50 Tiny Changes That Will Make You a Happier Person
Happiness doesn't have to be complicated. Here's how you can choose joy every single day.
Stop and see the roses
If you have time to stop and smell the roses, great! But if you find yourself in a hurry (and who doesn’t these days?) simply seeing beautiful blooms can lift your spirits, according to a study done by Harvard. The happiness boost is greatest for night owls who have a hard time getting going in the morning, they found. So buy yourself some flowers and put them on a vase near your bed. Or take the scenic route for your morning commute and make sure to actually enjoy the scenery. It’s not just flowers—try these 50 of the best simple pleasures that make life worth living.
Snap a selfie
Say cheese! Snapping a funny, happy, or silly selfie gives you an instant mood boost, according to research published in The Psychology of Well Being. And if you send it to a friend who gives you a positive response, you’ll feel even happier. Why? We love connecting with people and simply seeing a friendly face, even if it’s our own, perks us right up.
The next time you’re having your own terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, try picturing yourself in a different situation and you may be able to imagine yourself into a better mood, says a study published in Frontiers in Psychology. This technique, officially called “self-guided positive imagery,” is so powerful that it can not only combat negative emotions in the moment but it actually changes the structure of your brain, helping you feel happier in the long-term. These are the 8 most common happiness myths–and what to do instead.
Swap jeans for nicer clothes
Jeans are the clothing item of choice for depressed people, say researchers from the University of Hertfordshire. It may be a harsh assessment of denim but it is true that how you dress can play a role in how you feel. And it’s not just the jeans. Women in the study said they were more likely to wear baggy tops when feeling blue but would put on a dress to feel happy. Putting a little more effort into your outfit is an easy way to lift your mood and signal to others that you’re feeling good.
Take a social media break
The more time you spend on social media, the less happy you are, says a study published in Depression and Anxiety. The reason? Looking at pictures and reading updates from friends leads you to compare your worst self to their best selves, leaving you feeling sad and left out. But the solution is simple: Spend more time in real life with cherished loved ones and save social media for specific updates rather than aimlessly scrolling through everyone else’s perfect vacation snaps.
Take a walk through nature
The Japanese have a practice, called Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing,” that involves walking slowly and mindfully through nature. It’s not a hike to get somewhere or a tour of a scenic area but simply an enjoyment of the outdoors. And this simple jaunt, they say, brings peace, happiness, and freedom from worry. They may be on to something. A study published in Environmental Health and Medicine found that strolling through forest environments lowers stress hormones, slows your your heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and increases feelings of safety and well-being. Try this simple exercise to make your times outdoors even more special.
Make a choice—any choice
Free will, the ability to choose for yourself, is an essential component to happiness and if you are one of the fortunate people to live in a time and place where you have it, you can use that knowledge to make yourself happier, according to research in Frontiers in Psychology. Simply being able to make a choice, say, what you eat for breakfast, what job you take, who you marry, or what you do in your free time, is a powerful source of happiness. But here’s the key: You have to recognize you have the power to choose and are using it to choose something you want.
Give a little
Doing good makes you feel good. It really is that simple, according to research done by Harvard Business School. OK, well it’s mostly that simple. In the study, giving money to a charity voluntarily made people feel happier. But if they were only donating out of guilt, because they felt compelled to, or because they were hoping it would benefit them then their happiness was dampened. Moral of the story? Find a charity that you love to support and donate for that reason only.
Share good news
People are always happy to get good news but you know what makes us even happier? Giving good news! In a study done by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that sharing good news, even little things, gave both the giver and the receiver a significant bump in happiness. “This study [shows] how important it is to share with your partner when good things happen, as well as to respond positively to the sharing of good news,” says author Sarah Arpin, a social psychologist at Gonzaga University. See the results of our global poll on what makes people happiest.
