Happiness looks different for everyone. For you, maybe it’s being at peace with who you are. Or having a secure network of friends who accept you unconditionally. Or the freedom to pursue your deepest dreams.
Regardless of your version of true happiness, living a happier, more satisfied life is within reach. A few tweaks to your regular habits can help you get there.
If you’ve ever tried breaking a bad habit, you know all too well how engrained they are.
Well, good habits are deeply engrained, too. Why not work on making positive habits part of your routine?
Here’s a look at some daily, monthly, and yearly habits to help kickstart your quest. Just remember that everyone’s version of happiness is a little different, and so is their path to achieving it.
If some of these habits create added stress or just don’t fit your lifestyle, ditch them. With a little time and practice, you’ll figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.
You tend to smile when you’re happy. But it’s actually a two-way street.
We smile because we’re happy, and smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us happier.
That doesn’t mean you have to go around with a fake smile plastered on your face all the time. But the next time you find yourself feeling low, crack a smile and see what happens. Or try starting each morning by smiling at yourself in the mirror.
Exercise isn’t just for your body. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and symptoms of depression while boosting self-esteem and happiness.
Even some physical activity can make a difference. You don’t have to train for a triathlon or scale a cliff — unless that’s what makes you happy, of course.
The trick is not to overexert. If you suddenly throw yourself into a strenuous routine, you’ll probably just end up frustrated (and sore).
Consider these exercise starters:
Take a walk around the block every night after dinner.
Sign up for a beginner’s class in yoga or tai chi.
Start your day with 5 minutes of stretching.
Remind yourself of any fun activities you once enjoyed, but that have fallen by the wayside. Or activities you always wanted to try, such as golf, bowling, or dancing.
3. Get plenty of sleep
No matter how much modern society steers us toward less sleep, we know that adequate sleep is good health, brain function, and emotional well-being.
Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. If you find yourself fighting the urge to nap during the day or just generally feel like you’re in a fog, your body may be telling you it needs more rest.
Here are a few tips to help you build a better sleep routine:
Write down how many hours of sleep you get each night and how rested you feel. After a week, you should have a better idea how you’re doing.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Reserve the hour before bed as quiet time. Take a bath, read, or do something relaxing. Avoid heavy eating and drinking.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
Invest in some good bedding.
If you have to take a nap, try to limit it to 20 minutes.
If you consistently have problems sleeping, talk to your doctor.
4. Eat with mood in mind
You already know that food choices have an impact on your overall physical health. But some foods can also affect your state of mind.
Carbohydrates release serotonin , a “feel good” hormone. Just keep simple carbs — foods high in sugar and starch — to a minimum, because that energy surge is short and you’ll crash. Complex Carbs such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains, are better.
Lean meat, poultry, legumes, and dairy are high in protein. These foods release dopamine and norepinephrine, which boost energy and concentration.
Highly processed or deep-fried foods tend to leave you feeling down. So will skipping meals.
Start by making one better food choice each day.
For example, swap a big, sweet breakfast pastry for some Greek yogurt with fruit. You’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth, and the protein will help you avoid a mid-morning energy crash. Try adding in a new food swap each week.
5. Be grateful
Simply being grateful can give your mood a big boost.
Start each day by acknowledging one thing you’re grateful for. You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth or just waiting for that snoozed alarm to go off.
As you go about your day, try to keep an eye out for pleasant things in your life. They can be big things, such as knowing that someone loves you or getting a well-deserved promotion.
But they can also be little things, such as a co-worker who offered you a cup of coffee or the neighbor who waved to you. Maybe even just the warmth of the sun on your skin.
With a little practice, you may even become more aware of all the positive things around you.
6. Give a compliment
Performing acts of kindness can help you feel more satisfied.
Giving a sincere compliment is a quick, easy way to brighten someone’s day while giving your own happiness a boost.
Catch the person’s eye and say it with a smile so they know you mean it. You might be surprised by how good it makes you feel.
If you want to offer someone a compliment on their physical appearance, make sure to do it in a respectful way.
7. Breathe deeply
You’re tense, your shoulders are tight, and you feel as though you just might “lose it.” We all know that feeling.
Instinct may tell you to take a long, deep breath to calm yourself down.
Turns out, that instinct is a good one. Deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress.
The next time you feel stressed or at your wit’s end, work through these steps:
Close your eyes. Try to envision a happy memory or beautiful place.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose.
Slowly breathe out through your mouth or nose.
Repeat this process several times, until you start to feel yourself calm down.
If you’re having a hard time taking slow, deliberate breaths, try counting to 5 in your head with each inhale and exhale.
8. Acknowledge the unhappy moments
A positive attitude is generally a good thing, but bad things happen to everyone. It’s just part of life.
If you get some bad news, make a mistake, or just feel like you’re in a funk, don’t try to pretend you’re happy.
Acknowledge the feeling of unhappiness, letting yourself experience it for a moment. Then, shift your focus toward what made you feel this way and what it might take to recover.
Would a deep breathing exercise help? A long walk outside? Talking it over with someone?
Let the moment pass and take care of yourself. Remember, no one’s happy all the time.
9. Keep a journal
A journal is a good way to organize your thoughts, analyze your feelings, and make plans. And you don’t have to be a literary genius or write volumes to benefit.
It can be as simple as jotting down a few thoughts before you go to bed. If putting certain things in writing makes you nervous, you can always shred it when you’ve finished. It’s the process that counts.
10. Face stress head-on
Life is full of stressors, and it’s impossible to avoid all of them.
There’s no need to. Stress isn’t always harmful, and we can even change our attitudes about stress.
For those stressors you can’t avoid, remind yourself that everyone has stress — there’s no reason to think it’s all on you. And chances are, you’re stronger than you think you are.
Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed, try to tackle the stressor head-on. This might mean initiating an uncomfortable conversation or putting in some extra work, but the sooner you tackle it, the sooner the pit in your stomach will start to shrink.