5 Habits For More Happiness

Written By Annie Rohr

Dr. Annie Rohr is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist. She was born and raised in Honolulu.

July 12, 2021

“Happiness is a state of activity.” – Aristotle

According to the World Health Organization, “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

More than just “the absence of mental disorders or disabilities,” peak mental health is about not only avoiding active conditions, but also achieving an ongoing state of personal wellness and happiness.

Here are five easy and practical habits that can bring you more joy and boost your happiness. These are research-driven concepts that experts agree can bring more happiness in your life…why not try?

1. Gratitude
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Shift our focus on to what we have. Gratitude turns what we have into enough and is the healthiest of all emotions. Activities to try on your own include writing thank you notes or keeping a gratitude journal.

2. Optimism
Researchers have spent a lot of time studying people who think positively. It turns out that an optimistic attitude helps us be happier, more successful, and healthier. Optimism can protect against depression — even for people who are at risk for it. An optimistic outlook makes people more resistant to stress. Optimism may even help people live longer. The best thing about optimism is you can learn it, even if your outlook tends to be more pessimistic.

How to look on the sunny side and be optimistic? It can take a little while, so don’t feel discouraged. Here’s a few activities to practice being optimistic:

  • Notice good things as they happen. At the end of the day, take 10 minutes to run through your day and come up with things that you’re grateful for. Write them down in an Awe Journal or keep track using a motivational app on your phone or tablet.
  • Train your mind to believe you can make good things happen in your life. Get in a habit of telling yourself specific things you can do to succeed. For example: “If I study, I can get a better grade.” “If I practice, I’ll perform well at the audition.” “If I go on that volunteer trip, I’ll meet new friends.”
  • Practice positive self talk and don’t blame yourself when things go wrong. What does your inner voice say when things don’t go as planned? Instead of thinking, “I failed that test because I’m terrible at tests,” tell yourself: “I failed that test because I didn’t study enough. I won’t let that happen next time!”
  • Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary. As soon as something goes wrong, remind yourself that it will pass — and come up with a plan for making that happen. For example: “My results aren’t what I hoped, but I can study more and take the test again.”

3. Self compassion
Having compassion is so vital in life. It is humanity and is what makes us caring, loving, builds friendships and relationships. It makes us human. We work so hard on expressing care and compassion to others. It is easy to tell a friend that they will be ok. The hard part is telling that to yourself. Self compassion is so important! We often go around in life just beating ourselves up. We tell ourselves it is not ok to make mistakes or be tired or have moods. We create this impossible, unreachable goal to not mess up. And when we do, we are so mean and judgmental to ourselves. We don’t forgive ourselves. This is the critical inner voice. And it is loud Sometimes much louder than our loving voice.

A Harvard Medical School study found that forgiving and nurturing yourself can set the stage for better health, relationships, and general well being. Self compassion yields a number of benefits including lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self compassionate people recognize when they are hurting and are kind to themselves, which reduces their anxiety and depression. While some people naturally have self compassion, others have to learn it. Luckily it is totally teachable! Activities you can try on your own to increase your self compassion include writing a loving and kind letter to yourself or a positive mantra to read during those times when you need a little help.

4. Savoring the good
Too often we let the good moments pass without truly celebrating them. Take the time to truly enjoy what is happening and noticing how it truly makes you feel- your mind, your body, your feelings. Hold on to the happy feelings and enjoy them, savor them.

Savoring the past is perhaps the easiest way to savoring the good. Spend a few minutes thinking about a happy, joyful, or pleasant event that happened to you in the last week or month. Think about the people, smells, sounds, physical sensations, and sights that you experienced. Or savor a moment. Pay close attention any time you experience something positive. Whenever you notice yourself feeling good, mentally hold on by thinking about the positive emotions and what caused them. Try to really savor something daily!

5. Connection
We all know the basics of good health: eat your veggies, go to the gym and get proper rest. But how many of us know that social connection is as important? Social connection improves our physical health and psychological well-being.

Dr. Steve Cole who heads the NIH-funded Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles published research showing that genes impacted by social connection, which also code for immune function and inflammation, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.

People who feel more connected to others have much lower rates of anxiety and depression. People who feel more connected also have higher self esteem and are more empathetic to others, more trusting and cooperative.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true for those who lack social connectedness. Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health.

The most interesting fact about connection is that it has nothing to do with the number of friends you have (IRL or on social media). If you’re a loner or an introvert, you can still reap the benefits. A sense of connection is internal: Researchers agree that the benefits of connection are actually linked to your subjective sense of connection. In other words, if you feel connected to others on the inside, you reap the benefits.

Although these activities do not serve as a “cure” for mental disorders they are helpful and important for maintaining good mental health and moving forward towards happiness. Remember that some mental issues can be serious, so always seek help from your physician or a professional therapist if necessary. Many people seek help for better focus, goal accomplishment, better sleep, relationship issues, parenting challenges, stress reduction, and overall wellness. Some people come in just to have someone listen. You can seek mental health for any reason and find the help you need. The idea is to feel better and be happier.

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