Imagine if big pharma were able to patent a pill for happiness. There’d be smiley-faced bottles on pharmacy shelves faster than you could say “blockbuster pharmaceutical".
It isn’t just that Medication H would be the ultimate antidepressant: studies show that happiness can ward off infection, enhance memory, reduce pain and prevent heart disease.
Side effects? None, other than mild jaw soreness (from all the smiling).
But if not the chemist, where can you find more happiness? You are going to manufacture it. Your life is your lab, and what follows are your feel-good ingredients.
1. EAT MORE HAPPY MEALS
What’s good for your heart may be a salve for your psyche: in a Nutrition study, people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet for 10 days reported more contentment than a control group did.
Credit the mood-stabilising magnesium found in nuts, as well as the stress-reducing omega-3s in fatty fish.
2. DON’T SEE DOLLAR SIGNS
There’s nothing wrong with chasing raises – unless you’re trying to catch contentment.
Economist Richard Easterlin found that as people earn more, they acclimate and are no longer satisfied with things they can afford.
Ask for the kind of compensation that delivers on a deeper level: the option to telecommute. Workers who can do this are happier than their cubicle-bound counterparts, reports a Stanford study.
3. GRAB A BUD
Take time to reignite a bromance. In a study in the journal Emotion, people who tried a variety of happiness-increasing activities reported that the most important and meaningful method was strengthening their relationships.
Reconnecting with a pal may get you out of a funk, says study author Acacia Parks. To maximise the payoff, make time for face time: participants spent at least 40 minutes several times a week bonding.
4. CLOCK-BLOCK YOURSELF
Only the real work deadlines are worth stressing over.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that workers who always set arbitrary time limits on their tasks (“I can crank this out in under two hours”) were less happy than people who didn’t (“I’ll work on this project until it’s great”).
Living by the clock can hinder both your creativity and your ability to appreciate the good times, explains study author Anne Laure Sellier.
5. GIVE THANKS, GET HAPPY
It’s easier to fix your outlook if you have the right tools. In this case, that means pen and paper.
In a study in the journal Emotion, people who wrote one thank-you letter a week experienced greater gains in happiness and wellbeing than those who simply listed their recent activities.
The best part: you don’t have to actually send the notes to feel the lift. You can thank us later.
6. MIND THE MINUTIAE
Try this experiment: The next time you take a stroll outdoors, note any pleasing sights, sounds and scents. (Yes, that woman jogging past qualifies as a pleasing sight.)
Now savour them. Short-term positive emotions can brighten your outlook and eventually lead to lasting happiness, says Parks.
7. GRIN AND WIN
It doesn’t matter if you have nothing to smile about: do it anyway.
A study conducted at the University of Kansas found that when people smiled through a difficult test, they reported feeling more positive afterward than those who maintained a neutral expression.
8. BE A BOOGIE MAN
Busting a move could bust your bad mood, British researchers report. People who danced for five minutes felt 16 percent happier than at the start of the experiment.
The combination of movement and music may promote the release of endorphins, explains study author Liat Levita.
Can’t get down just now? Study participants also felt better after simply listening to an upbeat song.
9. CREATE HAPPY ENDINGS
You already know that sex is the original antidepressant. But what’s the minimum effective dose?
Researchers from the University of Colorado concluded that people who reported having sex at least once a week were 44 percent more likely to experience higher levels of happiness than those who hadn’t gotten lucky at all over the past year.
10. DECONGEST YOUR DRIVE
Some commuting tolls just aren’t worth paying. Researchers in Canada report that people who have hour-plus drives to and from their workplaces are less satisfied with their lives than those with shorter treks.
The stress of being crunched for time and stuck in traffic can erode happiness, says study author Margo Hilbrecht.
Until you change your address or your place of employment, hit “reroute” on your GPS. If you choose a commute option that steers clear of congested roads, your daily drive may feel a little less soul-crushing, even if it means you need to set your alarm a bit earlier, says Hilbrecht.
11. GO ON A HEAD TRIP
When your 9-to-5 feels more like 10 to life, escape from your prison walls.
Surrounding yourself with nature is known to be restorative, says psychologist Elizabeth Nisbet, but people often underestimate how much of a mood boost taking a walk outdoors actually offers.
If you can’t break free, then just bring the outdoors inside: people who have plants in their offices experience more workplace positivity, according to British researchers.
12. COMPARE AND DESPAIR
Screw the Joneses and anyone else you’re gauging yourself against.
“People who are relatively happy tend not to compare themselves to others,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. “Every time you find yourself dwelling on how your neighbour’s house is better or your colleague makes more money, distract yourself.”
Watch your favourite TV show to choke off the envy before it makes you mope.