You don’t need to hit the mall to have a ball. Whatever your mood, you can get a lift without pulling out the plastic. Sixty percent of happiness depends on your DNA and life circumstances, but your lifestyle and choices affect the other 40 percent. So take two weeks to try our joy-inducing plan. You’ll be amazed at what one small tweak a day can do. The proof is in the positivity!
ENJOY FREQUENT, TINY HITS OF PLEASURE
Bliss booster Treat yourself to mini-pockets of fun throughout your day. Eat dessert after lunch and dinner, savoring only a few bites each time. (More sweet stuff to anticipate!) Curl up with a novel every few hours, but read only a page or two. Or, when you’ve got the blahs, visit CuteOverload.com, but limit browsing to two minutes.
Pleasure payoff “As good as they feel, joyful emotions are by nature short-lived,” says Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., author of The Happiness Hypothesis. That’s because we get used to them, which is why the 10th spoonful of ice cream is rarely as good as the first. But by serving yourself little dollops of pleasure repeatedly, you’ll extend the joy. And because you’re indulging in only a bit at a time, your pleasures won’t become stale.
Bliss booster Carve out time for 21 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 11 minutes of rock-your-socks-off) cardio today. Repeat for a week.
Pleasure payoff Why the specific number? That’s what experts say it takes to be considered moderately fit, and moderately fit women are 44 percent less apt to have depressive symptoms than nonexercisers are, the Journal of Psychiatric Research reports. (Super fit women are 54 percent less likely to be blue.) Working out releases good-for-you endorphins and leaves you feeling healthy, strong and sexy—aka happy! “When you pursue a goal like exercise, you feel more competent,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness. The more you keep up with your workouts, the more content you’ll be.
Bliss booster It’s tough to resist seeing how you measure up against others, but give it a try: At yoga, focus on your poses, not the other yogis’. At a party, pay attention to the talk, not the size of the host’s kitchen. If you must compare, gauge how you’re doing now against who you were last year. “Do a better deed today than you did yesterday,” says Dan Baker, Ph.D., author of What Happy People Know.
Pleasure payoff Unlike happy folks, unhappy sorts let comparisons negatively affect their confidence and their mood, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports. After all, you’ll always find someone thinner or richer. Even if you come out on top, “you’ll either feel smug or less than. Neither is healthy,” Baker says. Instead, “nurture your own growth, which will make you happier still.”
GIVE UP THAT GRUDGE
Bliss booster Forgive someone—that maniac who cut you off on the freeway or a pal who stood you up. Breathe in, exhale, and imagine all hostility leaving you; replace it with compassion and love.
Pleasure payoff When someone hurts us, we often replay the jab until its memory stings more than the actual affront. “This kind of rumination is bad for your health,” says Everett Worthington, Ph.D., psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “It’s linked to depression, stress and heart disease.” Let go of the slight to become more generous, empathetic and emotionally stable.
LINGER IN THE BREAK ROOM
Bliss booster Get up from your desk, drop by your pal’s cube, and ask about her weekend. The next time you send an email to a coworker, add a personal sign-off, wishing her luck in her upcoming race. No office confidante? Find someone you think you might have something in common with, and schedule a lunch.
Pleasure payoff “The best predictor of joy on the job is not what you do but who you do it with,” says Jim Harter, Ph.D., coauthor of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. Having a good 9-to-5 bud makes you seven times more likely to feel engaged than those who don’t, leaving you happier on and off the clock, Harter reports. And don’t worry that taking time to schmooze will bug your boss: Social folks tend to be more creative and productive.
TAP INTO YOUR INNATE STRENGTHS
Bliss booster Discover your dominant character strengths by taking a free, fun, 30- to 40-minute quiz at ViaMe.org. The test asks questions along the lines of whether you try to tease pals out of a bad mood, for example, to ID your best traits. Once you get the results, use a key strength in a new way each day this week. Creative? Pen a haiku—bet you haven’t done that since grade school. Highly spiritual? Read about Buddhism, or meditate.
Pleasure payoff Enlisting your strengths in novel ways increases happiness for six months, according to research in the American Psychologist. “It can be easy to lose touch with your core self,” says Neal H. Mayerson, Ph.D., chairman of the VIA Institute in Cincinnati. “But if you consciously put your signature strengths to use on a day-to-day basis, you’ll live a life that feels more engaged and meaningful.”
CHANGE YOUR THINKING IN 4 MINUTES
Bliss booster Imagine an event that makes you anxious, like an upcoming trip. Horribilize it for two minutes, exploring your worst fears. (You’ll get in an accident on the way to the airport and miss your plane.) Now take two minutes to possibilize it, picturing the best outcome (80-degree days, discovering a new passion). Ask yourself, Which life do I want to lead?
