In the FI community, we are constantly looking for ways to optimize and make changes for the better. It's a given that most of our community members are constantly finding life hacks to improve life, to be happier, healthier, and more in tune with what matters most.
If you’re looking for ideas to be happier now, we have some life hacks you can experiment with to help move the needle for your personal satisfaction to live a more well-rounded life!
Watch Your Mind
Mindset is crucial to getting happy and staying happy. What you put in your mind and who you surround yourself with is critical for maintaining and improving your happiness.
In order to be happy today, it’s a good idea to take a step back and to reflect on your current mindset and outlook. In particular, there are three strategies you can utilize to enhance your current mindset.
Hang Out With Happy People
As it turns out, our brains are literally stimulated by happy people. According to researchers from Harvard and California University, everyday interactions with other people are contagious in terms of their impact on our happiness. Check out the research here.
When someone becomes happy, a nearby friend has a 25% chance of also becoming happy. Spouses have an 8% chance of catching the happiness bug, and, surprisingly, next-door neighbors have a 34% chance at increased happiness. To increase your happiness today, seek out happy friends and environments. Find other people who are excited to take on the challenges each day has to offer.
Additionally, if your current environment drags you down, don’t settle.
At the end of the day, spending time with like-minded, happy people will help set a foundation for your own happiness. Plus, if you can use your own happiness to improve the moods of your immediate social circle, you can create a ripple effect of happiness and make your life that much brighter.
It’s common to give thanks during the holidays or major life events and milestones. However, according to researchers at Berkeley, the act of practicing regular gratitude significantly improves our mental health and happiness. Here's that research if you want to learn more.
In the study, participants who wrote gratitude letters experienced better overall mental health for 4-12 weeks following their writing. Additional research also shows that people who make an effort to count their blessings are generally happier and less depressed than others. Plus, the positive impact of practicing gratitude could be seen in the participant’s neural activity up to three months later! Here's more about that.
If you want to become happier today, start a gratitude journal. Record the life events, big or small, that you are grateful for. You don’t need to write anything extensive. Rather, just get in the habit of jotting down a few reflections at night or during a pause in the day. Here are some tips for keeping a gratitude journal.
As long as you are mindful in your reflections, even writing once a week will increase your overall happiness.
You should also make a consistent effort to appreciate the people around you. The positive implications of gratitude on mental health are considerable, but only if you keep up with being grateful. Additionally, if you are going through a tough period in life, taking time to be grateful and positive is critical for healing. Here's an article from Harvard that goes deeper into this concept.
Sometimes, the key to being happier stems from how you mentally frame the world around you.
We’ve all heard the age-old expression ‘the glass is half-full or half-empty.’ This saying is simple, but it reflects an absolute truth regarding the two choices we have for our outlook on life. Plus, according to researchers at USC, reframing thinking to be more positive plays a massive role in our happiness.
In particular, remaining optimistic in our self-talk or internal criticisms is important. Researchers concluded that “when our automatic self-talk is optimistic (positive, complementary, and kind) we generally have good self-esteem, a healthy self-image and we deal well with criticism, setback or disaster.”
Be mindful of negative thought cycles that trigger a pessimistic outlook. This can nip a bad mood in the bud before it blossoms to consume your entire day. Yes, there will still be bad days. But by putting your thoughts and energy into happiness, you can begin to increase your happiness almost immediately. Here are three techniques the Army uses to instill mental toughness. If these can help the Army get through a bad day, they can certainly help you.
Stick to a growth mindset and one that cultivates positivity despite the circumstances. This will help to keep the lows from being lower and the highs a bit more regular! Here are 11 ways to increase your positive thinking from Psychology Today.
Related: Frugality Without Deprivation
Meditate For Happiness
If you haven’t given meditation a try, maybe it’s time to listen to all of the hype! Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, lessen workplace burnout, and potentially increase pain tolerance. So, while it may give you a feeling of well being, it has science behind it for all the other benefits as well!
Research also suggests that meditation actually changes how our brains function, especially if we are depressed. Here's an article from Harvard about how meditation changes the brain in depressed patients.
In this study, subjects who learned to meditate showed unique changes in brain activity compared to patients who did not meditate. These changes even occurred in later trials when subjects were preoccupied with completing everyday tasks. The fact that neural activity actually changed and that meditation was not always required to stimulate this change is a testament to how powerful meditation is.
The impact of mediation on happiness continues to be explored. However, it is clear that deep reflection and mindful meditation have a variety of benefits and can make us happier for extended periods of time.
Fit Meditation Into Daily Routines
Meditation can also be done in just a few minutes a day. It is no longer relegated to those days when you have a spare hour to invest in quiet mindfulness. Most of us struggle to find even two minutes of peace, but fortunately, that’s all it takes.
