What if we told you that you have more control over your state of mind than you think—and that while joy may come in the morning, it could also come in this very moment? If you’re like many people, you’ve tied your happiness to the ifs and whens of the future: When the economy picks up. When I lose a few pounds. When I find love. When Barack Obama gets reelected. Here are ten steps to help you achieve happiness right now.
1. KNOW WHAT HAPPINESS IS
In chick flicks, there’s always a rival out to steal the heroine’s joy, but in real life, you’re more likely to sabotage your own happiness simply by having unrealistic expectations of what it should look and feel like. Researchers have found that when people put pressure on themselves to feel blissful, they end up disappointed. Rather than viewing happiness as a goal you barrel toward, think of it as a by-product of feeling that your life is meaningful.
2. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
People who focus on good past experiences and reinterpret negative ones in a more pleasant light tend to be happier. “Counting blessings doesn’t mean you have to be naive,” says Chris Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. The world can be cruel and you shouldn’t deny the terrible things that may have happened, but the world can also be wondrous. It’s up to you to decide on which truth to dwell.
3. GET MORE FOR YOUR MONEY
Studies have shown that once basic needs are met, the amount of cash we have doesn’t affect how content we feel. But there’s a difference between spending money buying “things” versus spending money on people or activities. Cornell University researchers found that shelling out for an experience, such as a vacation, improved well-being.
Researchers coined the phrase “helper’s high” after surveying more than 3,000 volunteers and finding that 95 percent felt healthier after charity work. And while giving money boosts happiness, too, face-to-face interactions have a greater impact because they allow individuals to engage more fully.
5. BE A JOINER
Belonging to something, whether it’s your church, a sorority or a club, helps lift the spirits. This even holds true for race consciousness: A recent survey found that those who were most satisfied with their lives also identified most strongly with being Black.
6. SPEND LESS TIME ON SOCIAL NETWORKING
It’s one thing to use Twitter to connect with friends around the world, but using it to stay in touch with pals around the way is a problem. Interacting online doesn’t give the brain the input it thrives on, like facial expression. “Being deprived of human interaction is as bad as being deprived of food or sleep,” says Dan Baker, Ph.D., coauthor of What Happy Women Know (St. Martin’s Griffin).
7. PRAY WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Research has found that people who pray frequently report higher levels of life purpose than those who never pray. But there’s good reason not to keep your chats with God private. A recent study found that attending church and praying with your partner are linked to more satisfying relationships.
8. MULTITASK LESS, SAVOR MORE
One problem with multitasking is that it prevents you from getting the most joy from every moment, what psychologists call savoring. Take time during the day to notice how good the sun feels on your skin. Leave your phone in your bag when you meet up with friends so you spend less time texting and tweeting and more time talking and connecting. The key is to stay in the moment.
9. CHANGE YOUR SELF-TALK
You would never allow someone to verbally abuse a friend, so why not extend the same courtesy to yourself by disputing negative thoughts? While you’re thinking about your interior dialogue, ask yourself two questions: What’s right with me? and How can I leverage it? “Those aren’t things we typically ask ourselves, but happy people do,” says Karen Reivich, Ph.D., codirector of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Resiliency Project. Check out authentichappiness.com for a survey designed to help you pinpoint your strengths.
10. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
When researchers asked people to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone, the subjects reported an immediate hike in happiness, with the benefits lasting as long as a month. Another bonus: You are seen as a more pleasant person, which prompts people to be pleasant in return.