6 Astonishingly Easy Ways to be Happier, Designed by Experts
You’re probably well aware of Google’s smashing employee benefits package, and in a moment of incredulous jealousy you might even have scoffed at the pampering. Among the boons to Googlers are: massages, a bountiful and excellent free canteen, swim-in-place pools, free haircuts, laundry services, and gym equipment—even travel insurance for you and your family.
Now, take a moment to collect your jaw from the floor and stow your snarls because, as usual, Google’s onto something.
A team of behavioral economists at Warwick Business School found that all the investments Google makes in heightening employee happiness actually pays off. Through studies involving math problems, chocolate, and comedy videos, they were able to determine that on average, happier people were 12% more productive.
Multiply 12% across an entire workforce and what you get is exponential advancement. Scale that effect solely to you and the benefits are significant, too. Happier people live longer and healthier lives, make friends more easily, and, in general, live better.
At Blinkist, we’ve read literally hundreds of great nonfiction books, which means, much as you can stumble upon happiness, we’ve stumbled upon some very sound advice as to how anyone—yep, even you—can be happier. If you’re ready to be happier and you know it, clap your hands. Or just keep reading.
1. Keep a gratitude diary to focus on the good times.
According to Fredrickson, experiencing positive emotions in day-to-day life can have a profound impact on happiness, so we should seek out ways to capture and intensify those feelings. Specifically, she advocates striving for a ratio of feeling three positive emotions for every negative one. But how can we hope to predictably and regularly achieve the “be happier” ratio? One of Frederickson’s tried-and-true methods is a gratitude diary.
Why does it work? Well, gratitude is a powerful positive emotion. If experienced frequently, even small doses of it lead to a continuous improvement in your general attitude towards life. The role of the diary is to find out which situations repeatedly make you grateful, so you can trigger more gratitude by recreating them. For example, if you find through your journalling that talking to your parents about your childhood gives you a feeling of gratitude, you can easily retrigger the same experience by calling them up.
2. Practice mindfulness—of the positive and the negative.
Frederickson also touts mindfulness as a great technique to be happier.
When you’re mindful, you’re willfully and actively perceiving everything you experience. For instance, on your way to work, you might usually let your mind wander to your troubles, like that unpaid gas bill or the stressful project you need to finish. But if you’re mindful, you can instead focus on and savor the singing birds, the spring flowers, and the sunshine, thereby giving you a happiness boost!
But the benefits of mindfulness don’t stop short at the warm and fuzzy feelings. A dose of mindfulness on negativity can do you good, too. Being mindful of negative feelings allow you to rationally examine and question them. For example, say you’ve just missed the bus and feel a pang of anger. Being mindful of your negative feelings can help you ask yourself: did I really need to get so angry at myself just because I missed the bus? Mindful reality checks like this help dissipate most negative emotions, especially our exaggerated reactions to unimportant things like that missed bus. When you consider these minor trials calmly, it’s easy to laugh them off and refocus on the positive.
To be more mindful, Frederickson recommends meditation. Even if with just a few minutes a day you’ll start to see the difference.
3. Energize yourself by getting back to the basics.
Next up for a round of advice-giving on our happiness quest: meet author and blogger, Gretchen Rubin. Rubin embarked on a year-long journey to increase her own happiness, a feat whose outcome was her bestselling book The Happiness Project.
Rubin found that the key factors to happiness were energy and vitality. Simple as it sounds, feeling physically and mentally fit is enough to significantly ratchet up happiness. And feeling energized makes us want to engage in other activities, like sports or social events, which in turn generate more moments of happiness.
But how do you generate energy, anyway? The base components are just banal enough to be overlooked: enough sleep, a balanced diet, and physical activity.
Your happiness hack: a walk. Even a mere ten-minute stroll produces an energy boost, but it’s a good idea to try for 10,000 steps every day. Consider getting yourself a pedometer like Rubin did and start keeping track of your steps. This will help you feel more active because you’re consciously energizing yourself, and as a bonus you get the thrill of fulfilling your step quota each day.
4. Be generous to your friends for twice the happiness—yours and theirs!
Friendship is an essential part of a happy life: good friends we can trust, talk to, and have fun with help us navigate every day life’s trials and tribulations with a smile.
Just as in marital relationships, a big source of happiness in friendships is generosity. During her year in the happiness lab, Rubin found that the surest way to be happy is to focus on helping others feel happier. This doesn’t mean you need to lavish your dearest with expensive gifts or trips or VIP treatments. What’s most nourishing to a friendship is helping those you hold dear to continue rising above themselves. Being there for them when they’re in need, and spending time with them will make them much happier than any earthly possession ever could. Perhaps presaging the Marie Kondo tidying craze, Rubin helped several of her friends clean out their closets and felt her happiness doubled—for her friends and for herself.
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” — Gretchen Rubin.
Trying this approach for yourself is easy and there’s really no limit to what you can do. You might choose to help a friend move house or with organizing a party. Have a skill your friend wants to learn? You could volunteer to work on it together. Whatever you choose, the experience of unstintingly giving is satisfying, both for you and your friend.
5. Don’t try to buy happiness—but do buy things that make you happy.
Happiness theorists say that buying a new car or a nice piece of clothing will only make us happy for a short time, and as soon as we’ve gotten used to the new acquisition, we’ll go back to the same level of happiness we had before.
Rubin, however, found part of the story missing here. True, the satisfaction of a buy may be short-lived, but it’s real, and always involves a positive feeling of growth.
That’s why she decided that it’d be all right for her to indulge in the occasional modest splurge as long as it provided her with some added value. During her honeymoon, for instance, she treated herself to room service for the first time ever. Another time, she shamelessly bought an expensive food processor, which she has since used to make healthy fruit shakes for herself and her family every day—giving her energy and putting her in a good mood.
The bottom line here: don’t splash out on useless junk, but don’t hesitate to buy something that you think might add real value to your life. You just might be happier for it.
6. Navigate according to a fun map.
Our final happiness hack comes from Ryan Babineaux’s and John Krumboltz’ book Fail Fast, Fail Often which deals with how fear of failure can keep us from attaining our full happiness.
They also provide a very concrete way for you to squeeze more pleasure out of your daily life: a fun map.
To make this tool sounds deceptively simple, but the logic checks out. All you need to do is literally jot down all the places you frequent and rate them by level of enjoyment you usually feel in them. Based on the results, try to avoid places where you feel the least happy, like the train or your poorly lit office. Instead, seek out activities and places you enjoy, such as parks and museums. If you walk to work, you might assess the various routes you could take to get there. Is there a particularly scenic way you often eschew because it takes five more minutes? Consider investing the extra time: if the aesthetic experience makes you happy, it’s well worth it to go a little out of your way.
Any way you choose to frame it, whether unalienable right or career booster, relationship strengthener or fountain of youth, being a little happier can only do you good. Try one of the hacks above or try them all and let us know how they worked for you, or let us know what some of your best happiness hacks are in the comments.