Find the joy in parenting
Between midnight attacks of the stomach flu (why do kids only puke at night?) and tantrums in the grocery store, parenting can feel like one long slog towards college. But overall there is more happiness than misery in being a mom or dad so it’s important to look for and remember the good moments, says a study published in Psychological Science. Number of kids and the age you are when you become a parent may also play a role in how happy your kids make you. Researchers from the London School of Economics found that one or two children provided the most happiness and that older parents found more joy in parenting than younger ones.
Learn about your roots
African American people who identify more strongly with their racial identity are generally happier, according to a study by Michigan State. And it’s not just one group that benefits from learning about their history. Connecting to your heritage helps you feel happier by giving you a better sense of your own identity, helping you feel linked to your relatives, and finding value in shared experiences. Call your grandma and ask her about her childhood. Who knows? Maybe you’ll finally get an explanation for Uncle Bill. Try these 13 ways to boost your family’s happiness too.
Hang out with happy friends
Happiness is “infectious” and you can catch a good mood from your friends, say researchers at Harvard’s Medical School. It’s so contagious, in fact, that one happy person can infect people three degrees removed from them with their joy. Your homework: Learn some really good jokes to share at your next get together and watch the good mood spread.
Hop in the sack
The fact that sex can make you very happy will likely surprise no one but how much sex is the magic amount might. You can have too much of a good thing and more is not always better when it comes to sex, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Couples who had sex once a week reported being happier than couples who had less sex. And couples who had sex more frequently weren’t any happier than those doing the horizontal tango once a week. “Our findings suggest that it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don’t need to have sex everyday as long as you’re maintaining that connection,” says lead researcher Amy Muise. These are the 8 habits of couples with steamy sex lives.
Make a little (or big) change
Novelty, whether it’s in a new job, a new lover, or a new pair of socks, provides a temporary boost of happiness according to a study done by the University of Missouri-Columbia. The trick in getting that happiness to last is making sure you appreciate it. “Previous research shows that an individual’s happiness can increase after major life changes, such as starting a new romantic relationship, but over time happiness tends to return to a previous level,” says Kennon Sheldon, PhD, study author and professor of psychological sciences. “This requires two major components: the need to keep having new and positive life-changing experiences and the need to keep appreciating what you already have and not want more too soon.”
Smile in the mirror
The next time you’re combing your hair or putting on your makeup, take a second to give yourself a cheeky little grin—it will make you feel immediately happier, says a study published in Psychological Science. Seeing your grin reduces stress and ‘tricks’ your brain into feeling happy even if you’re not feeling it.
Want what you have
Happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have. If there is one magic trick to instantaneous happiness this Pinterest-worthy idiom is as close as it gets, according to research done by the University of Missouri-Columbia. This Jedi mind trick works by refocusing your attention from what you don’t have (leaving you in a perpetual state of wanting) to what you do (helping you see all your many blessings). So the next time you’re feeling down about the boat, car, house or life you don’t have, take the time to write out a list of all the great things you’ve already got. Boom! Happy. Or try these 6 simple steps to developing a positive attitude.
Take a five-minute break
It’s hard to be happy when you’re exhausted. And that’s especially true for emotional exhaustion. Feeling emotionally strung out makes everything feel worse, including your mental state. But instead of just gritting your teeth and plowing through, taking a short break to rest and mentally recoup can help you rebound and feel happier, according to a study published in Work and Stress. So the next time your boss has you ready to tear your hair out, take a five-minute breather to clear your head.
Money may not be able to buy long-term happiness but getting yourself a little something can definitely put you in a better mood, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Little treats like a fancy drink, a favorite movie, or a pair of shoes can help you feel happier as long as purchases are not the only way you make yourself feel better. Hey, they don’t call it retail “therapy” for nothing! Here are 11 easy ways to live in the moment.
Eat some yogurt
Over 80 percent of the body’s serotonin, a brain chemical associated with happiness and satisfaction, is actually produced in your gut. This means that taking care of the good bacteria in your gut has a direct impact on how happy you feel. Weird, right? But there’s actual science to back up this mind-gut microbiome connection, according to a study done by the University of Virginia Health System. Fortunately there’s an easy—and tasty!—solution: Eat more probiotic foods, including yogurt.
