20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness
Want to boost your mood? Listen to the pros!
Happiness is such a fleeting thing: one minute, you're feeling like a million bucks, and the next, something puts you off your game and into a funk that's hard to break. And considering the tenuous nature of human happiness to begin with, it's no wonder that so few of us consider ourselves to be truly happy people.
In fact, according to the 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, just 33 percent of American adults identified as "very happy." Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that our overall happiness has been on the decline for some time—a decade ago, that number was holding strong at 35 percent.
"Our happiness as a society can appear as if it is diminishing. And there are some factors that are contributing to our lack of happiness," says Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D. Considering our non-stop lifestyles, it's no surprise that we're not as happy as we once were. "We are in a society that never stops. We are always on and connected. We are often physically in one place and mentally in another."
But even if you're not thrilled about your life now—or if the pace of your current schedule feels unsustainable—that doesn't mean unhappiness in your future is a foregone conclusion. Follow these therapist-approved tips for living a happier life and it'll be nothing but blue skies ahead. And for more great tips on finding happiness, don't miss these 75 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Rid your life of toxic people.
While cutting loose people you've known for years can be a daunting prospect, doing so can make you far happier in the long run. "Toxic people can plant seeds of doubt in your mind, make you say yes when you want to say no, push you away from your priorities and just downright make you feel negative. If you want to be happy, you have to rid of or set boundaries with these people so that you can have more confidence, joy and success," says Dr. Kulaga.
"Take inventory of the top people you surround yourself with. Do you share similar goals and values with them? Do they instill inspiration in you and motivate you to be better? Do they want the best for you? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it is time for an immediate detox in your life! Remember, you are who you associate with."
Getting happier starts from the inside out. If you're routinely loading your body with junk food, you're actually putting a damper on your potential happiness. Instead, treat yourself to some healthy food—you'll be amazed at how much happier you feel.
"Your gut is the gateway to feeing good," says Dr. Kulaga. "When you eat processed foods and fast foods, serotonin struggles to get out of your gut and distribute through your body. This is why you feel that dip in your mood." And for more science-backed ways to boost your mood, here are the 50 Greatest Happiness Hacks on the Planet.
Want to get happy in a hurry? Start by lacing up those sneakers. "Exercising just makes you feel good," says Dr. Kulaga. "That feel-good feeling increases confidence and rubs off in the things we do and the choices we make." And considering the endorphin rush you get not only from exercising, but from looking in the mirror and seeing those muscles emerge, there's no better time to start hitting the gym.
A little gratitude goes a long way when it comes to getting happier. Dr. Kulaga suggests creating a list of things you're grateful for as an easy way to get started.
"The list may start off with some things that we all are typically grateful for, like health, family, etc. But as the list goes on, you will really have to dig deep to look around you," she says. "Soon you will be grateful for the way rain drops sit on a leaf in your backyard, or the way your son touches your arm right before he says 'mommy' 600 times in a row. Gratitude increases happiness because it not about the case of always wanting more, it is about being aware and in awe for what you already have sitting in front of you." For further proof, know that Saying This One Word Will Boost Your Mood by 25 Percent.
As tied as most of us are to our digital devices, it's often hard to see all the good right in front of us. If you want to get happier fast, consider taking a digital detox, even for just a few hours.
"We are often stuck on our phones, iPads, etc. and miss the opportunities to be mindful and see the joy of what is around us," says Dr. Kulaga.
Get in touch with nature.
"We have lost touch with nature and replaced it with technology," says Dr. Kulaga. "Nature forces you to be in the moment and can even put you in a grateful place." In fact, research confirms the connection between spending time in nature and overall wellbeing. According to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, city-dwellers who increased the amount of time spent in green areas reported significant improvements in their overall happiness.
"When it comes to things in life we must wait for, like marriage, promotions and children, we become impatient and rush the process, often leading to unhappiness," says Dr. Kulaga. While it may be a difficult pill to swallow when it seems like everyone else is hitting their goals before you, just remember that good things invariably come to those who wait.
Take it slow.
If you want to boost your enjoyment of your life, it's time to stop and smell the roses. "We rush everywhere and everything. We rush in our cars, we rush our children, we rush our showers, we rush our phone conversation—we rush the process and journey of life as a whole," says Dr. Kulaga. Fortunately, slowing down the pace of your daily life can go a long way when it comes to increasing your contentment.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
While it may be difficult to give up those comparisons to your successful friends, neighbors with a bigger house, or people you deem more attractive than yourself, doing so will make you happier in the long run.
