Being happy is easy

You’ve heard it countless times.

Just be happy.

That’s the secret to living a fulfilling life full of sunshine and rainbows and everything good you could ever imagine.

Just cheer up, put a smile on, pet cute puppies and everything will be all right. You decide whether or not you want to be happy – so what are you waiting for?

But it’s never been quite that easy.

Emotions take over. Bad days stack on top of each other. You try to “fake it ‘til you make it”, but it’s only a facade at best.

Like a stone on water, you skip from one happy moment to the next until finally, you sink down again into your negative emotions.

It’s a bitter cycle you’re longing to break – but life has a funny way of keeping us in repetitive loops, doesn’t it? Sometimes being happy is just a lot harder than people make it out to be. What’s the problem with that?

The problem is that it’s false … and we’re bringing science along to prove it.  

Enter positive psychology.

Gathering cold hard facts about that warm and fuzzy feeling

The emerging field of positive psychology is paving the way to a better understanding of fulfillment on both the individual and community level.

The belief is that people want to lead meaningful lives. They want to cultivate their best self and enhance experiences of love, work and play.

Sounds about right, don’t you think?

But positive psychology isn’t about fluffy lollipop experiments that tell a one-sided story. It’s about finding cold hard facts on how human behaviors relate to happiness and fulfillment – not the wishful thinking and hoopla you’ve likely been lead to believe.

What the field has found is that happiness isn’t as elusive as many people make it out to be. It really IS possible to be happier right now … even when you feel like life is dragging you through the mud.

You just have to know the hacks to get there.

Lucky for you, this article is all you’ll need. We’ve done all the heavy lifting and found five science-backed methods to train your brain to be happy.

If you do any of these five things over the next two weeks, you WILL feel happier.

That’s not a promise – it’s science.

So what are they?

1) Take Three Walks

Now, you might be laughing at the notion that you can walk yourself to happiness – but hear us out.

In a study done by researchers at Pennsylvania State, they found that people who were more physically active had greater general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm.

Researcher Amanda Hynes reports:

“People who were more physically active overall had higher pleasant–activated feelings than people who were less physically active, and on days when people were more physically active than was typical for them, they reported higher levels of pleasant–activated feelings.”

Also, in a study published by the American Psychosomatic Society, Michael Babyak and a team of doctors demonstrated how walking or jogging helped improve recovery from clinical depression. Yes, clinical depression.

And it didn’t take much.

Half an hour of brisk walking three times per week is all they needed to get amazing results. Which means that’s all you need to get results, too.

Your challenge:

Walk your way to happiness by taking three, brisk 30-minute walks each week for the next two weeks and see how you feel. We’re not saying this will be a “cure-all”, but it may just point you in the right direction.

2) Write for 20 minutes

And we don’t mean journalling.

What we’re talking about here is a “20-minute replay” where you write for 20 minutes about a positive experience in your life.

It could be about your friends or your family or a loved one. Or it could simply be about something awesome and exciting that filled you with joy.

Either way, it’s about reliving the good that’s happened to you.

In a study titled “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Words,” Psychology Professor James Pennebaker and graduate student Richard Slatcher analyzed writing samples from 86 couples. They instructed one person from each couple to write for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. One group wrote about daily activities while the other group wrote about positive feelings they had for their relationship.

What they found was that the group who wrote about their relationship had a much higher likelihood of not only staying together but of also feeling happier, more loved and more fulfilled.

The researchers both believe this can extend beyond romantic relationships.

As Pennebaker notes:

That people may enhance their romantic relationships by simply writing down their thoughts and feelings about those relationships has clear implications. The use of expressive writing as a tool for relationship enhancement could be applied to those in families, circles of friends and even work groups.”

Why does this work?

Just think about it. Writing for 20 minutes about positive feelings associated with your relationships or experiences helps you relive those experiences. Your brain literally sends you back to those moments and the emotions associated with them.

It’s like happiness time-travel – and you can do it whenever you want.

Your challenge:

Write about a positive experience in your life for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. Take a day off and repeat. Do this for two weeks and see how you feel.

3) Perform an act of kindness

Who would’ve thought that doing something nice for someone else could make you feel better?

And yes, we are being a little sarcastic …

You already know that doing nice things for other people makes you feel good.

