Traditionally, most strategies for becoming happier that we learn about in life take a serious amount of time to implement.
It takes years of education and then hard work in order to achieve career success. It takes years of meeting people and interacting with them in order to find someone special, and to boot, not only do these strategies take a long time, but they don’t always make us that much happier (or that added happiness doesn’t last very long).
However, there are also what we might call shortcuts to happiness: actions that, if taken, can create an immediate and noticeable boost in our mood. They make us happier instantly. The problem is that many of the popular shortcuts either don’t really work that well (for example, checking your Facebook account non-stop), or they work in the short run, but create more harm than good in the long run (for example, consuming lots of alcohol).
The good news is that there are reliable shortcuts to happiness that are well-validated by psychological research and empirical data. These methods actually work and they work well for just about anybody. I’d like to share with you 4 of the top shortcuts to happiness, which you can start using as soon as you’ve finished reading this.
1. Practicing Gratitude
You will always find both happy and unhappy people living in very similar conditions. For instance, there are rich people who are happy, but there are also rich people who are unhappy. The same goes for poor people.
The main differentiating factor doesn’t seem to be the external appearance of their life, but rather their level of gratitude. Happy people are grateful for whatever they have in life, big or small, and they know to appreciate life as it is. This is what makes them feel good on a regular basis. By deliberately practicing gratitude, you can enjoy the same positive emotions and be happy with your life. This doesn’t mean that you’ll stop wanting to improve your life—it’s perfectly possible to enjoy life as it is while seeking to improve it at the same time.
How do you practice gratitude? Several times each day, look at your life and try to identify the positive things about it. As you do so, let yourself become fully aware that you might not have had those things in the first place and that it’s amazing you have them now.
Think about it: you probably have a nice place to live, a warm meal to put on the table every day, a TV. a microwave, a smartphone, many chances to travel, and a ton of social opportunities. These are things that just a century ago most folks couldn’t even imagine, or would have had to really struggle to obtain. Not to mention all the small pleasures of life: a sunshine, a warm cup of tea, a nice song and so on. That’s something to be grateful for.
2. Being Present
To be present means to have your focus oriented towards the activity you’re doing and the environment you’re in, instead of being in your head daydreaming or lost in your thoughts. It means to fully experience the moment at hand.
The interesting thing is that when we become present and we let reality flood our senses, all of a sudden we relax and we feel happy. Our problems fly away, our worries take a backseat, and we simply experience reality with delight. This is one of the many reasons why it’s worth practicing living “in the moment”.
The basic instructions for becoming present are simple: as you’re doing a certain activity, you shift your focus from internal to external; you focus your attention on the activity and the context, thus letting go of thoughts that take you away from the present moment. For instance, when you walk down the street, you may be inclined to daydream or dwell on your problems instead of being present, so this is a great time to practice this technique.
Shift your attention externally: notice the feeling of your body and of your feet touching the ground as you take each step. Notice the buildings you pass by, notice the people you pass by. Listen to the sounds around you. Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and you are now being present.
3. Helping Others
Something psychologists have known for quite a while now is that we human beings have a deep, strong desire to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We want to help the world, we want to help others, and when we do so, we feel happy.
In addition to the fact that helping somebody in itself makes us feel good, if this action is met with appreciation or kindness from that person, it will makes us feel even better. Fortunately, helping others is something that’s easily available at any time. And that makes it a viable shortcut to happiness.
Right now you can go out and buy something nice for a person in your life and then give it to them, or you can go to the website of a charity organization and make a donation to support a cause you believe in. There is no shortage of opportunities to help others, and I encourage you to take action when you can. It’s guaranteed to brighten your day, and somebody else’s as well.
4. Physical Exercise
Just about anybody who goes jogging, works out, dances, or plays any type of sports on a regular basis can tell you that these activities make them feel good. They generally feel serene, centered and content for hours after doing them. This is because all these activities are centered around physical exercise: when you exercise your body, your mind triggers the release of chemicals in your body that improve your health in the long term. These also give you an instant mood boost—endorphins, for example, are your body’s natural feel-good drug.
When you’re feeling down, one of the best things you can do is a bit of physical exercise. It will swiftly make you feel a lot better. Of course, it’s always a good idea to also identify the core causes of your negative feelings and deal with them, but that’s something that can take time. It helps a lot if you can first boost your mood quickly, so then you can analyze the problem with more lucidly and seek the best possible solution for it. This is why I encourage you to make physical exercise of whatever type you are likely to enjoy the most a part of your daily routine—the benefits are astounding.
Happiness really doesn’t have to be something you defer for years and years. You don’t need to achieve a certain lifestyle in order to be happy: that’s just a myth. You can be happy right now and enjoy every single day of your life by using simple, tried and tested strategies.
Apply the potent shortcuts to happiness I’ve talked about, and I’m certain that you’ll experience remarkable results.
Want to make life happier? Here's a related article: 25 Simple Ways to Make Your Life Happier
Featured photo credit: The young beautiful woman quickly runs on a glade of sunflower, smiles, hands are opened via Shutterstock