Cloud 9 isn’t as far out of out of reach as you might think. We asked the experts for simple strategies to wake up with a smile each and every day.
Sure, life is filled with ups and downs. Who doesn’t feel sad, anxious or a little bit lost every now and then? But these feelings don’t define us—and they don’t define our year, our week or even our day. The ability to change our thoughts, moods and, in effect, lives lies in the power of positive thinking, so we consulted the pros about what we can do from day to day to turn that proverbial frown upside down and discover greater happiness within.
1. Take frequent breaks.
Though easy access to smartphones and computers means we can solve most conundrums with the touch of a button, many apps are highly addictive and take time away from the things that really matter, such as family, friends and complex problem-solving that leads to personal growth. “These days, tech is in charge of us; we’re not in charge of it,” says leadership coach Ellen Petry Leanse, author of The Happiness Hack. To break the cycle, take a tech timeout at the start of every day and during social interactions.
2. Interrupt adverse thought patterns.
“Negative thinking creates negative feelings,” says California-based corporate-culture consultant Larry Senn, author of The Mood Elevator. “And grateful thinking creates grateful feelings. If you can change your thoughts, you can change your life.” One easy tactic for transforming your mindset is to interrupt it. If you notice you’re bombarded by stressful thoughts, go for a walk, help someone with a problem or play with your pet and see if you feel your mood shift.
3. Stay curious.
When someone cuts you off during rush hour or a coworker argues with you during a presentation, it can suddenly seem like the world is out to get you. But feeling affronted and judgmental is a choice—and you can pick a different attitude. “Everybody is doing what makes sense to them based on their own thinking,” says Senn. “We don’t have to agree with it, but we can decide not to take it personally.” Instead, choose to be curious about the thought processes and circumstances that lead to a person’s actions, and while you’re at it, consider the underlying reasons for your reactions.
4. Build deeper in-person connections.
“The majority of the people I interact with in my work as a teacher and a coach say that the thing they want most is a sense of deeper connection,” says Leanse, who’s an instructor at California’s Stanford University. “They say things like, ‘I want to find my tribe’ or ‘I want to be with people I understand and who understand me.’ ” Building those connections is easier than you think. “It can be as simple as trying to engage with others by being curious about them and asking questions to understand more.” Try to follow this simple rule: Listen more than you talk.
5. Take care of your body.
It’s tough to have a positive mindset if you’re running on little sleep, no exercise and a steady diet of burgers and chocolate bars. “We know that when people get run down physically, they catch colds more easily,” says Senn. “When you get run down physically, you also catch moods more easily.” By ensuring that you maintain a healthy diet, engage in vigorous exercise and get adequate sleep, you’ll build resilience to life’s hardships—and you’ll probably feel better about yourself overall, which is another key component of positive thinking.
6. Make time for meditation.
Spending quiet time focusing on breathing or completing guided meditations is one way to train your reactive mentality—the one that jumps to conclusions and is quick to react—to pause before acting and can promote greater emotional intelligence and a profound sense of calm. “It’s like weight lifting for the mind,” says Leanse. But if setting aside a specific chunk of time seems impossible right now, simply try to be more mindful in your day-to-day life. “Find moments to be reflective and pay attention to the ‘now’ as you navigate everyday tasks,” says Leanse. For instance, when you wash the dishes, focus on the temperature of the water, the smell of the soap and the feel of each item in your hands.
7. Practice gratitude.
According to Senn—and a whole host of researchers—cultivating a perspective of gratitude is one of the best ways to tap into a happier life. To do so, keep a gratitude journal, take a few minutes each day to think of three things you’re grateful for or compliment other people to show appreciation. “If you want to be happier, forget the myth that achievements or acquisitions bring happiness,” says Senn. “Instead, focus on activities that will nourish gratitude for the blessings you’ve already been granted.”
8. Challenge yourself.
Guilty pleasures like watching TV or checking social media reward our brains with quick spikes of dopamine, but they don’t offer a lasting sense of satisfaction in the same way that “completing projects, being creative, learning, working on long-term goals or doing routine tasks like weeding the garden will,” says Leanse. That’s not to say we should never enjoy a mindless distraction, but completing “deep work”—the things that actually matter to us as individuals—will provide far more happiness in the long run.
