8 ways to get happy every day
February is often a depressing time of year – Christmas is well and truly over, but the first whiff of spring seems like an age away. Follow our easy steps to lift you out of the doldrums and put you in a good mood every day…
1. Do something you dread
That foot-long ‘to do’ list filled with the awful tasks you’ve been putting off for aeons is dragging you down and sapping your energy – even if you’re not conscious of it, it’s there at the back of your mind chipping away at your well-being. So blitz it… now! “Tackle the thing you dread most first,” says psychologist Dr David Lewis, who runs www.mindlab.org. “It’ll make you feel unburdened, more positive, and set the tone for the rest of the day.”
2. Break out of your comfort zone
Take up something that’s tough, but all-consuming (and scares you silly!). Training for a half-marathon, perhaps, or landscaping your garden by yourself. “Psychologists refer to these bigger, engrossing activities as ‘flow’,” says psychologist Sheila Panchal. “The idea is that you lose yourself in something very demanding. Yes, it may be hard work, but the immense sense of satisfaction you get during and after the activity gives you a huge buzz.”
3. Get out more
Not to your local wine bar, but to the park, the woods, the beach… anywhere you get to see nature at its best. “Connecting with the natural world can give you an enormous boost,” says Sheila Panchal. “It’s about establishing a sense of being part of something greater than yourself. A walk along a windswept beach can be hugely life-affirming.”
4. Stay in touch
One significant reason for our increased unhappiness is lack of contact with our families. “Until the 80s – when we were all told to get on our bikes and find work – families tended to live close to each other. There was a greater connection with neighbours, too,” explains psychologist Professor Cary Cooper from the University of Lancaster. “As a result, people had more of a support structure around them.” Even if it’s phoning your mum more often, or making an effort to visit Great Aunt Ethel, you’ll get a greater sense of comfort and belonging.
5. Grow something
Caring for something, or someone else, can help you feel really good about yourself. “It’s all about nurturing,” says Sheila Panchal, “Which is a very powerful human instinct. You can think on a bigger scale – mentoring a disadvantaged child in your area, for example – or on a much smaller scale, such as caring for an animal. Even growing a plant counts! Anything that has you thinking about a living creature other than yourself.”
6. Be nice
We’re conditioned by our culture to often see the worst in everyone. We’re also conditioned to see the worst in ourselves – we’re not thin enough, rich enough, successful enough. “End each day by writing down three positive things about yourself, someone you met, or something you saw or experienced,” says Sheila Panchal, “and start breaking the chain of negativity in your life.”
7. Limit your expectations
No one’s suggesting you should settle for second best. “But one of the reasons we’re unhappier than previous generations is because we’re more demanding,” says psychologist Kathleen Cox. “And this can be very stressful – especially when we demand more of ourselves than we can cope with.” Yes, chasing that promotion and having a new car are goals worth striving for, but ask yourself if you’re chasing something you need, or just something you want.
8. Have a laugh
According to research by the American College of Cardiology, 15 minutes laughing a day increases blood flow to the major organs by more than 20% – a similar effect to a bout of aerobic activity. A good laugh also reduces the risk of diabetes, has anaesthetic properties (thanks to all those pain-relieving endorphins that get pumped through your blood) and lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can damage your immune system and increase blood pressure. In fact, laughing can make you live longer. Isn’t that something worth smiling about?