Getting older isn’t easy. Your body starts to ache, your skin begins to sag, your hair fades to gray—and, needless to say, these things don’t exactly make you want to jump for joy. But while aging comes with its fair share of suffering, that isn’t to say that you can’t find happiness in your 40s, 50s, and even well into your senior years. On the contrary, all it takes is a little bit of gratitude, some good friends, and the occasional shopping spree to live your best life (despite your wrinkles and graying hair).
According to a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, study participants over 40 scored higher on measures of confidence, security, coping, and intellectual ability, while experiencing reduced self-criticism, making it clear that, for many people, turning 40 is just the beginning of a well-lived life. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some science-backed ways to find happiness as you age.
Enroll in a Dance Class
Grab your partner and head to the nearest dance studio to find happiness, improve your health, and maybe even pick up a new hobby. When Queensland Ballet and Queensland University of Technology studied the effect of ballet classes on senior citizens for three months, they found that taking dance classes was correlated with higher energy levels, a greater sense of accomplishment, and immense feelings of happiness.
Take More Selfies
Though people love to make fun of the much-dreaded selfie, taking photos of yourself with your front-facing camera can actually do wonders for your happiness levels. In fact, according to one study published in the Psychology of Well-Being, taking just one selfie a day can both improve your mood and make you more confident in your smile. It’s a win-win!
Organize a Food Drive
Want to find happiness after 40? Work with some of the other folks in your community to do something charitable like set up a food drive for those in need. According to research published in the journal Nature Communications, people who are more generous experience more activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain directly connected to the reward system.
Work In at Least Three Exercise Sessions Every Week
Tempting though the couch may be, it’s important to force yourself to hit the gym every now and again—for both your mental and physical health. The good news? Per one meta analysis published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, you only have to spend 150 minutes per week working out—which equals out to about three strenuous sessions a week—to reap the mood-boosting benefits of physical activity.
The next time you’re feeling down and need to find happiness, grab some of your closest pals, call a babysitter if need be, and head to a karaoke bar. When researchers from the University of East Anglia studied the mental health benefits of singing, they discovered that karaoke made subjects happier by giving people a sense of belonging.
Engage in Some Random Acts of Kindness
Remember what you used to tell your kids all the time? “Treat others the way you want to be treated”? Well, now it’s time for you to do the same. According to one study from the University of Oxford, being kind to others can improve not just that person’s wellbeing, but your own, as well.
Go to Bed Earlier
Are negative thoughts and anxiety making dampening your mood? Sorry night owls, but your sleeping patterns might be to blame. According to one study published in Cognitive Therapy and Research, people with later bedtimes tend to experience more negative thoughts that deter their happiness—so aim to hit the hay at an earlier hour if you want to wake up in a better mood.
Practice Meditation Before Bed
So you can feel calm, fall asleep faster, and make sure that you’re sleeping enough every night. In the same sleep survey, researchers found that the amount of sleep a person gets is just as important as when they go to sleep when it comes to negative thinking. In your 40s, you don’t exactly have ample time to get those seven or eight hours every night, but you’ll certainly want to try if being happy and stress-free is your top priority.
Conquer a Hilly Hike
Go for a hike, take the family camping, or run outside—because when it comes to being happy, Mother Nature is your best friend. In fact, according to an analysis by researchers from Carleton University, “those who are more connected to nature tended to experience more positive affect, vitality, and life satisfaction compared to those less connected to nature.”
Plan a Vacation Far Into the Future
Want to get happy in a hurry? Book a relaxing getaway for you and your partner to take months down the road. According to one study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just the anticipation of that upcoming vacation is enough to lift your spirits and help you find happiness.
Schedule a Weekly Dinner with Friends
Get into the habit of having friends over for dinner, drinks, and great conversation. When researchers from the University of Southampton followed young adults into their later years, they found that those who were extroverted and sociable were the happiest and most satisfied with their lives.
Find a Job with a Shorter Commute
When you’re well into your 40s and 50s, the last thing you want to do is waste hours of your precious time sitting in traffic, commuting to a job that you’re not particularly passionate about—and quite frankly, you shouldn’t. Per one study from the University of the West of England, every 20 additional minutes that you spend commuting makes you as miserable as if you were to get a 19 percent pay cut.
