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18 May 2017

How to Make Yourself Happy

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

Happiness is one of the strongest emotions we can experience in life. It is also the key to a balanced and contented life, but for many happiness can prove to be very elusive. How exactly do you get it and where does it hide? Read our 21-step guide to happiness and find out just how to find happiness by making a few simple changes.

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

Since ancient times people have struggled with the concept of ‘happiness’ and how to achieve this much sought-after state. Some people struggle to find happiness in their day to day life, while for others happiness appears to be a natural state of being. Is there really an instruction book on how to be happy? Does happiness depend upon ourselves or is it outside of our control?

We have gathered together the collected wisdom of experts on the subject to provide a list of 21 tips on how we can attain happiness, just by making some small changes to how you look at life.

What is happiness?

One definition states that “Happiness is the art of never holding in your mind the memory of any unpleasant thing that has passed.” In this article we are going to try and find ways in which we can all bring some positivity into our lives.

Many experts describe happiness as a combination of life satisfaction and positive emotions that predominate over those negative ones. Other experts claim that happiness consists of three parts: feel good, live well and be part of a larger life purpose. They also distinguish between short and long-term happiness. The first is just a quick feeling, while the other is related to how we describe our own lives.

Acacia Parks is an American professor who teaches classes on the science of happiness, and in her opinion the state of ‘happiness’ defines a combination of satisfaction with one's own life and how well you feel on a daily basis. According to Parks, these factors are relatively stable and life changes and mood swings do not significantly affect them. Parks even claims that our general happiness is more genetically conditioned than we might think. The good news is that we can try to control our feelings through consistent effort.

The NewStatesman site pubished a report on a psychological study of happiness and life satisfaction, which is called subjective-well-being (SWB). The study examined people around the world and found that about 50% of our happiness is affected by genetics, 40% by our daily activities and activities, and the remaining 10% by circumstances outside of our control. Everyone, according to this study, is able to have a huge influence on their own personal welfare. According to the scientist Sonja Lyubomirsky, it is even possible to work, train, cultivate and improve on our own happiness.

How to be happy?

We have collected together 21 of the most frequently recommended tips from experts, life coaches and scientists on how to be happy. Based on the guidance of renowned experts on how to make yourself feel happier, we have produced our own 21 step programme for happiness.  You don’t need to follow every single suggestion, but even introducing a few of them into your life may have positive results.

If you’re not too sure what the sun, a dog and a bunch of flowers have to do with happiness and well-being, then read on to find out more. All of these tips and pieces of advice have been collected from expert articles and publications and are based on research or studies dealing with happiness. Why is it important to maintain relationships? What good is listening to music and singing? Why is it good to buy flowers? All will be revealed in our 21 step guide to happiness.

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness:

1. Get Moving

It has long been proven that physical activity has no positive effects on the body only, but also on mental well-being. Exercise releases endorphins, the so-called 'happiness hormones'. Regular activity reduces feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. In addition, a healthy body delivers self-confidence and degrades possible complexes.

2. Work on Your Relationships

Social life, family, friends and romantic relationships are, according to scientists, the key to a happy and fulfilled life. Do not be afraid of closeness, work on maintaining healthy and strong relationships. You can begin slowly at first. Choose a relationship where you feel that you have grown slightly distant, and invest your time and energy into healing and strengthening the relationship.

3. Surround yourself with Happy Colours

Current research shows that our brain produces different chemicals when we look at different colours. For example, the colour yellow stimulates production of serotonin, the ‘happiness’ hormone. Research carried out by the University of Amsterdam concluded that people are happiest when looking at either yellow or green colours. Try to introduce a little colour into your life; maybe leave that black jumper in the wardrobe! 

4. Define your Values

Think about what is most important in your life, and don’t just focus on material things. Making wealth and objects the focus of your life will rarely result in happiness. One of the main sources of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the 21st century lies in comparing ourselves negatively with people who (we believe) have more than us. 

5. Listen to Music and Sing

Listening to your favourite music reduces stress levels. Research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology has shown that listening to happy music as a way boost your mood actually works. The same effect is produced by singing; scientists at the University of Manchester found that a small organ in our inner ear – the saccule - is directly linked to that part of the brain that registers joy. The result is that you feel more joyful and happy when you are singing or listening to good music.

6. Healthy Eating

Sometimes we forget that our brain and our body are part of the same entity, and a healthy lifestyle is just as important for the mind as for the body. Good diet is a crucial part of any healthy living plan, so fruit and vegetables are an important factor when it comes to maintaining a positive mental attitude. Sure, eating a tub of ice-cream or a box of chocs may make you feel good in the short term, but it’s not something you want to make a habit of. Spinach and kale are a good source of folate, while the scent of citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit has a stimulating effect.

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

7. Buy Some Flowers

It may sound strange, but in fact just having flowers around the place can improve our mood, reduce anxiety, and induce positive emotions. A study carried out by the University of Harvard has shown that spending just a morning in sight of flowers brings feelings of happiness, recharges energy and increases creativity.

8. Be Nice to People

Neurological research has confirmed that if we do good deeds and help other people, we send a signal to those parts of the brain that are connected with pleasure and satisfaction. Do something selfless for your loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues, and be good to people you don’t know as well.  A simple gesture like holding open a door or giving a nice smile can make a difference to somebody’s day, and can make both of you feel better.