Apps like Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace can provide a variety of white noise functions (from beach waves to wind chimes) to help you zone out. Many apps even offer guided meditation to help you guide your breathing and thoughts, and get used to tuning out the world and tuning in to your being.
Wind down before bed with a quick session of meditation. Alternatively, you can set your alarm clock a mere five minutes earlier than normal and begin each morning with several minutes of mindfulness.
Invest In The Bliss Of Sleep
Sleep has been shown to improve concentration and memory, strengthen the immune system, and boost your mood–warding off depression. But so many of us are consistently sleep deprived. We don't realize that even an extra hour a night could help us be healthier and happier. Increasing sleep just even a few nights a week or by taking naps if we need to has many benefits. Best of all, it’s free!
Here are the results of a study done by the American Psychological Association about how “sleep debt” affects our well-being.
Have trouble getting to sleep? Setting night time and morning time routines can help you wind down and wake up being refreshed. Having wind-down routines like using a lavender bed spray and making an herbal tea to unwind with; plus pre-setting your coffee for the morning can be simple changes. But those little things pay off big and ensure you’re getting a good snooze instead of hitting the snooze!
Avoiding electronic device use in bed is also recommended. Give yourself some time before bed without the blue light from your tablet or phone. According to the Sleep Foundation, it affects the levels of melatonin, the length of time before getting to REM sleep, and even the body's natural clock. If you really want to take it up a notch, you can go into your phone's settings and turn off the blue light altogether.
Sleep has big payoffs for our happiness, but it’s often the first thing to get sacrificed when life gets hectic. If you want to be happy, try making tweaks to get more sleep!
Try Hobbies That Don't Involve A Screen
I love technology and using the internet as much as anybody. However, if you find yourself feeling tired, unhappy, or unfulfilled, it may be a good idea to swap screen time for another hobby.
Take social media as an example. Data shows that U.S. adults are already spending nearly two hours a day on social media platforms, and this certainly has health implications. (Here's that data.)
Social media is great! It’s likely how you found ChooseFI (yay!) and also helps you keep in touch with what’s going on with the world. But it can also be a massive source of anxiety and has been linked to low self-esteem with higher usage. Here's an article from Forbes that shows it's the “social comparison” that we do on social media that is damaging to our happiness.
Social media has a place, but it often is a distraction that keeps us up at night. Mindlessly scrolling on Facebook instead of winding down just keeps us from taking care of ourselves. (And we just talked about how important sleep is!) If it's the first thing we check in the morning, there can be undue pressure the rest of the day for that “Instagram” perfect moment. This can be a real bummer of a habit to maintain when you want to be happier.
Taking regular breaks from social media or technology, in general, can be a needed reprieve from the constant stimulus and comparison. Whether you have a nightly log off time or simply shut things down for weekends–regular breaks are important. An occasional electronic fast is important for us to stay sane, and happier overall.
This year–make it a point to reduce technology usage at planned intervals. Maybe just a day the first time, and then a week… even a month at a time, and see how it feels emotionally and what time it frees up for you! Pick up a new hobby, or that book you’ve been meaning to read and leave your smartphone and Netflix account alone for the night.
You know that exercise is important. I won’t waste your time by pleading the case for you to get on a treadmill. What studies have shown though, is that even taking regular dance breaks, a daily walk (much like the Japanese concept of “forest bathing ”) outdoors, or even doing the horizontal tango with your significant other (yes, I went there!), can make you happier.
Yes, hitting up CrossFit is great–but there are huge payoffs with all sorts of movements and activities, even as simple as a stroll around the block. Getting outside is proven to make you happier, no matter how you do it.
If you can’t invest in a full gym routine, don’t lose hope–but do get moving however you can. Spending time in nature, in the sheets, on the dance floor, or even doing quick stretches to a YouTube video can be a great way to get mood-boosting benefits.
Again, you don’t have to start running marathons or going on six hour weekend bike rides. Research has proven that spending just 120 minutes a week outdoors is associated with good health and well being. Take a lunchtime walk, or skip driving once in a while and get some steps in! You’ll be happier and healthier for your efforts.
Related: Frugal Fitness Hacks
Focus On Nutrition
Maintaining a balanced diet is important for maintaining overall health and reducing the risk of certain diseases. But, did you know that making healthy food choices can also have positive mental health benefits?
Research shows that “healthy food choices such as eating fruits and vegetables have not only physical but also mental health benefits and might be a long-term investment in future well-being.” In other words, that broccoli on your plate is doing a whole lot more for your body and brain than just providing essential vitamins and minerals!
Eating unhealthy food or having cheat meals is fine. After all, the key here is to strike a balanced diet.