9. Delay reactions.
You will have hard days. That’s a given in life. But the occasional bad day or mood can’t hurt you if you press pause on rash actions (think yelling at a loved one or sending a snooty email). “Your thinking is unreliable in the lower mood states,” says Senn, meaning that you may not be able to think clearly if you’re anxious, angry, impatient or sad. “Don’t trust your feelings during lower mood states. Instead of acting on unreliable thinking, delay important conversations and decisions.”
Acting out this personality trait makes people feel happier.
Acting like an extravert makes people feel happier — even natural introverts, research finds.
Both extraverts and introverts report greater well-being after a week spent being more talkative, assertive and spontaneous.
It is the first study to report the benefits of acting like an extravert over such an extended period.
The study also demonstrates that people who are naturally introverted can enjoy this exercise as much as extraverts.
‘Faux’ extraverts (people who are really introverts) reported no problems acting as extraverts.
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, the study’s first author, said:
“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being.”
For the study, 123 people were asked to act like extraverts for one week and introverts for another week.
During the extravert week, participants were told to be talkative, assertive and spontaneous.
During the introvert week, they were told to be more deliberate, quiet and reserved.
People were informed that acting like an introvert and like an extravert is beneficial.
This was to try and dampen the effects of participants’ expectations.
The results showed that people felt better after a week acting as an extravert and worse after the week as an introvert.
The positive effect on well-being is the largest known among happiness interventions.
Surprisingly, acting like an extravert seems to cause people’s personality to shift in that direction.
Professor Lyubomirsky said:
“It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being.
Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful.”
About the author
Psychologist Jeremy Dean, PhD, is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.
Striving for major accomplishments requires feeling satisfied along the way.
When it comes to big aspirations, it’s beneficial to reflect on the good within more minor accomplishments along the way.
Often people’s “feel better when” comes from their mind’s capacity to imagine what will happen in the future.
Know when good enough is good enough. Try not to waste energy on maximizing things that don’t matter.
We are often caught in the trap of believing that we’ll feel better at some point in the future when life circumstances change. Clients will frequently tell me (and I’ve told myself):
“I’ll feel better when…”:
I’m done with school
I find my life’s partner
I have a baby
I’m less anxious
I lose weight
This work project is done
The pandemic is over
But what happens when that future never arrives, or if it does, you’ve already moved on to the next “I’ll feel better when?”
Allison Briscoe-Smith described this striving as having a “bitter aftertaste” when I interviewed her for the From Striving to Thriving Summit. So what can we do instead?
Psychologically hydrate. When it comes to big aspirations, it’s beneficial to take in the good of more minor accomplishments along the way. Rick Hanson gave me this wise advice when discussing skillful versus stressful striving. Complete a small task and linger on the feeling of a job completed. By sticking with an experience of completion for a few moments, you can savor a feeling of satisfaction.
Take perspective on your self-story. Often our “feel better when” comes from our human mind’s amazing capacity to imagine. We compare ourselves to other people who we think have what we want. We imagine a “better version” of ourselves, a person who is thinner, smarter, more self-controlled. Be an observer of your imagination. What stories does your mind create about you and others? Are they helpful or harmful? Are there other perspectives you can consider?
Be a satisficer. Know when good enough is good enough. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, has well documented that folks who are satisfied with what they have are happier in the long run than those who keep working to maximize their options. Becoming satisficer ( may bring some discomfort and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or Fear of a Better Option (FOBO). However, FOMO and FOBO may be a good thing when it means you are no longer wasting your precious energy on maximizing things that don’t matter to you. Some have termed this JOMO! (Joy of missing out!) Pick out the good enough outfit, select the good enough restaurant, stop at the good enough work and spend your energy enjoying the life you are in!
Attend to process over outcome. Savor what it feels like to be on the journey rather than focusing on endpoints. How does moving your body feel when you exercise? What does learning and working toward mastery feel like right now? How do curiosity and perspective-taking change your experience in relationships? Focus on the bewilderment of the process. Savoring is a crucial mindset of happier people. Your life is now. Enjoy it!