Leave work early
When it comes down to money or time, having more free time will make you happier than having more money, says a study done by the University of Stirling. After you have enough money to cover the basic necessities of life then an increase in salary provided little to no additional happiness, they found. But having more time to do a hobby or be with loved ones made people much happier. So if you’re given the choice between overtime and free time, unless you absolutely need the cash, you’ll be happier choosing the time.
Make a loan payment
Having debt hanging over your head is one of the greatest stressors and contributes to chronic depression, according to research published in The Journal of Happiness Studies. But paying off that debt, even a little bit, can bring an overwhelming sense of relief and happiness. Instead of adding to your misery by buying another gadget on your credit card, use the money you would have spent to pay down your bill. Try these 5 smart ways to reduce debt stress.
Call an old friend
The number one thing guaranteed to bring the most happiness isn’t actually a thing—it’s a person. Relationships with family, friends and lovers provide a lifetime of happiness, according to a Swedish study. “Just as the Beatles sang, most people understand that money can’t buy you happiness or love,” says study author Danilo Garcia, researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health. “But even if we as individuals can understand the importance of close and warm relationships on a social level, it isn’t certain that everyone is aware that such relationships are actually necessary for our own personal happiness.” Well, now you know! Now go call your mom!
Pay yourself a compliment
In our airbrushed, photoshopped, virtual reality world it’s easy to look in the mirror and not be satisfied with what you see—a surefire pathway to unhappiness. But learning to love and accept yourself just the way you are brings lasting joy and confidence, say researchers at the University of Hertfordshire. Easier said than done, though. In the study, less than half of people said they are “kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are.” This is a learned skill, however, and you can (and should) practice self-acceptance on a daily basis, the researchers added.
Give to a homeless person
People find some happiness when their basic needs are all met but we can’t be completely happy if those around us are still suffering, according to research done by the University of Illinois. “Life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens,” reports lead researcher Ed Diener, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychology. To truly be happy we need to lift those around us as well.
Go to a religious service
Here’s an interesting conundrum: Religious people in stressful situations are happier and more at peace than their non-religious fellow sufferers but the happier and more peaceful a society is, the less people say they’re religious, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. So does religion only boost happiness when life is hard? Not necessarily. A separate study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that spirituality and religion protect against depression not only during bad times but over a lifetime by thickening the brain cortex.
Make a list of traits that are uniquely you
You do you: Add this maxim to the list of things that make you happier than money. Individualism is a stronger predictor of well-being and life happiness than wealth, says a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Being individualistic leads to happiness by helping you recognize your own unique gifts and talents and giving you the confidence to choose things that help you grow and progress. Similarly, a gratitude journal could boost happiness in just one minute a day.
Find the extraordinary in the ordinary
Youth is known as a time of wild adventures but as we get older an interesting thing happens—instead of finding happiness in whatever is new and big and daring, we start to be happiest with what is familiar and normal, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. And this is not a bad thing. The ability to find joy in the little things in life is a skill cultivated over a lifetime. Start now by looking around you and noticing the little things that make you happy: A child’s laugh, a leaf twirling down from a tree, the feel of sunshine. You don’t need an expensive, exciting trip to find your bliss—happiness is all around you, right where you are, for free.
Go for a short jog
Exercise is famous for the “runner’s high,” the rush of feel-good endorphins to the brain that make you feel on top of the world after a hard workout. But you don’t have to go balls to the wall at a CrossFit gym to get a happiness infusion (although that’s cool too). All kinds of movement, including a jog around the block, will give your spirits an instant lift, says research published in Cell Metabolism. Check out these 14 other benefits of exercise besides weight loss.