But what you probably don’t know is that performing random acts of kindness has actually been proven to increase not only your level of happiness but also your sense of well-being.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, did a study where she instructed participants to perform five acts of kindness per week for six weeks. One group carried out the five acts in a single day, another performed them throughout the week, and another served as the control.

What she found was that the group who carried out the five acts in a single day experienced a significant increase in well-being compared to the other two groups.

She suggested that, because the acts of kindness performed were minor, when they were spread throughout the week it made them less distinguishable from the participant’s normal behavior.

Put another way, five acts of kindness spread throughout the week just didn’t make as much of an impact as when they were all performed in a single day.

Why did the first group feel so happy? Well – they felt good about themselves! And they felt like they were appreciated more and more with every act of kindness performed.

Professor Martin Seligman, often credited as the “father of positive psychology”, takes this further by saying:

“We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested … Here is the exercise: find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do tomorrow and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood.”

Your challenge:

Do as Seligman suggests and perform one random act of kindness tomorrow. Then see how you feel. Take this one step further by performing five acts of kindness in a single day once a week for the next two weeks. This should significantly increase your sense of well-being.

4) Meditate for two minutes

The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits.

You may have heard that meditation can:

  • Reduce stress
  • Control anxiety
  • Promote emotional health
  • Enhance self-awareness
  • Improve memory
  • Fight addiction
  • And much, much more.

But are you aware that meditation can actually change your brain?

A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation. What they found was that, after the course, parts of the participant’s brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grew while parts associated with stress shrank.

Another study on the effects of kindness-based meditation (KBM), which includes techniques such as loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation, showed evidence of decreasing self-reported depression and increasing mindfulness, compassion, and self-compassion. It also showed an increase in positive emotions and sense of well-being.

Pretty powerful stuff – and it doesn’t take much time to observe those benefits.

Although it’s suggested that 5 – 10 minutes per day is optimal to begin witnessing an increased sense of well-being, something as little as 2 minutes per day is perfect to get you started. You can increase your time per day as you get more comfortable with the practice.

Your challenge:

Meditate for two minutes per day for the next two weeks. There are thousands of resources online to help get you started. Just look for guides on “How to Meditate” and follow the instructions. If you’re up for the challenge, increase the amount of time you spend per day meditating and see how you feel.

5) Write Five Gratitudes

Would you agree that being happy with simple things makes it simple to be happy?

Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough seem to think so.

In a study they performed in 2003, they asked three groups of students to write down five gratitudes, five hassles, or five events that occurred during the past week.

Can you guess what happened?

The group that wrote down five gratitudes were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, and, surprisingly, were even physically healthier!

Other benefits reported included higher levels of enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and even a higher likelihood that participants would make progress toward important personal goals.

All from something as simple as reflecting on the pleasure of seeing the sunset through the clouds.

Why does this work?

Just think about it. When you reflect on all the good things in your life – your family, your friends, your home, your accomplishments – you focus your attention on stuff that fills your heart with love and joy. Heck, even thinking about a sunset or the cute kittens you got to play with can take you to a warm and loving place.

There’s SO much to be grateful for – and the more you practice, the more you’ll find blessings in every moment that passes.

Your challenge:

At the end of each week for the next two weeks, write down five things you’re grateful for. It could be about the love you have for your family, your excitement about connecting with an old friend, or even something as simple as watching a bird fly high in a bright blue sky. Whatever it is, just be sure to tap into feelings of love and joy as you reflect on them. When you’re done, make note of how you feel.

It’s not a promise … it’s science!

The battle to be happy doesn’t always seem like an easy one.

We’ve all been there.

You’re up one moment and the next you’re down. Your efforts are thwarted at every turn with new challenges, obstacles, and problems that present themselves daily. You hold on as tight as you can to something good in fear that you’ll lose that feeling forever.

But, as we’ve outlined in this article, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We’re not claiming these methods can remove negative emotions from your life for good. But with research to back it up, we’ve shown how you can train your brain to be happier and increase your overall sense of well-being.

The “how to be happy” recap:

  • Take three walks
  • Write for 20 minutes
  • Perform an act of kindness
  • Meditate for two minutes
  • Write five gratitudes

Pick any of these five methods and practice them for the next two weeks. If you do, you’ll begin to see that happiness isn’t as elusive as you once thought it could be.

The rest is up to you. Which one will you try first?

Written by Daniel P. Donovan