"As we are focused on our phones, we are often staring at social media comparing ourselves to others. These comparisons can be self-defeating, minimize confidence and increase our self-doubt—all factors that play a huge role in decreasing our overall happiness," says Dr. Kulaga.
Even if you're typically a cup-half-empty kind of person, "We know that optimism can be learned," says Erika Miley, M.Ed, LMHC, a Florida-based licensed Mental and Sexual Health Therapist. She suggests writing down the things going wrong in your life, as well as brainstorming ideas about how to recover from those perceived missteps.
"One of the things we can do to change our perspective is to practice it. Just like trying to get great abs, our mind needs repetition to not default to previous patterns of behaviors and thought."
Engage in some compassion for yourself.
While many of us manage to have plenty of compassion for others, we often fall short when it comes to extending ourselves the same courtesy. "The negative things you say about you in your head—would you say those things to someone you love? No? So why on earth is that okay for you to say to you?" asks Miley. "This is where compassion and happiness can meet. When those thoughts come, say to yourself, 'I'm okay just as I am right now in this moment.'"
When you're feeling down on yourself, try reframing those negative thoughts by injecting a little levity into the situation. "Take that negative thought and hear it in Donald Duck's voice. Let me see you try and not laugh," suggests Miley. "These are small ways you can be compassionate to yourself, which can increase the likelihood you will let negative emotions pass and be able to identify the positive ones."
Indulge in some of the things you loved as a kid.
Who says that playing games and having fun should be solely reserved for children? If you want to make yourself happier, it's time to revisit some of those things that brought you so much joy as a kid.
"I want you to think about something that brought you great joy when you were younger," says Miley. "Whether it was an instrument, a sport, crocheting with grandma—whatever that thing was I want you to bring it back into your life, but in a new way."
Try out a new hobby.
However, it's not just relying on things you once loved that can make you feel like a kid again. Trying out a new hobby can give you an undeniable rush of happiness, too. "Something our brain loves is novelty, and newness," says Miley. "Give your brain a little jolt of happy with that novelty factor."
Accept your difficult feelings.
As hard as it might be to sit with those feelings of resentment, anger, or sadness, doing so can actually pave the way toward greater happiness in your future. "Accept your difficult feelings, such as sadness, anger, and anxiety, without fighting with them," suggests clinical psychologist Dr. Inna Khazan, Ph.D. "All of these feelings are natural and normal. Fighting with them or trying to make them go away will not achieve the goal, but will get you stuck in those feelings. The more you are able to accept your difficult feelings as they are, the freer you will be to move on from them and feel happier in the long run."
Nurture your healthy relationships.
Even if your life feels like it's moving at a non-stop pace with little time for social interaction, finding some time to spend with friends and family members can make you happier, even if that undercurrent of stress hasn't dissipated entirely . "We are happier when we have strong healthy connections with other people," says Dr. Khazan.
Be kind to others.
While your first instinct when you're feeling angry, sad, or vulnerable might be to take it out on someone else, doing so will only make you feel worse. Instead, practice acts of kindness to others and you'll be happier in no time. "Research shows that both self-compassion and compassion for others are associated with increase in emotional wellbeing, including happiness," says Dr. Khazan.
Reflect on your core values.
Those values you once held dear may have become afterthoughts, thanks to your jam-packed schedule, but if you want to make yourself happier, living by a set of specific values can help.
"When we know our values and what is important to us in life, these values act as a guiding light, helping us act in most helpful ways and contributing to feeling happier in the long term," says Dr. Khazan.
All too often, it feels like we're being pulled in a million different directions at once. To combat the stress and dissatisfaction that can come along with feeling like you're doing too much, Dr. Khazan suggests accepting some stillness in your life with some mindfulness exercises.
"Research shows that we are happier when we are present in the moment, even if is a difficult or unpleasant moment, rather than thinking of something else, even if this something else is pleasant and enjoyable," she says. Give yourself a few minutes to meditate, put down your phone, or simply just take some time to reflect on your day to get started.
Get plenty of sleep.
A little sleep goes a long way when it comes to making yourself happier and healthier, so make sure you're logging a minimum of seven hours a night. "Sleep is foundational to our emotional health. One of the first things affected by sleep deprivation is our mood," says Dr. Khazan.
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