People love quick results. From working out to enjoying our life more, we want to see improvement fast. It’s a very human wish, but unfortunately, getting results usually takes time, and that’s just the way it is. Or is it?
Being happier doesn’t have to take years of hard work. While serious commitment to living a better, happier and more fulfilled life will undoubtedly yield more lasting results, there are some simple things you can do to increase your happiness right away. Of course, with quick fixes, your happiness level won’t go from 0 to 100 in an instant, but even simple changes can improve your wellbeing over time.
In this article, I’ll take a look at some simple, science-based changes you can make in your life that will instantly make you happier.
- Can simple positive changes in life result in happiness
- Positive changes in life that you can apply today
- Closing words
Can simple positive changes in life result in happiness
Most people want to be happy and most people want to be happy now. Although we’re willing to sacrifice some of our current happiness for the promise of greater happiness later on, we still seek out ways to feel happy in the moment, too.
For example, you might be willing to work at a job that doesn’t satisfy you emotionally, if it pays enough to save up for the big things that will make you happy, like the possibility to focus on your creative pursuits. But even then, you’re probably spending time and money on the little things that boost your mood.
This is completely fine and human. While some people might say that delayed gratification is the key to being motivated, it’s also important to feel happy here and now.
Are positive changes in life effective in creating happiness?
But do the positive feelings you can gain from a good cup of coffee or a nice day off really constitute happiness?
In positive psychology, happiness is considered a state, not a trait. This means that our happiness levels are constantly changing depending on what’s going on in our lives.
Conceptualizing happiness as a state also means that:
- We are in charge of our happiness, and...
- Happiness can be instant if you know the right recipe.
Of course, there are certain things that are sure to lower your happiness level and that you have little control over. Sometimes, life can hit you with the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, and there’s little you can do about it. It’s completely normal to feel less than happy in those times, but even then, moving on and rebuilding after a loss is something you have control over.
Another great definition of happiness that supports the idea of instant happiness comes from professor Tal Ben-Shahar, according to whom happiness is “the overall feeling of pleasure and meaning.”
While finding meaning in life is probably a more long-term project, pleasure can be found in simple things, like the aforementioned cup of coffee or a relaxing day off. And so, happiness can really be that easy.
Positive changes in life that you can apply today
A few years ago I happened upon a book that has helped me immensely in both my personal and professional life. The Upward Spiral by Dr. Alex Korb is meant for people struggling with depression. I have tried Dr. Korb’s tips and recommended them to countless students and clients. While they haven’t worked for everyone, they have worked for most people.
Clinical depression is just the extreme version of some very human feelings and experiences (I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t been exhausted or felt hopeless and apathetic at some point in their lives). This means that the same tips that help some people fight depression, can also help the rest of us increase our happiness levels.
There are two reasons why Dr. Korb’s tips are so effective:
- They are based on neuroscience and take advantage of the brain’s quirks.
- They really are that simple.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend you read the book itself, but if you’re short on time and want to try boosting your happiness in the next few minutes, here are my favorite tips from The Upward Spiral.
1. Make up your mind
Uncertainty makes us stressed, anxious and unhappy. Certainty makes us relaxed and content.
So if you’re agonizing over a decision and worrying if you’ll make the right one, focus on just making the decision. You’ll find out whether it was the right one later, but in the moment, just making up your mind can boost positive emotions and calm you down.
There is another reason why you shouldn’t worry too much about making the right decision. As Dr. Korb puts it:
We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.
Whatever the decision, you’ll probably be content with it, because it’s your decision. In order to protect your self-esteem and well-being, your brain will come up with all sorts of reasons why your decision was the right one, even if someone else may claim otherwise.
So whether you’re trying to decide which camera to buy or where you should go on vacation this year, just make the choice. Pick the option that sounds the best to you now and go with it.
2. Get into physical contact with others
If you’re not a hugger, this will probably sound like a nightmare to you. And I get it, I’m only physically affectionate with people I’m very close to.
For example, celebrating my birthday at work made me extremely uncomfortable, because most people wanted to hug me and I was too polite to say no. On the other hand, cuddling with my partner or letting my young relatives use me as a human bean bag actually feels really nice.
Physical touch releases a neurotransmitter and hormone called oxytocin, which can reduce fear, increase trust between people, and have an antidepressant-like effect.
3. Get a massage!
If hugging is really not your thing, go get a massage. In addition to increased oxytocin release, massages can increase serotonin, another mood-boosting neurotransmitter, and lower stress hormone levels.
Getting a professional massage is also a great way to treat or reward yourself, which will also boost your mood. Depending on where you live and what kind of massage you are going for, it can be an extravagance and may cost a little. However, the benefits are undeniable and it's definitely a simple and easy way to add some positivity to your life. If you've never done it before, why not try something new today?
And if going to a professional is out of the question, ask your partner or a friend to help you out - but don’t forget to return the favor!
4. Be grateful
According to Dr. Korb, the most important question you can ask yourself is this one:
What am I grateful for?
It’s natural that there are days when everything seems to be going wrong. Maybe you missed the bus in the morning, were late to work, spilled coffee on yourself, lost your favorite pen, and over the course of the day, all those small things add up.
Days like those are the perfect time to ask yourself what are you grateful for.
Not only does this question make you notice the good things in life, but feelings of gratitude also release the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for mood regulation.
To reap even more benefits, why not try to maintain a gratitude journal?
5. Get moving, even if just for a moment
In an article about the benefits of exercise, I used the iconic Elle Woods quote from Legally Blonde:
Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.
I stand by that quote, and so does neuroscience. According to some findings, you don’t even have to do vigorous exercise to reap the benefits, just standing up and moving around is enough. As Dr. Korb writes in The Upward Spiral:
Notably, increased serotonin occurs with any movement, not just formal exercise, meaning that even vacuuming, gardening, or walking to a faraway parking spot will benefit your brain.
Sometimes, during a busy workday, a stretch can be all you have time for. If that’s the case, go for it, because stretching out your tight muscles can reduce stress and give you just enough of a boost to get you through the day.
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Happiness is not necessarily just a reward after years and years of hard work. It can also be the response to a simple activity that exploits our brain’s quirks and shortcuts. While working towards a long-term goal and making sacrifices to your emotional well-being is commendable, humans love instant gratification and we all deserve to enjoy the little things in life. Instead of 10 years, you can feel happier in 10 minutes, so go ahead and give it a try!
Do you want to share your own positive change that you applied in your life? Did I miss an awesome tip that you used to be happier in an instance? I'd love to hear in the comments below!