Remember, you are not a self-improvement project. It hit home for me when I first heard the term “the subtle aggression of self-improvement” by meditation teacher Bob Sharples. As a therapist, I am in the business of helping people lead rich and meaningful lives, but many times I see that this becomes a business of, “there is something wrong with you to be fixed.” I’ve become wary of self-help programs that contrast you now with the future, better you. It’s a great sales tactic to improve something that is broken, and it’s a terrible way to approach being human. You may be stuck in addiction, old relationship patterns, or anxiety, but remember, you are not broken. You are whole and always have been.
Maximize where it matters. Just because you are attending to the process, accepting yourself as you are, and allowing for good enough, it does not mean you should stop focusing on purpose-driven pursuits. I believe in putting your all into places that are meaningful to you and linked to your values. Go all out. Be a die-hard. But only … in the domains that are most important to you. Then be present in the vitality of living your values.
We don’t have to wait for a future point when we feel better to start living fully. As Steve Hayes shared with me on Psychologists Off the Clock, the goal isn’t necessarily to “feel better” but to “get better at the feeling.” Let go of the small stuff, choose your values, and play big where you care.
Consider some tasks or relationships that are draining you. How do you know when you have done enough? What is good enough for you?
If you were to live in line with your values today, what kind of action would you take? What outcomes would you be willing to let go of?
Where do you want to maximize your efforts? What values deserve your greatest effort and energy?
About the Author Diana Hill, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, co-author of ACT Daily Journal, and co-host of the podcast, Psychologists Off the Clock.
Feeling stressed or down? These science-backed tips will boost your mood quickly.
So often, the habits that experts recommend to increase happiness aren’t compatible with actual daily life. Who has time to sit down for an extended meditation session when you’re juggling 1,000 different things?
Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to boost your well-being throughout the day in just a few minutes. Here are five research-backed happiness “hacks” that take five minutes or less, but pay dividends all day long.
1. Tackle your hardest task.
Loretta Graziano Breuning, founder of Inner Mammal Institute and author of “Habits of a Happy Brain,” believes that humans can essentially rewire their brains. How so? By understanding that we have certain “happy chemicals” that were inherited from earlier mammals — and using that knowledge to develop habits that turn those chemicals on.
One of those chemicals is dopamine, which Breuning describes as “a sense of accomplishment,” and you can stimulate dopamine by going straight at your most difficult task of the day — ideally pretty early on. Have an email you’ve been putting off? A particularly challenging stretch of child care? A deadline you need to hit, or a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off? Tackle it first.
(If the task you’re taking on isn’t something you can complete in five minutes or less, break it into smaller chunks. Then start with one.)
Ultimately, the goal is to “focus on a specific target,” Breuning said, and to celebrate yourself when you’re done. It might feel counterintuitive to tackle a hard task when you’re looking for a feeling of happiness, but stimulating dopamine in your brain can help keep you humming along (and feeling proud of yourself!) all day long.
2. Take 10 deep breaths.
In a December study led by a team of researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, experts broke down the four pillars they believe are essential to cultivating mental well-being: awareness, connection, insight and purpose. All these sound pretty lofty, but the pillars can be broken down into small daily habits that, over time, train the brain.
When it comes to awareness, for example, one of the simplest exercises to try is just breathing. Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths, the researchers suggested. That’s it! (Or consider 4-7-8 breathing. Or roll breathing. Or any of the hundreds of other types of focused breathing. Just find one or two methods that feel good to you so you’ll actually stick to it.)
Ultimately, research really does show how powerful mindfulness meditation can help to lessen feelings of anxiety and stress both in the moment and in the longer term. But the good news is that you don’t need to spend a huge chunk of your day doing it.
3. Listen to a happy song. (Bonus points for dancing!)
When you’re exhausted or dragging, press play on an upbeat song. Research shows hearing happy music is on par with mindfulness meditation.
For example, in a 2016 study of older adults with Alzheimer’s, listening to music improved their sense of well-being and mood and lowered their feelings of stress. On the other end of the spectrum, studies have shown that singing to babies in the NICU helps to keep them “quietly alert” and reduced parental stress.