Pleasure payoff “Consciously dwelling on the positive increases resilience, and the more resilient you are, the happier you’ll be,” says Baker, who devised the drill. “We’ve all survived difficult events. It’s how we react to them that’s our choice.” Choose happiness.
VARY YOUR THANKS
Bliss booster Tonight, before bed, jot down a few things you love about your family. One morning next week, right when you wake up, do it again, this time focusing on what you appreciate about your pals. Then, the next afternoon, write down the reasons you’re grateful for your job. (Yes, it can be just the paycheck!) Give thanks twice a week tops, focusing on whatever feels wonderful in your life.
Pleasure payoff Research has shown that writing down what you’re grateful for increases energy, optimism and determination, and reduces greed, envy and anger. Changing when you give thanks and what for is even more beneficial. If you count your blessings too often (thrice weekly or more) or focus on the same old, same old, gratefulness becomes a chore, meaning you won’t get the same charge you would by mixing things up.
JUST DO IT...YES, THAT!
Bliss booster Drop the remote, shut your laptop, turn on some Arcade Fire, and give your sweetie a little love, even if—shocker—you’re not that into it at this very moment.
Pleasure payoff You probably know intuitively what research has shown: Getting it on reduces anxiety and depression and elevates mood. Even when women don’t have an orgasm, simply being touched in a sensitive area can increase happy feelings all through the next day, the Archives of Sexual Behavior notes. Sex may alter brain chemistry by triggering the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. And being close with your honey just plain feels good.
BE A FAKER
Bliss booster Put on a smile, whether you feel like it or not.
Pleasure payoff Feigning joy can induce joy. People who accurately made happy, angry or surprised expressions experienced those feelings two out of three times, a study in Psychophysiology shows. The facial movements trigger physiological changes: I’m smiling; that must mean I’m happy. “By changing your body, you can create corresponding emotions,” says study author Robert W. Levenson, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of California in Berkeley.
GRAB SOME GIRLFRIEND TIME
Bliss booster Get your BFF and head to a museum, take a hike or spend an evening with takeout and a DVD. If your pal isn’t local, call or Skype her for a heart-to-heart.
Pleasure payoff Having one truly great friend affects your joy more than having a few dozen sort-of-close friends. A solid relationship with your nearest and dearest can improve your happiness by up to 10 percent, according to research in the Journal of Happiness Studies. “Women friends tend to talk about their thoughts and feelings,” says study author Melikah Demir, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Northern Arizona University. “That promotes a special kind of intimacy and gives us a unique sense of support and belonging.”
HELP THE LOCAL ECONOMY
Bliss booster Whatever you need—a bottle of wine, new tires—don’t drive miles out of your way to get it at a better price. Today, go to your local store and ask for the shopkeeper’s recommendation. Then snag it, even if it isn’t the exact thing you had in mind or the least expensive.
Pleasure payoff People who search for only the best, even if they find it, are less happy than those who opt for something that’s good enough, research suggests. “It might seem counterintuitive, but learning that good enough often is good enough buys you time to devote to more meaningful things, like family,” says Barry Schwartz, Ph.D., author of The Paradox of Choice. When you buy locally, you also bond with a merchant, and relationships are a primary source of joy. That makes it a twofer, happinesswise.
Bliss booster On your first free day, pencil in something you’d love to do. (A massage!) Then download the TimeAndDate.com Countdown app on Facebook. Every time you log on, you’ll see how long you have until the pampering.
Pleasure payoff Looking forward to a future perk can give you a lift right now. People who book a vacation feel elation long before they board a plane, research finds—that is, you don’t have to go anywhere to reap the benefits of a holiday. Maximize the high by reminding yourself of the upcoming event as often as possible. (Photo of a beach on your mirror? That works!)
PUT A CHERRY ON TOP
Bliss booster When you have something unpleasant to do, like a hellacious commute or an appointment at the dentist, give yourself a positive finish to look forward to. When you reach the end of a long car ride, crank up your radio and groove out to “Mr. Roboto.” After the cavity filling, treat yourself to a walk in the park.
Pleasure payoff Life as we live it and life as we remember it are two different things. When people look back on their day, it’s the very best and the very worst moments that tend to have the greatest effect on how they remember it, a study in Emotion reports. What’s more, people tend to recall feeling angrier, sadder and more tense during the worst moments than they actually reported experiencing during the event itself. “If you engineer a positive outcome, you’ll help offset a negative one,” says study author Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Medical Decision Making at Ono Academic College. Not only will you recall a tough week at work, but you’ll also recall that luxe mani-pedi on Friday evening. So go live happily for these two weeks—and ever after!
Get an extra feel-good boost with these tips for milking happiness from every moment.
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