folk are based in Denmark, where they’re serious about fighting unhappiness.
See Also: Follow Your Bliss
Use your feet
Analysis of data from almost 18,000 18-65-year-old commuters over an eighteen year period showed that those who made the switch from driving to walking enjoyed improvements in health, happiness and concentration levels.
Even using public transport – with all its associated crowds and delays – will make you happier than taking the car. This is probably because you get to concentrate on your tunes, your book, or the folk around you, rather than gear-switching and road rage. Also, you have to walk a bit further to get to the bus stop or rail station in the first place.
If you travel too far to make ditching the car feasible, at least consider parking a little further away from your destination than usual and walking the last 10-15 minutes to work.
Staring at photos of cute animals is officially a good thing
M ± SE = 43.9±10.3%.
It doesn’t matter: that equation is just the long-winded way of describing how much more effective at work looking at pictures of kittens and puppies can make you.
Researchers in Japan were fascinated by the power of kawaii – that specifically Japanese form of exaggerated cuteness – so they decided to mount a trial to measure just what a difference the kawaii experience can make to your day.
The feelings of happiness and excitement that cute pictures evoke are apparently connected to the levels of what we can achieve at work. So next time you’re feeling unproductive, try typing ‘happiest puppy in the world’ into Google to feed a bit more energy into the system.
Stay in bed
Recommended sleeping times are frustratingly arbitrary. One man’s refreshing seven hours is another’s rude awakening.
Wake up before you’ve got your fill of REM sleep – the type that comes late in the cycle – and you are actually interrupting the way your brain and hormones deal with the stress and anxiety of the previous day.
Scientists at the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre agree: one extra hour each night can help you feel healthier and happier.
Plan a trip
Vacations are a bit like Christmas: often, it turns out the anticipation was the most exciting part of the whole thing.
Science can now back this up. It turns out that the optimism and pro-active research involved in planning a vacation can actually be the most stimulating period of the process. Often, the homesickness, stress and false expectations of actually making the trip can make you quite unhappy. And as for returning to work at the end of it…
So even if you have no actual intention of travelling in the near future, don’t forget to dream. Keep a Pinterest board or scrapbook of places you’d like to visit, and talk with your partner about your big ideas for the future. And if it never comes off, well – maybe you already did the best bit.
See Also: 10 Wonderful Benefits of Traveling
Give hugs more often
You don’t need science to tell you that hugs feel good.
But lest you relegate your need for physical contact to the realm of ‘guilty pleasures’, here’s neurologist Shekar Raman, MD to tell you it’s okay:
“A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy… The more you connect with others — on even the smallest physical level — the happier you’ll be.”
Hang out with happy people
Happiness is tribal. It may be stating the obvious to say that spending time with a happy chum is likely to make you more happy: but the effect is bigger, and less intuitive than this. In fact, happiness travels along networks, so if the people you hang out with hang out with happy people too, you’re likely to feel the knock-on effects.
Try arranging a dinner party with your closest friends, and create a happy theme. Technically, this may make you a happiness vampire, but so what – you’re going to feed back into the system, right?
Turn that music up
Music makes you happy. Pick a tune you like, and crank it up as loud as the neighbors can bear it in the morning – your dopamine levels will soar, and you’re off to a good start for the whole day.
Being happy ain’t easy, and during the cold, dark winter days making an effort to exercise or socialize can be an intimidating prospect. With these bitesize cures, though, you can start to improve your general outlook – and prove to yourself that your natural gloominess is only half the story.
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Author: Marilyn Vinch
Marilyn is a freelance writer and digital nomad currently living in rainy yet wonderful London. She writes (and reads!) about personal growth, productivity in the workplace, self improvement, and the importance of work/life balance and how to achieve it.