Bonus points for dancing or moving your body along with the music, which can help increase your energy levels even further while zapping stress.
4. For a few minutes, focus on the people who’ve got your back.
According to Breuning, another key “happy chemical” is oxytocin, which people tend to think of as the love hormone, though she thinks of it as more closely tied to feelings of trust. To stimulate oxytocin quickly, she recommended thinking about the people you trust. Ask yourself: “If I need support, who will be there?” Breuning said.
You might go ahead and connect with that person by sending them a quick text or giving them a call, (or if you’re together at home, giving them a quick hug). And those simple moments of social connection with someone you love and admire are a big-time happiness booster.
But just thinking about who is in your “herd” can be enough, Breuning said. It stimulates your brain’s oxytocin, which helps you feel safe and secure.
5. Do something kind for someone. (Or just think kind thoughts!)
Research shows that daily acts of kindness are a simple way to boost happiness and they don’t have to be big. What matters is that you’re deliberate about it.
“Intentionally set a goal to be kinder to others,” experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest . “Express sincerely felt kindness to a co-worker. Make a special effort to extend kind words to a neighbor. Hold the elevator for someone or take time to help a loved one.”
Experts also now understand that it can be equally powerful (at least from a happiness-boosting perspective) to simply spend some time cultivating a sense of kindness toward someone in your own head — whether or not that person even knows it.
The Center for Healthy Minds recommended thinking about things you admire about that person. Then “recall situations where they expressed these qualities and then imagine expressing your appreciation,” the group noted. “You can then extend this to people you don’t know very well and eventually even to people you find challenging.”
By spending some time sending happy thoughts someone else’s way, you’ll bring a bit of joy into your own life.
If you roll out of bed feeling tired or stressed, these a.m. habits can help you turn your mood around.
A few tweaks to your morning routine can help set you up for improved well-being for the rest of the day.
Mornings can be rough for many people who tend to feel sleepy pretty regularly, which in turn makes them report feeling irritable a lot of the time. And yes, it’s hard to feel cheery when you’re overtired and stressed — much of which, alas, is outside of people’s control.
But happiness experts say there are simple habits people can practice in the morning that will that have a profound influence on how they feel throughout the day. They’re easy tweaks that can help improve overall mental well-being.
Ready to take stock of your general day-to-day happiness and incorporate some new practices that can improve your mood all day long? Here are five strategies to consider:
1. Pick a wellness habit, then link it to an a.m. ritual you already have.
This first tip is pretty broad, and that’s on purpose. Because the truth is there are many evidence-backed strategies people can use to try to boost happiness.
So you might take some time to cultivate awareness through meditation. (One simple strategy: Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.) Or you might be intrigued by the research that shows incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help boost happiness. Maybe you’d like to spend a few seconds every morning simply focusing on whatever nature you see outside your window, whether it’s the grass in your yard or the sky over the city.
There really are so many different wellness habits that can help you, according to psychiatrist Murray Zucker, chief medical officer of the health care platform Happify. The key is simply to start with one — whatever it is— then attach it to a routine that you already have. You’re linking habit to ritual, he explained.
So maybe every morning you get up, go to the bathroom, then make your bed. Link a moment in that routine (say, the bed making) to the habit you want to cultivate (maybe it’s reading 10 pages in a book). By tacking it on to something you already do, you’re much more likely to actually stick with it. And consistency really is the key to boosting happiness over time, Zucker said.
“Start slow and build gradually,” he added. He encourages people to really just start with one new habit you want to link to your existing routine, then go from there.
2. Get your phone out of your room.
“Do not have your screen in your room,” said Allison Task, a career and life coach who said that she insists on this as a non-negotiable with her clients. That’s because when you reach for your phone (or tablet, or computer, or click on the TV) first thing in the morning, you’re really inviting the outside world to dictate your mood first thing, she said.
And there really is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that screens hamper happiness. Studies have linked frequent social media use to decreased mood over time; other research has shown that a high volume of emails is connected with overall feelings of unhappiness.
Furthermore, screens can get in the way of sleep, which is deeply connected to people’s overall sense of well-being.
