Happy is a very subjective state of being. Do you currently feel like your life is abundant and you are flourishing in your career and relationships? Are you satisfied with your learning, productivity and accomplishments? Few people are. Christine Carter, is a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center studied research about people’s reported levels of happiness and came up with five tips to help people feel happier.
1. Take a break
Under the burden of daily schedules and responsibilities, many people forget to play. When we were kids, we always took a midday recess, in order to recharge our batteries and burn energy. Studies have shown that people who do not set aside time to relax, breathe or engage in some enjoyable activity can develop an anxiety disorder. Every day, schedule some amount of time to do something that you genuinely enjoy. During the day, create intervals during which you relax and allow yourself to have fun. Every 60-90 minutes, treat yourself. You will be more productive when you’re rested and relaxed.
Lots of people spend the entire day on autopilot, going through the motions of their routine without thinking, making decisions or noticing the world around them. Research at Duke University found that among test subjects, 40% of their daily actions were habits, and not conscious decisions.
Despite common sense, we actually get more done when we operate on autopilot. So, start developing better habits. For example, you don’t really “decide” to comb your hair – you just do. Use this approach when it comes to other beneficial things: reading a book, spending quality time with loved ones, getting some exercise, etc.
3. Be selective
We have been trained, in modern culture, that the more we accomplish and harder we push our minds and bodies – the better people we are. However, there is a limit. You need to learn when to say “no.” We cannot reasonably imagine that we can do EVERYTHING we want and need to in the space of a day. Start doing less and not feeling guilty about it. You can decide on your daily priorities on any given day and say “no” to everything else. This will automatically eliminate a lot of the excess, time-wasting activities form your schedule.
4. Cultivate relationships
The biggest key to happiness is relationships and interaction with people – connecting. This truth can take on many forms.
Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn conducted a novel study that showed that when people were sent into a Starbucks to buy a coffee, those who were instructed have a genuine interaction with the cashier reported feeling more happy and cheerful than those who were told to make the transaction as quickly and silently as possible. A powerful way to increase your happiness is to build new relationships and strengthen the ones you already have, which might suffer from the almost inevitable effects of time and familiarity, or neglect.
5. Do more
Many times we confuse activities that make us happy with those that are just easy. Staying in bed all day instead of working or doing something pleasurable might make you feel rested but doesn’t actually make you any happier, per se.
Studies find that people report double the amount of pleasurable feeling when engaging in a hobby as opposed to when watching TV. Unfortunately, we are psychologically drawn to activities that are easy, but not necessarily happiness-inducing. Active leisure is on the one hand, more enjoyable, but almost always requires more initial effort. Engaging in things you’re good at has been shown to powerfully boost happiness. People who engage in their “signature strengths” on a daily basis report much higher levels of fulfillment. So, try pushing yourself to engage in these happiness-promoting activities.