The Habits of Happiness

Ever notice that some people tend to be more chipper than others? If you find yourself down in the dumps, the suggestions listed below might serve as an emotional pick-me-up.

Enjoy Nature: Going outside for a walk is a time-tested way to improve your mood. One study found that staying two nights in a forest lowered cortisol levels in students. Since lower cortisol levels are associated with lower levels of stress, this was quite an encouraging development. In contrast, students who were asked to spend two nights in an urban environment were found to have higher levels of this hormone.

Write It Down: At first glance, writing down your emotions might seem like a pretty useless activity. In fact, doing this might have a calming effect on the body. A group of psychologists recently conducted a study in which participants were asked to write down emotional experiences at four separate therapy sessions. A second group, in contrast, was asked to write about neutral experiences. For both groups, these sessions lasted for a duration of twenty minutes.

Brain scans later found that the “emotional experience” group exhibited greater activity in a part of the brain tasked with controlling emotions. This boost of neural activity was not observed in the opposing group.

Think of Others: You’ve probably heard that it is better to give than receive. This old saying actually has some scientific evidence to back it up, courtesy of a 2008 study of 46 individuals.

In short, half of these participants were told to spend the money on goods and services for themselves. The other half, in comparison, were required to donate their money to charity or to buy a gift for someone in their social circle. After performing this task, each volunteer recorded their levels of happiness. In contrast to those who spent their money on more self-indulgent pursuits, the participants who were asked to direct their cash towards others wound up feeling better afterwards.

Simply Smile: Could smiling more actually put you in a better mood? If it’s sincere, then the answer could be yes.

A 2011 study noted that bus drivers who smiled as a result of positive thoughts were in a better mood by the end of the day. For drivers who forced their smiles, the opposite was the case.

Don’t Forget Your Friends: Family is important for your mental health, but so are friends. A recent study tracked the level of happiness that participants had when hanging out with friends, as well as with their parents and children. This was done with the assistance of a certain app.

During the day, this app would contact these participants and ask them to rate their happiness. After reviewing over 3 million responses from 50,000 people, the research team determined that the biggest increases in happiness occurred when the subjects’ spent time with their friends.

Work Out: Exercise doesn’t just help burn extra pounds and tone muscle; it can also put you in a better mood. When you’re working out, your brain releases various chemicals that work to alleviate stress, calm your nerves and lift feelings of depression. According to researchers from the University of Vermont, those who spend just 20 minutes exercising experienced better overall mental health for the following twelve hours.

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