“Sleep is just a game changer,” Task said. You might not be able to control what time your toddler shuffles into your room in the morning or what time your alarm starts to blare, but you can at least try to protect your sleeping hours by keeping screens out of your room.
3. Talk to yourself…
Zucker noted that people tend to spend a lot of time talking to themselves in their own heads, particularly in the morning when feeling frazzled or stressed about what’s to come. He is a big fan of noticing self-talk and self-correcting using this simple technique: say your name.
“If you use your own name in your self-talk, you’re more likely to follow cognitive advice,” Zucker explained.
If, for example, you have a big presentation at work and you notice that you’re spending the morning psyching yourself out, telling yourself that you’re going to flop, you really can make yourself pretty nervous, Zucker said.
“But if I say: ‘Murray. You’ve done this before. You like doing this,’” you really can take some control over your own thoughts, which can set you up for greater happiness throughout the day.
“Just using your own name can be very helpful,” Zucker said.
Connecting with someone – even on your phone – in the morning can offer mood-boosting benefits that will linger throughout the day.
Connecting with someone – even on your phone – in the morning can offer mood-boosting benefits that will linger throughout the day.
4. … and somebody else.
“Make a social contact with somebody you have positive regard for,” Zucker said. This could really be anyone — a spouse or child, a friend, an extended family member.
What that “social contact” looks like really depends on your personality and your schedule. “For someone who is busy, it may be a phone call or a text. If you have more time, meeting someone for a cup of coffee to start your day is really a boost,” Zucker said.
But research suggests that even if you don’t actually meet up with someone or send them an email or text, it can be enough to simply send good thoughts their way. “You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, previously told HuffPost. Just bring a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.
5. Incorporate gratitude.
While it’s true that there is a huge range of habits that can help boost happiness in the morning, researchers and clinicians tend to return to one again and again because it’s so powerful: gratitude.
In research trials, people who journaled about the things they’re thankful for during the week scored much higher on measures of happiness than people who instead noted things they’d been irritated by. And a daily gratitude practice may even contribute to improved physical health — which, in turn, contributes to overall feelings of happiness.
There are many different ways to work gratitude into your morning routines, but it can (and should!) be simple.
“Many religions do a morning prayer,” said Task, who added that spending a moment doing something similar — whether you’re religious or not — can be a doable morning habit to cultivate.
“Take that pause to appreciate that you’re alive, whatever that means to you,” she urged. Say to yourself: “I’m so glad I’m alive, and I get to play with my 2-year-old daughter,” Task offered by way of example. Or that you get to go to work. Or you get to walk your dog. Or even that you get to hit the snooze button again — yes, even if experts generally say it’s not a great idea.
Just find some way to express some gratitude in the morning, because it truly can be enough to put you in a better frame of mind all day.
Researchers believe these daily habits will train your brain to achieve better overall well-being. (Worth a try, right?)
Researchers believe they’ve cracked the code when it comes to achieving overall emotional and mental wellness through four key pillars.
This past year has been an excruciating one for millions of North Americans, and our collective well-being has taken a serious hit. A majority of adults in the United States say their mental health is worse now than it was pre-pandemic. Feelings of isolation are up. A majority of North American adults report feeling overwhelmed by their current stress levels.
Against that bleak backdrop — and given that COVID-19 case numbers are still reaching record highs, even as vaccines have arrived— it seems silly, almost, to think about cultivating emotional well-being. Now? Really? And most importantly, how?!
A research paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a mental training plan that its authors call the “how” of well-being. Their findings suggest there are four key behaviors that tend to contribute most to overall satisfaction. And they see their plan as a way in which people who already feel relatively healthy can cultivate mental wellness on a daily basis.
“It’s a more hopeful view of well-being,” study researcher Cortland Dahl of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, a cross-disciplinary research institute, told HuffPost. “It’s the idea that you can take active steps that improve well-being, very much so in the way that you might take steps to improve physical health.”
Of course anyone grappling with severe stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns should absolutely reach out to a qualified mental health professional.
Looking to be more deliberate about training your brain to cultivate mental and emotional well-being? Here are the four basic pillars of the plan, and some simple steps you can start taking right away.
