Happiness is an elusive thing. It sometimes feels like the harder you try to be happy, the less happy you really are. There’s lots of evidence to show that doing happy things is one of the best ways to be happy. In other words: happy is as happy does! So what can you do today to be happier tomorrow?
There are lots of different activities that can bring you happiness. Spending time in nature, exercising your creativity, and breaking a sweat are all great ways to be happier. Different past times and recreational activities can influence your happiness in different ways — by bringing you peace of mind, a boost of endorphins, or a sense of accomplishment.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the best activities for making you happier – both right away and in the long term. We’ll also look at why and how certain activities make you happier. This way, you can find out what works best for you, and take full advantage of it.
- Find happiness activities outside
- Creative happiness activities
- Physical happiness activities
- Closing words
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Find happiness activities outside
It may come as no surprise, but spending time in nature is a great way to boost your happiness. And yet, more and more of us are spending less and less time outside.
What science says about spending time outside
One study found that almost half the American population failed to enjoy recreational outdoor activities in 2018. And it’s no better for Europeans. The average time spent outdoors was found by one meta-study to be a mere 1-2 hours per day… And that’s during the summer!
One of the main reasons is that our schools, homes and places of work tend to be removed from nature, both physically and conceptually. For urban dwellers, we’re often unwilling to give up the convenience of city life just to be closer to nature. While many cities like Milan, London and Paris are trying to bring more nature into the city, the fact remains that more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban centers that struggle to bridge the gap between the city and nature.
But even for people living in rural areas, the pressures of work and school, plus more time spent on computers and smartphones, means that people everywhere spend less time outdoors. And that’s having a big effect on our health and happiness.
So what exactly are we missing out on? There are a number of ways that spending time in nature can improve your happiness. In fact, one study identified more than 20 different pathways between time spent in nature and positive effects on mental and physical health, including increased cognitive function, faster recovery from injury, and reduced stress, blood pressure and heart rate. People who spend more time in nature tend to report higher levels of happiness.
How being outside can make you happier
How can you reap all these benefits?
Well, the easiest solution is also the most obvious one – spend more time outdoors! The practice of “forest bathing”, immersing oneself in nature, has become a popular pastime for Japan’s dense urban population. As one study concluded:
The beneficial effects of nature suggest a simple, accessible and cost-effective method to improve the quality of life and health of urban residents.
Studies have also shown that the more connected you feel to nature, the more benefits you receive from being in it. So do your best to practice mindfulness when spending time outdoors. It doesn’t take much. A study by White et al found that a mere 2 hours per week is enough to see significant improvement in mood and well-being. And it doesn’t matter if it’s broken up into smaller sessions, or all at once.
Creative happiness activities
any have claimed that a tortured soul makes for profound art – but unless your goal is to be the next Van Gogh or Beethoven, creativity can be a window to profound happiness. Study after study after study has shown that being creative can increase your happiness on a day-to-day basis, and in the long-term.
Studies on creative activities and happiness
There are a number of different ways that being creative can make you happier. For example, visual creativity has been linked to mental resilience, which a previous article on Tracking Happiness demonstrated has lasting effects on your overall happiness.
But regardless of the exact reasons, the relationship seems to be one of causation, not correlation. A study by psychologist Dr. Tamlin Conner found that creativity on one day predicted happiness on the next. That is, creativity on Monday means happiness on Tuesday. Not only this, but the study found that creativity and happiness worked together to create an “upward spiral” of positive affect.
The happier participants were, the more likely they were to be creative, which in turn made them happier, etc.
Creative happiness activity ideas
There’s an almost endless range of creative activities that can bring you happiness.
- Music calms neural activity and reduces anxiety.
- Visual arts allow us to express ideas that we have difficulty expressing through words and allow us to integrate and process emotional stressors.
- Dance and physical movement improves our body image, self-awareness, and helps us to better cope with loss and illness.
- Creative writing helps us deal with anger, exercise control over pain, and help us recover from trauma.
When creative, people feel more connected to themselves and the world around them, and better able to express and understand their emotions. In other words, creativity gives us insight and appreciation.
You can be creative any way you like – and there’s no study linking aptitude to effectiveness. You can be the worst guitarist in the world, and as long as you play guitar regularly, you’ll still reap all the benefits of being creative. The possibilities are limitless, and there are lots of ways to integrate creativity into your day-to-day life.
My personal favorite creative happiness activity
Cooking is how I express creativity as often as possible. Sometimes it’s nice to follow a recipe, but more often than not, I just look at what’s in my fridge, pull out a bunch of stuff, and see what I can do with it.
Sometimes the results are fantastic! Sometimes it’s not…
But I still enjoy the process of using my hands, exercising my imagination, and tasting my creations. Find something that calms your soul, and try to do it a few times per week. If you’re not sure how to start, make a list of different things you’d like to try, and go through them one by one. (Yep, even figuring out how to be creative can be a creative process!)
Physical happiness activities
Your level of physical activity has a profound effect on your mental wellbeing and happiness. Exercise and physical activity is linked to happiness through a number of factors.
For instance, greater physical activity leads to more regular and higher quality sleep, especially during stressful periods. One meta-study of the positive effects of exercise included increased confidence and emotional stability, positive body image, improved self-control, decreased anxiety and depression, decreased feelings of hostility, and reduced abuse of harmful substances like cigarettes and alcohol.
Studies on physical happiness activities
As with creativity, the relationship is not merely correlational. Being physically active causes feelings of happiness. As the authors of one study noted:
People who were inactive were more than twice as likely to be unhappy as those who remained active [And] a change from active to inactive was associated with increased odds of becoming unhappy 2 years later.
What’s the best way to be physically active? Well, it’s pretty much up to you — although there are some guidelines. First of all, don’t overdo it. It doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of being active: just one day per week or as little as 10 minutes is enough to make you happier. But exercising too much can have negative effects on your immune system and physical health.
Besides, the relationship between positive affect (happiness) and exercise isn’t linear. Instead, it’s what’s known as an “Inverted-U” function:
Basically, there’s an optimal point at which you get the most benefit for your hard work. After that, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and you’ll get fewer benefits the more you sweat. So don’t kill yourself at the gym thinking it will keep you on cloud nine. Like all things in life, physical exercising is all about balance.
The good news is, it doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do, as long as you enjoy it!
You can run, play tennis, go swimming, skip rope, lift weights. Go for a walk in nature for a double-dose of happiness, or take up dance classes to be active and creative! Physical activity has been shown to be beneficial for children, adolescents, adults and the elderly, so it’s never too early or too late to start exercising.
Activity is the expression of the human mind in relation to its world.
- When we go for a walk in nature, we’re inviting that nature into ourselves and taking a part of it home with us.
- When we lift weights or go for a run, we’re moving the world around us and moving through the world.
- When we create art, write poetry, play the guitar, model clay or take a photograph, we absorb the world, transform a piece of it, and give it back.
To be happy, we must find activities to do – but not only for the sake of being happy. It’s important that activities bring you meaning and pleasure for their own sake. One of the goals of this article was to demonstrate the wide range of different activities that can help contribute to your happiness, so that you can find the ones that are best suited to you.
So get creative and find new ways to activate your happiness.
Academic researcher and writer with a passion for statistical analysis, neuropsychology and mental health.