We have more control over our own happiness than we think, according to researchers from the University of California, who say we can influence as much as 40% of our happiness by what we deliberately do to make ourselves happy. Here are some surprisingly simple science-backed strategies to help lift your spirits.
Any type of physical exercise gives you a mental health lift, but what sort is the best to beat the blues? The one you do outdoors, according to a review of 11 studies published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The review found that exercising in natural environments was associated with increased energy and reduced tension, confusion, anger and depression than exercising indoors. For an extra boost, take your iPod or a friend – music and social engagement are also mood-boosting.
B vitamins are key to your ability to cope with stress, they support the production of the neurotransmitters necessary for good moods. Good dietary sources include animal proteins as well as whole grains and green vegetables.
Schedule a ten minute time-out for some daydreaming, and watch your worries fade away. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ctivity in numerous brain regions increases when our minds wander – including those areas associated with complex problem-solving. The authors say their findings suggest that daydreaming is an important cognitive state in which we unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.
It turns out, you can buy happiness. The catch is that you have to spend your money on someone else. In a study from the University of British Columbia, students received money along with a note directing them to spend it either on themselves or someone else. When asked how they felt at the end of the day, the students who splurged on themselves reported feeling no different, but those who spent the money on others reported feeling the happiest.
Beat the Blues
Music and mood are closely linked – listening to happy songs on the radion can improve the way you feel – and researchers have found that it can even positively influence the way you perceive the world. According to a study published in PloS ONE, when listening to happy music people could more accurately identify happy smiley emoticons that matched the music. Interestingly, even when the researchers showed no smiley, subjects often thought they recognised a happy emoticon. The researchers concluded that the brain builds up expectations not just on the basis of experience but also on your mood.
Purposely recalling the good times is one of the keys to a happy life, according to a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The researchers found that the way you think about your past, present and future really does have a bearing on your happiness. The study found that those who held a positive, nostalgic view of the past were less likely to have negative thoughts or regrets. And they concluded that if you can alter your view of time, such as by savouring happy memories or reframing negative past experiences, you can also boost your happiness.
Make something with your own hands to get that inner glow. Harvard University researchers found that when consumers assembled Ikea boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Lego they placed a higher value on the ones they made themselves – and similar in value to expert creations – and expected others to share their opinions. The authors propose that the effort, coupled with positive feelings that accompany successful completion of a task, are behind the boost. One caveat: if you don’t complete the task, the effect dissipates.
There’s nothing like the power of touch, but researchers decided to put this to the test in a review of 17 studies on massage published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. They concluded that massage therapy is significantly associated with alleviating depressive symptoms. Massage can alter our moods in a number of ways, such as by reducing stress and inducing relaxation, building a bond between therapist and patient, and causing the body to release the “trust hormone”, oxytocin.