Step 1: Cultivate Awareness — And ‘Meta-awareness’
Awareness is a “heightened, flexible attentiveness to your environmental and internal cues,” according to the Center for Healthy Minds ― which basically means your surroundings as well as your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
And studies do show that people with heightened awareness tend to have better overall well-being. Also, being distracted can lead to feelings of stress and unhappiness.
One simple tactic that will help you achieve this? Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.
Another option? “One thing I like to do is when I’m doing dishes, I’ll notice the sounds, I’ll feel the sensations,” Dahl said.
The new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research — which pulls from a range of studies from the worlds of neuroscience, meditation traditions and more — suggests that “meta-awareness” is important, too. So it’s not only important to be aware; it’s also important to be aware that you’re being aware. Ultimately, cultivating meta-awareness helps you to deliberately direct and sustain your attention, the authors argue, rather than being pulled in by “distractors.”
Making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship.
Step 2: Cultivate Connection
Forging and strengthening a sense of togetherness is certainly a difficult goal amid COVID-19. But making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can be enough to help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship as the pandemic continues.
The researchers also say that simply cultivating feelings of kindness toward others can be enough to help boost your sense of connection — regardless of whether the person on the receiving end even knows you’re thinking about them.
They cite several studies and pilot programs that suggest kindness meditation programs can lower feelings of distress and boost positive feelings. There is even some preliminary evidence that these types of practices may help lessen implicit bias.
“You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Dahl said. That might entail bringing a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.
Step 3: Practice Insight
The researchers define insight as having self-knowledge about how your own emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape your sense of who you think you are.
And working to develop this kind of insight can empower you to challenge the beliefs you’ve held about yourself that you may have thought were immutable, Dahl explained. He cited a personal example, describing how he used to be deeply unsettled by public speaking and believed this was just an unchangeable fact of who he was.
“Instead of having this kind of constant judgment, we can get curious about our own inner worlds,” Dahl said.
One practical, real-world way to to do that is to simply notice when a negative thought crops up, and be inquisitive, the researchers wrote. Stop and ask yourself: Where is this thought coming from? Is it based in any assumptions?
Make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to your core values. For example, doing the dishes might be an act of generosity toward those you love.
Step 4: Connect With Your Purpose
You don’t have to try and orient every day toward some far-reaching sense of purpose with a “capital P,” Dahl said. But it can be worthwhile to spend time thinking about your deep core values. Then make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to them.
For example, doing the dishes or cooking a meal at the end of a long day might be an act of generosity toward those you love. Signing on for your “fifth Zoom meeting of the day” may help connect you to a career that you find meaningful.
Research has shown that having a larger sense of purpose in life is linked to positive health outcomes ― from resilience in the face of trauma to overall lower risk of death.
And ultimately, these four habits should help provide a clearer framework for people looking to improve their mental well-being and wondering how to start. If connecting with your sense of purpose every day doesn’t necessarily click with you right off the bat, for example, try something else.
“We think of this as the ‘eat your fruits and vegetables of mental health,’” said Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, a scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds who was also a researcher on the new paper.
The goal is to find what really works for you and that — crucially — “becomes easy to integrate into everyday life,” she said.
Positive psychology often is passed off as pop psychology or New Age-y by those who haven’t actually looked into it.
The actual theory behind positive psychology was defined in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  and looks at all aspects of a person’s psychology. It does not discount traditional psychology, nor supersede it. Rather than viewing psychology purely as a treatment for the malign, however, it looks at the positive. Positive psychology is a recognized form of therapy and is offered by some counselors and psychologists.
Psychology has always been interested in where people’s lives have gone wrong, and what has resulted because of it . Illnesses such as depression are well-documented and patterns of depressive behavior well-known. However, until recently, what makes people happy and how they achieve inner happiness and well-being has been a mystery.
Practitioners of positive psychology study people whose lives are positive and try to learn from them, in order to help others achieve this state of happiness . It is a scientific study and not remotely hippie-ish, despite its connotations.
Positive thinking is one aspect of positive psychology. Surrounding yourself with a great lifestyle and material goods may seem to lead to happiness, but how you really feel is governed by what goes on inside your head. When you go out of your way to think positively, you actually purge yourself of negative self-talk. 
