The pursuit of happiness: not just a movie!

People disagree on many things but everyone wants to be happy. And so do you! Whilst the perfect recipe for happiness has not been finalised, with ingredients being constantly added to and taken away from the list, research has time and again shown the mild but consistent effectiveness of a handful of strategies which I am about to share with you. As the word ‘pursuit’ in the title of this article suggests, continuous effort is required, but the take-away message is that ‘You can do it‘! The order of the strategies does not indicate how effective each one is, so read on and try to incorporate as many as possible in your daily routine.

5 Strategies to feel happier

phoneStrategy : When in doubt, phone a friend
I know that for those who watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ this sentence might sound like a joke but research has shown that the mere perception of social isolation is enough to have detrimental effects on the wellbeing of an individual (e.g. it can impair sleep and cognitive function among other things), while the feeling of connectedness can decrease the amount of stress experienced (as eloquently stated by Kelly McGonigal in her TED talk). Anything, from a conversation with a friend tothe mere fact of belonging to a group, can increase motivation and make the person feel energised. Therefore, it is important to cultivate interpersonal relations on a day-to-day basis so that  you will be able to reach out for friends and family when you need them.

Strategy 2: Run yourself happier
Research has shown that doing aerobic exercise improves one’s positive mood. Evidence comes from the combined results of 158 studies carried out between 1979 and 2005 as reviewed in a cooperative project involving the Chicago State University and the University of Minnesota. The positive effect of aerobic exercise was particularly consistent for low intensity workout and for low to moderate exercise sessions. You don’t have to join triathlon to benefit from exercise! So why not make it a habit of taking a short jog, doing some star jumps or going for a bike ride? Even a brisk walk will do the trick. Physical exercise is so powerful that it also improves mood in people with mild to moderate depression.

Strategy 3: Think positive

This is easier said than done but you need to actively fight the tendency to think negatively and practice imagining the best possible outcome for future events. This has been shown to generate positive feelings and to work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can either write down the best possible outcome for the future or you can imagine it vividly. Research has shown that the more vivid the image, the stronger the benefits, so dream on!

Strategy 4: A goal a day keeps the doctor away

Setting yourself a goal that you want to achieve for the day will help you to experience a sense of control as you work towards it. Research has shown that goal-directed behaviour is associated with positive health outcomes, so set yourself an achievable goal and infuse your day with a sense of purpose. This doesn’t mean that you will always get what you want but it will put you in touch with your desires and increase the chances that you will be able to align with these in the near future.

Strategy 5: Count your blessings

It’s so easy to get caught up into the trap of focussing on what’s wrong in one’s life and to start taking things for granted. To counteract this tendency, take the time to write down three things you are grateful about. Research has shown that consciously focussing on our blessings has positive effects on our emotions. These effects lasted up to six months so it’s worth making the time to reflect on the positive aspects of our life.

roadHappiness is indeed a journey and the things that matter are: the people you travel with, how active you keep, maintaining a positive outlook, working towards a goal and bearing in mind the good things we do have in life. I hope that after reading this article you will feel more in control of your happiness and that you will start practicing these easy strategies daily.