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5 Ways To Increase Happiness (With Scientific Evidence)

5 Ways To Increase Happiness (With Scientific Evidence)

Happiness doesn’t just happen. At least, not for most of us anyway. Sure, some people seem to always be on cloud nine, but that’s not the case for many out there. Depression and anxiety are rising rapidly, with those needing and seeking treatment becoming younger and younger. According to statistics gathered by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), antidepressants were the most prescribed drug among 18-44 year olds from 2005-2008. A past president of the American Psychological Association even said this about depression:

“We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between 10 and 20 times as much of it as there was 50 years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression 30 years ago … the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5 … Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”- Dr. Martin Seligman

With such an epidemic sweeping our society, we need all the happiness in our lives we can get. However, we can’t just sit around all day waiting and hoping to feel good. We have to take action and need to create happiness ourselves.

UCLA psychology researcher, Alex Korb, has found that there are 5 hacks you can start doing right now to increase your happiness.

Stand Tall, Smile Wide and Open Your Eyes

It turns out that your posture and facial expressions have a profound effect on your happiness levels. Slumped over, with a frown on your face is a sure fire recipe for feeling down. When in doubt stand up straight and SMILE – even when you don’t feel like smiling at all. Not only will you trick your brain into thinking all is right with the world, but you’ll also be more attractive – that alone should make you happier. As the old saying goes, “Fake it until you make it.”

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“That’s part of the ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy because when your brain senses, ‘Oh, I’m frowning,’ then it assumes, ‘Oh, I must not be feeling positive emotions.’ Whereas when it notices you flexing those muscles on the side of the mouth it thinks, ‘I must be smiling. Oh, we must be happy.’ When you start to change the emotions that you’re showing on your face, that changes how your brain interprets a lot of ambiguous stimuli” – Alex Korb

Dr. Korb also recommends wearing sunglasses. Not only because they look cool, but because you also wont squint. Squinting forces the corrugator supercilii muscle to fire. When that muscle fires you squint and the brain interprets this as you being worried. So, wear the shades and you’ll help short circuit the squint-worried feedback loop.

Wake up Refreshed

If you’re going to be happy you MUST get a good night’s sleep. However, too many people are not getting nearly enough sleep to actually refresh and rejuvenate the body and the brain.

“Very few Americans regularly obtain the eight or more hours of sleep that almost all adults need each night.” – American Psychological Association

Sleep and depression are closely linked. Which one comes first? Sleep issues or depression? It seems to be a chicken and the egg scenario.

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 “Depression causes sleep problems, but sleep problems are also more likely to lead to depression.” – Alex Korb

You may be wondering what are some things we can do to actually sleep better tonight?

Go to bed at the same time each night, begin a nighttime ritual, sleep in a completely dark room, and turn off the smart phone, tablet, computer, as well as the TV too. The blue light from those devices plays havoc with our natural sleep cycles.

“Participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep [the phase when we dream] and had higher alertness before bedtime [than those people who read printed books]. We also found that after an eight-hour sleep episode, those who read on the light-emitting device were sleepier and took longer to wake up.”- Anne-Marie Chang

Focus on Your Long-Term Goals

If (or more likely when) you feel overwhelmed, don’t focus on the here and now. Take a minute and remind yourself of your long-term goals. Reframing the focus from the challenges and struggles of right now to the eventual payoff you’re working towards can reframe the situation in your brain and make you happier. Just the feeling that you’re in control of the situation, and working towards your goals, is all it takes for the body to release dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) and begin the shift into a happier state.

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Build Good Habits…

…or you’ll just end up stressed out and less happy because you screwed up, or didn’t move yourself towards your long-term goals. Now you feel bad about your choices and ultimately your self.

Lets face it, we don’t always “do the right thing.” How often do we start a diet, know we should order the salad, and opt for the cheeseburger instead? More than we should – I know. One of the keys to increasing happiness is to build good habits and strengthen the good ones you’ve already got. By doing this, you’re going to make more choices that are in line with your long-term goals and strengthen your sense of belief in the control you have over those outcomes. As we learned earlier, focusing on your long-term goals is one way to quickly increase happiness.

Your brain has three regions that interact to build habits: the Prefrontal Cortex (which is focused on things like long-term goals), the Dorsal Striatum (which tries to get you to repeat the actions you’re used to doing), and the Nucleus Accubens (the trouble maker, that just wants you to do what feels good in the moment).

The key to building good habits, and being happy with your decisions, is to listen to the Prefrontal Cortex most often. This means limiting stress in your life. Doing so keeps the Nucleus Accubens muted and Prefrontal Cortex in control of the decisions your making, the actions you’re taking, and (ultimately) the habits you’re building.