9. Celebrate the Small Stuff

Enjoy each and every pleasant moment in your life - whether it's admiring some beautiful flowers, the song of a bird or just having a nice cup of tea in the morning. In the rush of the modern world where social media can suck so much of our focus, it is important to make space to appreciate the little things in life. Denmark is regularly listed as one of the happiest places on earth, and the Danes know how to enjoy the small daily pleasures of life, no matter how trivial they may seem.

10. Meditate

Research shows that regular meditation has several positive effects on our health and happiness. Meditation has been shown to act as a destroyer of stress and negative thoughts. Among other things, it reduces pain, lowers blood pressure and allows the brain to release those happy chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Try meditating for 8 weeks and you should see a positive change in the way you feel.

11. Learn to Forgive

A study carried out National Institute for Healthcare Research, Rockville, Maryland in 1997 showed that if we forgive those who have wronged or hurt us, we feel better, we experience more positive emotions and feel closer to other people. One of the ways recommended to rid yourself of bad feelings is to let it all out onto the pages of a diary. This will help the aggrieved party to get rid of negative emotions against the person who hurt him.

12. Train Yourself to Think Positively

Many psychologists and experts have created a series of exercises which enables people to train themselves to be more optimistic. Visualisation is a popular technique, such as imagining how your best possible life should look in every single detail. You can also learn how to think more positively by finding at least one bright spot in each situation. Try to build positive scenarios in your head and eliminate negative thoughts.

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

13. Remember to Forget

Writer Rita Mae Brown famously stated that “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory”. According to scientific studies, she may have been on to something! Low self-esteem and anger return you to the past and result in a vicious circle of negativity. Take the disappointments, regrets and mistakes and lock them away in a vault in your mind. Instead focus on your memories of the good moments and happy times in your life that can help you to get through difficult periods.

14. Get Plenty of Rest

Long-term fatigue and exhaustion lead to stress, anxiety and depression. It is hugely important for us to get enough rest, as research conducted by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has shown that lack of sleep leads to a reduced level of happiness. The sample size of 900 women studied by Kahneman resulted in a surprising conclusion: just one hour of extra sleep per day has a greater effect on feelings of happiness than an increase in salary!

15. Love Yourself

Many psychologists will tell you that until you learn to love yourself, you will never be able to truly love anybody else. Take care of yourself every day and learn to accept yourself as you are. We are all a complicated mix of good and bad, but don’t dwell on the negatives all the time and be prepared to forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Only by treating yourself with love can you hope to find real happiness.

16. Spend More Time Outside

Fresh air will increase oxygen levels in our brain – an important way to release serotonin - and the sun rays deliver vitamin D to our bodies, both of which can be accomplished by factoring some outside time into your day. Simply having low vitamin D levels can lead to depression, whereas just 15 minutes in the sun lifts our spirit for the day. Frequent walks in the park, mountains, forests, meadows and wherever wildlife grows is not just healthy for our body. According to studies, just a looking at natural surroundings stimulates those parts of the brain that are associated with happiness, positive emotions and emotional stability.

17. Put Negative Feelings Down on Paper

One way to get rid of negative thoughts and emotions is to externalise them; for example by writing down how you feel or painting something which expresses those feelings. You don’t have to be an artist or a poet, or to create fantastic works of art. Research by university students in Madrid and Ohio has come up with the same solution as a way to get rid of negative emotions; simply put those feelings down on paper and then by throwing that paper in the bin you will relieve some of that negativity.

The 21 Step Guide to Happiness

18. Smile!

Even a small child knows the expression ‘laughter is the best medicine’. The simple act of smiling causes the brain to release happy hormones like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, while at the same time reducing the production of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. According to several studies, smiling is not only a response to feelings of well-being and joy, but that the reverse can also be true. Smiling and laughing send signals to the brain that results in chemical processes which produce feelings of happiness, so even when you’re feeling down simply making yourself smile can improve your mood.

19. Be Thankful

People who tend to be the happiest are also those who appreciate things about their lives. Happy people are optimistic people, so think about what you are grateful for in your own life. Make time to thank those people who have done something for you or helped you in some way and who maybe don’t realise how much you appreciate their assistance.

20. Take Up a Hobby

Stimulate your soul and give yourself some new challenges in life. According to American author and motivational speaker Gretchen Rubin, learning new skills leads to the feeling of happiness and happiness. When you set yourself a challenge and then gradually progress and learn new skills you will grow in happiness and self-confidence. If you already have a hobby, then maybe now is the time to really focus on developing and taking it to the next level.

21. Get a Pet

It's not just animal lovers who claim that having a dog or a cat can improve the quality of our lives. One study revealed that patting your pet for only 15 minutes produces serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin - hormones directly related to stimulating effects in our mood. The feeling when your pet welcomes you with a wagging tail is something that money can’t buy. It is no accident that animals are also used in the therapy of mentally ill patients, but having a pet can benefit everybody.

Do you already know which steps you plan to take to improve your feeling of well-being? Whether you decide to implement 1 or 21, never forget that the power to make your life happier is in your own hands. Nobody else has the power to make you happy unless you are willing to take steps in the right direction yourself.