The mystery of happiness has intrigued humans for hundreds of years. Now, in the age of clickbait, keyboard psychologists and social media sermonisers, there’s never been more information on how to be happy: eat vitamins, ditch videogames, meditate every day, take up chanting, take up yoga, recite ‘I am the architect of my life and my soul is tranquil’ 10 times a day, get more sleep, get better sleep, get less sleep but on different schedule, live only on kale for a fortnight then hose yourself down in ice water and sacrifice your unnecessary possessions and your firstborn to Marie Kondo.
Thankfully, scientists are almost as preoccupied with the source of happiness as the daily-affirmation-warriors, and they’ve tested out more theories of happiness than you can shake an incense stick at.
So what really works?
Actually, affirmations do
You don’t have to repeat a string of self-aggrandising phrases in your bathroom mirror around a mouthful of toothpaste every morning, but quietly affirming your own positive traits can help you feel more confident, relieve stress and boost your problem-solving abilities.
Cutting the commute
Longer commutes are consistently tied to lower levels of wellbeing. If you’re a habitual road rager, you might not find this all that surprising, but even those who travel relatively peacefully to work are affected. It's estimated that a commute of just 23 minutes one-way (around the UK average) is so detrimental to wellbeing that it would take a pay rise of 20% to compensate for it.
We spend so much time thinking about the mistakes of the past and the plans of the future that we often forget to notice the things that are great right now. Setting aside a little time once a week to write down 5 things you’re thankful for can make you significantly happier, whether it’s your talent for crochet, your career as a flautist, or the macaroni recipe that just keeps giving.
Bringing jumping jacks back
Working out makes you feel better about your body even before you see the physical changes, and it has powerful abilities to lift your mood. It releases important chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and endocannabinoids that are partly responsible for your sense of wellbeing and can even reduce pain. It’s often recommended for sufferers of depression as a replacement for, or supplement to, SSRIs.
Turns out our brains don’t distinguish much between physical warmth and mental warmth. Participants in one study were significantly kinder, more generous and more satisfied when their hands were warmed up. Time to turn up the heat. Or move to the Bahamas. Totally up to you.
Today is International Day of Happiness, so it’s the perfect time to put some effort into your own wellbeing. If all else fails, just remember that you are the yoga teacher of your life and that your kale is tranquil. Or something.
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