Do a little dance
Dancing has long been a fun way to bring people together. And even if you have two left feet you can still enjoy the mental benefits of doing a two-step. Older people showed improved levels of happiness after just one session of dancing, according to an Irish study. But it’s not just for older generations. Teens reported worrying less about their problems and a happier mood after taking a dance class, says a separate study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Take a deep breath
Breathing is essential to life and so it makes sense it’s also essential to happiness. But not any old inhaling and exhaling will do. A breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga helped alleviate sadness and increase happiness in patients diagnosed with severe depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. You don’t have to be depressed to take advantage of this calming breathing technique—just a few minutes a day will have you feeling happier and healthier. Here are other ways to tap into your intuiton for a happier life.
Look on the bright side
Telling someone who’s feeling down to “just think happy thoughts” is a recipe to get punched in the face, but there is some scientific truth behind optimism. Specifically, teaching people how not to ruminate—going over and over their problems in their mind—and how to turn their thoughts to more positive topics produced a big bump in happiness, says research done by Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In the study, 80 percent of people who learned this metacognitive therapy showed major improvement in their mood. The trick? Recognizing that your thoughts don’t control you, you control your thoughts.
Choose experience over stuff
Buying material goods does provide a temporary boost in happiness but if you want longer-term pleasure from your purchases, use your money to buy experiences, say the authors of the Social Psychological and Personality Science study. Not only does the concert, trip, or museum pass provide a more intense happiness in the moment but the happy memories can last a lifetime. Learn these lessons from the dying about a life well lived.
Just say no
You. Can’t. Do. Everything. It’s a fact of life that many of us have had to learn the hard way and there’s nothing that will make you less happy than burnout. This is why people who value their time—and learn to say ‘no’ to protect it—are happier, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. If you have a hard time disappointing people, remember that every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are automatically saying ‘no’ to everything else at that time—and that includes saying no to things like family time, exercise, rest, etc.
Give someone the benefit of the doubt
It can be hard to trust people, especially if you’ve been burned in the past. But people who are trusting may be happier than those who are more cynical, says a study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Chalk it up to hormones. Feelings of trust release the hormone oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle” or feel-good hormone. Ultimately trust is what helps connect us to other people, the greatest source of happiness we have, so do your best to be trusting (when it makes good sense) and trustworthy.
Eat a ripe peach
You already knew that eating your fruits and veggies was good for your physical health but getting your greens (and reds and blues and yellows) can be just as good for your mental health, says a study published in the American Journal for Public Health. They found a significant increase in happiness for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables, up to eight servings per day. Here are 8 more foods proven to boost your mood.
Get some fresh air
As air pollution goes up, happiness goes down. And the effect holds even if you’re not living in a coal factory but just near a busy road, according to research published in International Journal of Green Economics. The link between mood and air quality was so strong they recommended clean air as an anti-depressant. “Cleaner air will elevate the level of happiness of citizens in Europe and we suspect in other regions around the globe,” they concluded. Taking care of ourselves and the environment? What a breath of fresh air!
Give someone a squeeze
Hugs not drugs! This may be more true than you think, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A warm hug (or any type of physical contact) stimulates the release of oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding. The oxytocin, in turn, may enhance the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating production of marijuana-like neurotransmitters in the brain leading to increased feelings of happiness and motivation. Now, bring it on in!
Say thank you
You may think you’re grateful but do you actually take the time to say it? Acknowledging and expressing your gratitude, out loud, gives both you and the person you’re thanking an instant happiness infusion, say researchers. Best of all, it’s something so easy to do why wouldn’t you try it? These gratitude quotes will inspire instant appreciation.
Turn your phone off after dinner
It’s true, phone addiction is turning into a serious public health issue, with depression and anxiety skyrocketing as we turn away from our real lives to spend more and more time in digital ones, warns a study published in Computers in Human Behavior. Fortunately the fix is as as simple as turning off your phone. Set a specific time every day, like the hours between dinner and bedtime, as a break from email, Facebook, and Candy Crush. Not only will you be happier and more relaxed but you’ll have more time for family, hobbies, and you’ll even sleep better.
