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Imagine if big pharma were able to patent a pill for happiness. There’d be smiley-faced bottles on drugstore 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 (all the smiling).
But if not the pharmacy, 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-stabilizing 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.
Richard Easterlin, Ph.D., a professor of economics at the University of Southern California, 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 an old 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, Ph.D. To maximize the payoff, make time for face time: Participants spent at least 40 minutes several times a week bonding.
4. GO NOWHERE FAST
You’ve heard of the runner’s high, right? Well, this is the stationary cyclist’s buzz. In a study conducted at Stanford University, people who pedalled at 50 rpm for 15 minutes improved their mood by 19 percent.
While researchers still haven’t pinpointed exactly how exercise lifts spirits so quickly, the effect may be the result of a sweat-fuelled boost in mood-enhancing endocanna-binoids and neurotrophic factor, a protein that speeds up neural activity and protects the brain.
5. LIGHTEN UP, BUB
Miserable in the morning? People often turn grumpy when their sleep cycle is out of whack, says Mariana Figueiro, Ph.D., director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The best way to hit reset is with a.m. illumination; it’ll suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
Eat breakfast by a window, or if it’s still dark, buy bulbs that simulate daylight, says Figueiro. Look on the box for a correlated colour temperature (CCT) of 6,500K.
6. 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, Ph.D.
7. 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 well-being 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
Note: Grinning for no apparent reason may make you look unbalanced, so employ this strategy with care.
10. 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, Ph.D.
Can’t get down just now? Study participants also felt better after simply listening to an upbeat song.