“When the Prefrontal Cortex is taken offline by stress we end up doing things that are immediately pleasurable.” – Alex Korb

The easiest way to keep the Prefrontal Cortex online, and make the best decisions is to take one small step towards your goal – no matter how small.

“Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself, ‘What’s one little thing that I could do now that would move me toward this goal I’m trying to accomplish?’ Taking one small step toward it can make it start to feel more manageable.”- Alex Korb

What Songs Remind You Of Happy Times?

Put them on and crank them up!

Playing music from the happiest times of your life reminds you of those places and how you felt when you experienced them. Music from happy times literally transports your brain to that time and place.

“Let’s say college was the happiest time of your life. If you start listening to the music that you were listening to at that time, it can help you feel more connected to that happier time in your life and makes it more present.” – Alex Korb

Conclusion

The pace of modern lifestyle is frantic. With so many stressors awaiting us, it’s easy to understand why so many are depressed, anxious, stressed out, and just plain blue all of the time. However, happiness doesn’t have to be this elusive thing that is outside your reach. With breakthroughs in neuroscience like those mentioned in this article, we’re learning we can have a profound affect on our happiness. Just by implementing simple strategies (like those highlighted here), we can lead happier and more enjoyable lives.

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Last Updated on May 28, 2020

10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

Are you stressed out and overwhelmed, wishing you had more time to do the things that really matter? Are you ready to do something better, something special in your life or your career?

You were born with a gift that no one else in the world can express like you. When you dance to your own music, you naturally develop your innate abilities and excel in work and life. You are a total rock star. But when you live someone else’s idea of who you should be, it throws off your groove.

Many people—maybe you—stopped following their dreams way too early in life because their talents were ignored, minimized, or shamed. They didn’t have the chops to win an American Idol competition or nab an Olympic gold medal, so they stopped expressing their inborn gifts altogether.

You don’t need to be an award winner to rock your life. Living your dream life is about discovering your superpowers and feeling vibrant and joyful when you use them. It’s about owning what makes you unique and finding like-minded people to support you.

Here are 10 success principles to help you live a rich and rewarding life on your terms that have worked with thousands of people in my workshops and will work for you, too.

1. Get a Hobby to Move Closer to Your Dreams

If you never became a professional dancer or a world-renowned author, it does NOT mean you should stop dancing or writing! These activities make you come alive, even if you “only” do them as favorite pastimes.

Engaging in a hobby is one of the most important success principles you can follow to move closer to your dreams.

When you try something creative for the first time or in a long while, you begin to see opportunities at work and in life that you were unaware of before. You also feel happier and more energized, according to a recent study from New Zealand.[1]

Some of my most burned-out executive clients reinvigorated their careers by discovering a creative outlet that refueled them after the workday ended. Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress and helps you succeed at work.[2]

So, give yourself permission to try new things and revisit old passions you gave up long ago. Setting aside just one hour a week for personal exploration can significantly change your life.

Who knows? Your creative outlet could transform into a thriving business or lead to a new profession down the road.

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2. Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Did you know that you are more likely to succeed when you develop your natural strengths rather than work on your weaknesses? The problem is that you probably don’t know where your true talents lie.

Here are a few options to help you discover your unique strengths. You can:

  • Take the VIA Character Strengths Survey[3]
  • Try Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment[4]
  • Answer a few Superpower Questions

Once you understand what makes you tick, you can use these skills at work and your personal life to get more done in less time. If you boost your unique abilities through practice and study, you can accelerate your career and become a leader in a field that matters to you. It’s worth investing in yourself this way.

3. Jumping off a Cliff is NOT Required

Here’s the deal: most people are too afraid to change. When participants first come to my workshops, they tell me they have mouths to feed, bills to pay, and fear that if they follow their dreams, someone will get hurt.

The old saying “leap and the net shall appear” does not comfort them. Because they are hesitant to plunge into the unknown, they believe their only option is to stay put where they are in life. Can you relate?

You do not have to sacrifice the life you have now to start a new one. I was a psychology professor by day and singer by night for years before I transitioned into a full-time music career.

Just take a little time out each week to do what enlivens you through a hobby, volunteer work, etc. Get a feel for it.

Is it what you really want? If so, increase the time you spend doing it and make the transition when the time feels right.

4. Give Your Inner Critic Some Love

The main culprit that keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone and getting the life of your dreams is KCRP or K-CRAP – the radio station that plays 24/7 in your head. The moment you try to do something interesting with your life it slaps you down with such chart-topping killer hooks as “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ll never be good enough!”.

Have you ever noticed that KCRP’s mean-spirited DJ sounds like your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who shut you down creatively? These folks don’t need to stifle you any longer (although they often still do) because your inner critic does it for them. That keeps you stuck in a rut.