Take a yoga class
Everyone say ohm! People who took two yoga classes a week saw a significant improvement in their health and happiness, says research done by Boston University Medical Center. The combination of breathing, stretching, exercise and meditation is the perfect recipe for mental and physical bliss. Best part? Yoga is a low-impact activity that is easily adapted to almost any need.
Stop at one drink
People have long been using alcohol to drink their negative feelings away but the opposite may also be true, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. They found that people who routinely drink too much become more depressed, showing that the alcohol is causing the mood shift and not the other way around. If you want to be happier, stop after one drink or skip the alcohol all together. You don’t need it to have fun, right? Here are 18 more things happy people never do.
Do a random act of kindness
Surprising a stranger with a random act of kindness isn’t just for viral internet videos. Doing something simple, like paying for a stranger’s coffee, is a one-way ticket to Happyville. People who perform little acts of service unexpectedly report a burst of happiness that lasts far longer than the actual act did, according to a study in PLOS One.
Watch a sunrise
Morning larks are actually happier than night owls, reports a study done by the University of Toronto. While nobody is sure exactly why, there are many possibilities for the mood differences between early and late risers. Morning people are often better rested, feel healthier, are more likely to exercise, and have stronger immune systems—all of which correlate with an increase in happiness. Not a natural lark? Try these 9 simple tips to become a morning person.
Wear something blue
There’s a reason bedrooms are so often decorated in shades of cobalt, periwinkle, azure, and lavender. Hues in the blue family have been shown to be innately calming, lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels and helping people relax and feel happier, researchers say. Take advantage of this mood-enhancing effect by bringing the color into your wardrobe and decor. Read more about how your clothes affect your mood.
Smoking is bad for your physical health and it turns out it’s also bad for your mental health, with smokers being more prone to depression. But once you ditch the cigarettes life starts to look as rosy as your lungs, according to a study published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine. Two-thirds of people in the study who successfully quit smoking also reported an improvement in depressive symptoms and a better mood overall.
Chew a stick of mint gum
Feeling low? Pop a piece of mint gum. Research has shown that the scent of peppermint instantly lifts people’s spirits. Not into chewing gum? You can try sucking on a peppermint candy, wearing a mint-scented lotion, or drinking mint tea. If mint isn’t your favorite smell, try one of these other scents proven to increase happiness.
Make a new friend
Meeting new people is often seen as scary but it doesn’t have to be. Making new friends combines two other proven happiness boosters—doing something new and building relationships—and combines them into a powerful recipe for happiness, says a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Best case scenario, you have a great new friend. Worse case scenario, you get a funny story to tell later. Either way, it’ll make you feel good that you reached out.
This may be the easiest happiness tip yet; you’re doing it right now. Yes, simply getting older is correlated with a rise in happiness, according to a study in Psychological Science. As we age, we get better about letting things go, seeing beauty in little things, and being grateful for what we have—all traits associated with happiness. This may be the best reason yet to embrace your gray hairs and welcome each new birthday! Brush up on the 12 habits of people who look and act younger than their age.
Skip fast food restaurants, dine in
Thanks to their loud noise level, bright colors, low-nutrition food, and emphasis on speed, fast food restaurants are inherently depressing say researchers at the University of Toronto. The results “are counterintuitive,” explains Sanford DeVoe, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management. “We think about fast food as saving us time and freeing us up to do the things that we want to do. But because it instigates this sense of impatience, there are a whole set of activities where it becomes a barrier to our enjoyment of them.” Take home message: If you want a truly “happy” meal, skip the fast food and dine in.
When it comes to what brings us the most happiness, having the respect of our peers and family is more important than money, status, or education, finds a study published in Psychological Science. Unlike new toys or fancy gadgets that bring temporary happiness, the researchers say it’s possible that being respected, having influence, and being socially integrated just never gets old. Find more inspiration with these 26 quotes on the secret to happiness.