But, if you are wondering how to be happier, the secret might start with in the kitchen. Cook healthy, nutritious recipes, and treat your body like a temple. Food is fuel at the end of the day, and the quality of what goes into your body impacts your entire life.
The concept of self-care truly ties into the entire idea of focusing on becoming happier. After all, if you don’t take time to feel good, how can you expect to perform well or enjoy day-to-day life?
There are foundational elements of self care that we’ve already touched upon. Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating right, and limiting stress are imperative for overall well being. However, don’t be afraid to go beyond the basics.
Take time out of your busy work week to enjoy activities that matter to you. Simple activities such as taking a bath or doing something purely by yourself in order to be alone with your thoughts is important. Get a massage, go to a yoga class, or simply get outdoors and spend time to focus on yourself. These activities don’t have to break the bank. As long as you remember to spend some time on your own happiness, you’ll be better off.
Tackle Your Gators, Stop Chasing Kittens
Happiness is dynamic. There will be times it’s important to add new habits or routines to your life. And other times where it’s more impactful to reduce stress for more emotional benefits.
While you can focus on adding new habits The Happy Philosopher shared an excellent analogy of “gators and kittens” for cultivating more happiness in our lives. While most of us work on accumulating more things that are warm, fuzzy, distracting and fun–in his analogy–kittens; we could benefit just as much as reducing the number of gators in our lives, A.K.A. stressors.
In our consumerist culture, we’re told to buy more things that will magically unlock happiness. When really, we would be happier with fewer things altogether. Fewer toys and more margin in our lives. Maybe a shorter commute or a less stressful job in exchange for more time. Luckily most of us on the path to FI know that new toys won’t make us happy, but can still benefit from getting rid of a few gators before we reach our FI number!
There’s a saying from the famous author Mark Twain that I absolutely love. It goes: “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Now, in developed countries, many of us are fortunate to have our bases covered. With a roof over our head, a safe neighborhood, and food on the table, it sometimes seems bizarre that happiness can even be in question.
However, according to Maslow, one of the most famous psychologists who ever lived, humans are pretty complicated. In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow outlines five tiers of human needs based on motivational theory. Maslow theorizes that we must meet these needs in order to feel fulfilled.
The first four needs are deficiency needs. This means that a lack of these elements motivates us to acquire them. In other words, if we lack food, shelter, or a sense of community and esteem, we will strive to obtain them before considering anything else.
However, once the four bases are met, we reach the need for self-actualization. This is a growing need, unlike the prior four needs. Self-actualization is also what allows us to feel fulfilled and to discover the ‘why' factor of why we are on this earth.
Hone A Skill
Learning a new skill is an excellent way to keep your mind sharp. It can also be incredibly rewarding and help to provide purpose and direction.
Strive to learn a new skill or master an existing skill that brings you fulfillment. Learn to play that guitar that’s been collecting dust in your storage closet. Pick up that paintbrush, or that pen, and spend time working on passion projects that bring you joy.
You don’t have to become the best in the world at your chosen skill. The very act of diligently practicing and improving is enough to provide a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, which is absolutely critical for a higher level of happiness.
Start A Side Hustle
Learning a new skill can help set us down a path towards self-actualization. Similarly, starting a side hustle or business venture can also provide individuals with a self of accomplishment and fulfillment.
Ultimately, it pays to spend time doing the things that interest and challenge you. If your 9 to 5 job feels mundane, a side hustle may provide an outlet to funnel your entrepreneurial drive while you seek a more rewarding job or position. Alongside improving your financial health, you may also find that your mood and drive improvement as well.
Again, the idea isn't to start a multi-million dollar company or revolutionize your life. You will feel happier and find greater purpose if you apply yourself to new challenges, and this is what counts. Besides, you never know where a new hobby or business venture will take you, so there is little harm in trying something new!
According to researchers at the Greater Good Science Center, being generous is a surefire way to feel happier.
In this study, it was shown that “beyond making people feel rewarded and increasing their chance of landing a mate, generosity seems to provide many other positive benefits for the giver. Studies suggest that these benefits include better physical and psychological health.”
You also don’t have to be wealthy to be generous. Take time to volunteer, or help friends and family with something they are struggling with. Invite friends over for a meal, or make a small gesture to improve someone’s day. By taking time out of your day to improve the world around you, you can increase your own happiness and truly make a positive impact.
Practice Happiness–Final Thoughts
Happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a practice. Regularly surrounding yourself with people, books, and habits that put you in a positive mindset is a great skill to cultivate and maintain.
While it’d be easier to simply work on happiness once a year and be done with it, as famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar notably stated, “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing–that's why we recommend it daily.” The same can be said for happiness. Seeing the importance of fine-tuning and habit tweaking along the way leads to some wonderful gains along the way!
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