Negative self-talk is one of the biggest barriers to positive thinking. People become so accustomed to negative thinking that their conscious mind will pull them down, even when they have done nothing wrong. These people become insecure, overly apologetic and indecisive. Worse still, they open the door to numerous stress-related problems.
Negative thinkers have four common mindsets:
Many negative thinkers will pull the negatives out of a situation and focus on them. Sometimes these people will see only the negative in a situation, to the point where they deny any positive. =>Personalizing.
Some people make every tragedy about themselves. They will personalize every negative thing and assume that bad things happen because they are unlucky, or as a result of something they did or didn’t do. They will often construct negative situations with perfect logic, providing plausible reasons why negative things are either their fault or set out to hurt them. =>Catastrophizing.
This involves anticipating the worst. Some people even precipitate it. They can turn a slightly awkward interaction into an overreaction, making the situation worse. If something negative does happen, they will use it to validate their negative assumptions. =>Polarizing.
This type of negative thinker sees things as black or white. Either a situation is perfect or it is a catastrophe. This type of negative thinking can affect every area of a person’s life. Its effects can be both psychological and physical. By practicing positive thinking, you can actually stave off medical conditions and reap the benefits of having a positive outlook on life.
Depression is complicated illness with physical and mental health elements. It would be flippant to suggest that someone with a positive outlook will not encounter depressive feelings.
However, positive psychology can be beneficial in treating depression. It can equip sufferers with the tools to stop downward spirals when they begin and help them to see the positive aspects to their lives. It can also help to stop the negative thinking habits that are common in depression. 
Scientific studies also show that there is a direct link between stress and the immune system. When a person is experiencing a period of stress and negativity, his or her body is less able to mount an inflammatory response to attacks from bacteria and viruses. This results in an increase in infections such as the common cold and cold sores.  Having a positive outlook on life also equips people better for dealing with serious illness. Tackling diseases such as cancer with optimism and self-belief has shown to have a beneficial effect on recovery and ability to tolerate treatment.
Among the other health benefits listed above, positive thinkers have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. They tend to have lower blood pressure than those who do not engage in positive thinking. The health benefits extend to the emotional side, too. optimists will have better physical and psychological well-being, and better skills for coping with stress and hardship.
It is important to remember that simply having a positive mindset won’t actually stop bad things from happening. But it does give you the tools to better deal with bad situations. Sometimes your coping skills come down to nothing more than refusing to give in to your negative side and your fears. For some people, positive thinking comes quite naturally. For others, seeking professional help is necessary to get them on the right track.
Life requires that we prioritize what is important. The simple reason is that we don’t have enough time to do all – or even most – of the things that make us happier.
Part of prioritizing means saying “no” to certain people and things.
In this article, we’re going to focus our attention on 20 things that we would do well to say “no.” You’ll see many familiar things on here (T.V., anyone?) However, you may be a bit more surprised at some of the other things that can make you happier.
DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND SAY ‘NO’ TO THESE 20 THINGS TO BECOME HAPPIER:
1 – ALCOHOL/DRUGS
For those made to suffer through the atrocious circa 90s “Just Say No” commercials, we apologize.
Drugs are atrociously bad for mental and physical health. Drugs ruin lives, families, and institutions. Per statistics published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug abuse and addiction cost American society alone over $700 billion per year.
It’s common for substance abuse to abuse both alcohol and drugs. There also exist correlations between substance abuse and mental health problems.
The message here is simple: stay away from drugs and limit alcohol intake.
2 – MORE WORK
Some people love what they do, and that’s a beautiful place to be. For the rest of us, however, work should be viewed as a necessity to live. You’d think that we live forever considering just how much time some people spend at the office.
Per a report by the American Institute of Stress (AIS), “job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults,” adding, “[job stress] has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” (Emphasis added)
3 – FAST FOOD
Unless you’re super careful, and the place that you eat offers healthy options, fast food can show up on your waistline quick. Statistics show that a fast food meal contributes a disproportionately high percentage of daily caloric intake.
Over 50 million North Americans eat fast food every day or about 15 percent of the population.
