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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 December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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