Learn to Play “Smoke on the Water” on the Guitar
You’ve worked hard, you’ve raised good kids, and you’ve always been there for your friends when they needed you—but now it’s time to do something selfish for a change and pick up a hobby that you enjoy doing. As researchers have proven time and again, partaking in an activity that you enjoy benefits both your physical and mental wellbeing—and it’s never too late to find your life’s true passion.
Keep a Bouquet of Flowers in the Kitchen
Start off on the right foot every morning with a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table. According to research from Harvard University, just being around flowers every day can boost your mood and outlook on life—and the more you’re around the blooms, the more you reap the benefits.
Blast Some Upbeat Music
Though genuinely trying to be happy is half the battle when it comes to boosting your mood, the secret to getting yourself into a full-blown state of euphoria might lie in what music you listen to. When researchers from the University of Missouri instructed subjects to try to improve their moods, they found that those who listened to upbeat music (in this case, Judy Garland’s “Get Happy”) were able to find happiness, while those who cranked up the somber tunes of Stravinsky stayed sad.
Splurge on a Perfect Pair of Jeans
Good news: there’s finally a science-backed reason to indulge your penchant for retail therapy. According to one study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, going shopping when you’re feeling sad can actually serve as a form of therapy and improve your mood, as the action makes you feel more in control of your life and surroundings.
Become the World’s Next Picasso
There’s no such thing as being too old to enjoy arts and crafts. Not only are they fun, but research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology determined that doing something creative every day (like painting, scrapbooking, or sewing) is directly correlated with a better mood.
Spend More Time with Your Kids
Don’t underestimate the power of strong familial bonds when it comes to getting happy. When researchers from the University of Texas at Austin studied the impact of various factors on happiness levels, they found that it wasn’t money that helped subjects find happiness, but family support.
Write Down Negative Thoughts and Throw Them Away
The next time you have a negative thought that’s messing with your mood, try writing it down on a piece of paper and tossing it in the trash can. When Spanish researchers had subjects do this very action, they found that their negative thoughts were both physically and mentally discarded.
Focus on Focusing
Make a conscious effort to focus only on what’s going on in the present moment, rather than what could happen or what’s going to happen down the road—you’l likely find yourself happier for it. When Harvard University researchers analyzed the impact of people’s thoughts on their emotions, they found that “people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and… doing so typically makes them unhappy.”
Emphasize Your Strengths
Of course, you’ll never get better at the things you don’t excel at unless you practice doing them, but sometimes it feels good just to focus on the things you’re already good at. In fact, according to research from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage, employees who focus on their personal strengths display greater levels of satisfaction and happiness than those who don’t emphasize what they’re best at.
Daydream About Your Significant Other
In times of hardship and distress, all it takes to turn a frown upside down is some time spent with the person you love. And believe it or not, your significant other doesn’t even have to be in the same room as you for you to reap the mood-boosting benefits of their comfort. Yes, according to one study published in Consciousness and Cognition, just daydreaming about your partner is enough to help you find happiness and form connections.
Thank Someone For Making Your Life Better
Don’t limit your feelings of gratitude to just Thanksgiving. When psychologist Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania instructed people to write a letter of gratitude and deliver it to someone whom they never properly thanked, he found that all of the subjects who dropped letters off experienced upticks in their happiness scores that lasted nearly a month.
Be Honest About Your Emotions
If you’re feeling sad about something, then it’s actually better for you to be honest about how you’re feeling than to repress those emotions and pretend that everything is fine. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which found that “people may be happier when they feel the emotions they desire, even if those emotions are unpleasant.”
Volunteer at a Local Homeless Shelter
Not sure what to do with all your free time now that you’re retired and the kids are out of the house? Consider filling up some of your schedule with volunteer activities at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter. According to one study published in Psychological Bulletin, older adults who volunteer are sharper, happier, healthier, and make the world a better place!
Picture Yourself in Your Happy Place
Your imagination is far more powerful than you think, especially when it comes to your emotions. According to research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, people in bad moods who picture themselves in better situations are able to alter not just their imaginary surroundings, but their moods as well.