To break free, try thinking of this DJ as a gruff old grandfather who gives you crap to keep you safe. Remember, this grumpy grandpa is woefully out of touch with the times. So, his stern opinions don’t really matter much, do they? Give him a pat on the back for his good intentions, and put your focus back on what makes you come alive.

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This success principle will give you the courage to venture into the unknown where you can dance to the beat of your own drummer.

5. Embrace Your Inner Weirdo

Many of us don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid folks will find out how odd or strange we are. But our little eccentricities often turn out to be our greatest strengths. Yes, it’s good to be quirky.

Odds are, you lost track of your true passions and talents before you were even old enough to know you were getting off-track. You became slowly “adulterated” by learning to:

  • Take on family roles that don’t match who you really are.
  • Spit back what teachers taught you in school rather than risk getting bad grades for being original.
  • Hide parts of yourself that don’t seem acceptable to certain social groups.

The price for fitting in is that you may wind up leading a life that doesn’t fit you all that well. Your true calling becomes clear when you embrace what makes you different from others and allow yourself to stand out from the crowd, even if it feels awkward.

Often, the very qualities you view as your flaws are your greatest gifts.

6. See the Bigger Picture to Find Your True Calling

I cannot stress the importance of this success principle enough. Your true calling is right in front of you. But you may miss it because you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

To “see” it clearly, try widening your point of view.

Case in point: Maria felt she needed to retire early from being a police detective, so she could travel abroad. I encouraged Maria to think of ways that she could continue to serve as a law enforcer (a career she loved) and travel overseas at the same time.

A few months later, Maria landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police force to understand and embrace human rights procedures.

Like Maria, you are an everyday rock star capable of accomplishing greater things than you can imagine. Is what you’re looking for right in front of you, too? Do you have an inkling of what it may be?

Look beyond your day-to-day activities, your current job, and even the town you live in. View your life from an eagle’s perspective and be open to new possibilities.

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7. Try a Little Wish-List Magic

Pretend I’m your fairy godmother and I give you permission right now to be your most magnificent self. What kind of life would be music to your ears? It doesn’t matter whether it seems unattainable or even downright crazy. Write it down on a wish list.

Get quiet. Be honest. Think big.

What would you like your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, and your spiritual life to be like? Jot down enough details so that your wishes seem tangible to you. Then, look at this list every morning before you start your day and every night before you go to sleep.

Sounds silly? It’s not. It works! Permitting yourself to daydream about a rich and fulfilling life is the first step to manifesting it.

8. Take Breaks to Get Clues About Your Ideal Future

Did you know that working straight through to a deadline leads to diminishing returns? Research shows that taking a break for 15 minutes every 75 to 90 minutes can help you recharge, refresh your focus, and get more done in less time.[5]

Wait, it gets better! A Stanford study shows that walking increases your creative output increases by 60 percent. Doing repetitive activities such as walking, running, riding your bike, swimming, and sweeping allow solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere.[6]

What does this success principle have to do with creating your dream life?

These mini-breaks allow you to get vital clues for what to do next to attain your ideal future. Plus, you won’t waste precious time and energy getting lost in other people’s agendas.

9. Take Action on Your Inspired Ideas

Once an inspired thought pops into your mind, take action.

This is one of the most powerful success principles for turning your dreams into reality; the sooner the better. Whatever it is—from calling an old friend to taking a new route home—be sure to do it!

Pay attention to your oddball hunches. You need to go after what you want, not just dream about it. As comedian Jim Carrey warns,

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“You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

10. Count Your Rockstar Moments

Still not sure you have what it takes to get your dream life? This final success principle is guaranteed to help.

Make a list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. As you read back through it, put a star next to each item, and let it sink in.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good you’ll feel about yourself afterward. You’ll also see how effective you’ve been in the past at getting what you want. You’ve succeeded before, you can succeed again.

You already rock. You just need to own it. Trust me, you’ve got this!

Final Thoughts

Eleanor Roosevelt said,

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Following these success principles will help you find the time and energy to do the things that really matter and live with clear intention.

By spending just one hour a week doing something you love, focusing on your strengths and achievements, embracing what makes you different, and acting on inspired ideas, you can create a life that is a perfect fit for you, step-by-step.

If you don’t have a clue about what your dream life could look like yet, don’t worry. Your heart knows. It has been “talking” to you for a long time. It’s just being muffled by KCRP, buried under a lot of “shoulds” and fear.

This article can also help you figure out the life you truly want to live: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up.

Stand still, get quiet, and listen. It’s constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your own rockstar potential. It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get, and the easier it will be to follow.

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Featured photo credit: Rahul Dey via unsplash.com

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