Splurge on a Priceless Trip Around the World
If you’re in the market to make a big purchase, opt for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like a luxurious vacation over an object like a flat screen TV that will lose its appeal within the year.
“Things like a new material purchase make us happy initially, but very quickly we adapt to it, and it doesn’t bring us all that much joy,” said Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, one of the lead researchers in a study about material objects and their affect on mood. However, Gilovich et al. found that this isn’t the case for experiences, as people aren’t as likely to compare their unique memories to those of their friends.
Slip Into Your Favorite Dress
If you want to find happiness, you’ll first have to dress the part. But how? Well, according to research from the University of Hertfordshire, women are ten times more likely to wear their favorite dresses when they’re in a good mood, and baggy tops and jeans are the go-to looks when depression is ever-present.
“Clothing doesn’t just influence others—it reflects and influences the wearer’s mood too,” study author Karen Pine explained in a press release. “This [study] demonstrates the psychological power of clothing and how the right choices could influence a person’s happiness.”
Revel In the Joys of Being a Parent
As any mother or father can attest, being a parent is no easy feat. But, while parenting has its ups and downs, it’s also one of the most rewarding things a person can do. One study from the University of California at Riverside even found that people with kids are happier than their childless counterparts, especially when they’re taking care of their children.
Share Some Good News with Your Partner
Get a promotion at work? Finally master that painting technique that’s been getting on your nerves for months? Bake a perfect batch of chocolate chip cookies? Then share that exciting news with someone you love! According to one study from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, sharing a positive experience with someone close to you can heighten your feelings of happiness about that experience and serve to boost your mood even further.
Steer Clear of Social Media
It’s no secret that social media can have a detrimental effect on your mental health and wellbeing. If you want to find happiness and live a life with fewer feelings of stress and sadness, then a good place to start is with a social media hiatus sans Twitter, Facebook, and your other preferred platforms.
Surround Yourself with Happy Friends
Good moods are just as contagious as bad ones, so make sure to only surround yourself with friends who aren’t Debbie Downers. It might sound harsh, but studies have found that good moods can spread through a social network almost like a beneficial bacteria.
Learn to Appreciate What You Have
Though everyone gets a quick mood boost from doing something new and exciting, it’s only those who are appreciative of everything they have who can maintain that level of happiness. That’s according to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which found that “continued appreciation of the original life change” can stretch out a spurt of happiness.
Accept Yourself For Who You Are
There’s no point trying to change the things that you have no control over. Not only is it a waste of time and energy, but one study from the University of Hertfordshire found that people who accept their lives the way they are are happier than those who are constantly trying to change themselves.
Value Your Free Time and Spend It Wisely
Having all the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the time to make the most of it. At the end of the day, your time is far more valuable than money, and researchers have shown that people who prioritize their time over their bank account tend live happier and more meaningful lives in the long run.
Balance Out Your Meals with a Side Salad
You probably already know by now all of the physical health benefits of eating enough fruits and vegetables, but did you know that there were mood-boosting benefits, as well? According to one study from the University of Warwick, every extra serving you get (up to eight portions in total) is associated with a mood boost—so don’t forget to serve every meal with a side of leafy greens!
Stay Plenty Hydrated
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, even mild dehydration can impair your mood and motor skills, so make sure that you’re getting an adequate amount of water—about eight glasses in a 24-hour period—on a daily basis.
Drink More Coffee
Drinking that cup of java isn’t just good for your energy levels. Evidently, the caffeine in your favorite A.M. drink prompts the release of hormones dopamine and serotonin, both of which help you feel happier.
Buy a Pair of Yellow Heels
If you don’t already have a lot of yellow clothes in your closet, then now’s a good time to start stocking up. Countless studies have shown that this mellow color can make people feel happier—and it works to boost your mood whether you’re wearing it or eating it.
Personalize Your Workspace
“Bringing your personal life into your workspace has been found to have very positive results,” explains Alex Palmer in his new book Happiness Hacks. “Add some artwork or plants to your desk, or make some other addition that enhances it in a way that’s personal for you.”
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