4 – PROCRASTINATION
It may bring some comfort to know that the cause of procrastination is solely psychological – i.e., it has little to do with your willpower. Highly anxious individuals seem to have more difficulty with the procrastination bug than others.
So what to do? Just get started. Don’t think about how much work needs to be done. Emotional pain and discomfort associated with procrastination drop precipitously after an action is taken.
5 – DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS
The era we’re now living in is the most distracted in human history. One massive reason for this is the sheer ubiquity of mobile devices.
The problem is that these distractions are both alluring and addicting. Things like “distracted driving” have become a real thing. Some research shows that our attention span is shrinking as the digital age evolves.
6 – MAKING EXCUSES
Excuses do nothing but disempower you and those around you. While the adage “You’re stronger than you think” may seem overly cliché, it’s nonetheless true.
The cool thing is that once you stop making excuses, you realize how much happier you feel. It feels as if you’re retaking control of your life, which you are.
7 – WATCHING T.V.
The amount of television that people watch is insane.
Per a Nielsen report, the average American spends about 35.5 hours watching the tube. The problem with this isn’t so much the activity in itself – but the opportunity cost.
That is, those hours you could use say exercising, building a business plan, spending time with the family, and other more meaningful things.
8 – PERFECTIONISM
Speaking of procrastination, one of the more common reasons that people put things off is fear – and this includes fear born of perfectionism. For the uninitiated, perfectionism is the unhealthy striving for, well, perfection.
Not only is perfectionism unrealistic, but it’s also unhealthy. Perfectionistic tendencies are connected to multiple clinical issues, including anxiety and depression, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
9 – SUGAR
Okay, so it may be very difficult – perhaps even impossible – to completely abstain from sugar. However, one would be well-advised to curb any intake. Per an article published by Harvard University’s health publication, “The effects of added sugar intake – higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease – are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.”
10 – OVERSPENDING
Psychologists and other behavioral experts have thoroughly debunked the idea that money can buy happiness. So why do we keep spending too much? It’s all psychological. To overcome the habit requires diligence, patience, and discipline.
The cool thing is that once the seed habit of saving is planted, people find that they enjoy it.
11 – MIND-WANDERING OR RUMINATION
Rehashing what “could’ve/would’ve/should’ve been” is a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, the human brain is uniquely wired for pointless thinking. According to a widely-cited study by Harvard researchers Gilbert and Killingsworth, our minds drift about in aimless thinking about half of our waking hours.
Unsurprisingly, this constant turning over of the mind is not conducive to becoming happier. The conclusions reached by Gilbert and Killingsworth: “(I) people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is…(ii) doing so typically makes them unhappy.”
12 – COMPARING YOURSELF
We have an unhealthy obsession with comparing ourselves with others. Such is particularly true in consumer-driven societies like the United States, where possessions and status are so coveted.
But comparing yourself to people does nothing but make us feel worse. It’s not easy to stop such an ingrained response, but we can take a step in the right direction by intentionally redirecting our focus when such thoughts arise.
13 – NOT FINISHING THINGS
We do enough things. So, this one’s not that bad, except that leaving things undone creates unnecessary mental tension and, studies show, drains our cognitive reserves.
The answer lies in a two-step process: (1) determining which endeavors are indeed worth committing to, and (2) avoiding everything else.
14 – NO OR TOO MUCH ALONE TIME
Neither too much nor too little seclusion is healthy. While we introverts may treasure our solo status, it doesn’t change the biological evolution of our brains.
On the flip side, while extroverts may despise being by themselves, such time is crucial for reflection and rejuvenation.
15 – THE MAINSTREAM NEWS
Okay, so perhaps doing away all news is unpractical – perhaps even unadvisable. But you should know that the unfortunate adage that “Bad news sells” is (a) true, and (b) media companies leverage this fact. This helps to explain why most of the news we read elicits feelings of fear and sadness.
So, don’t entirely ignore the news (though you could do worse), but watch how much attention you’re paying to it.
16 – NEGATIVITY
First off, we’re not telling you to ignore every instance of negativity, though limiting it is most certainly beneficial to your mental wellbeing. Everyone feels a bit negative from time to time.
We’re talking about limiting your exposure to consistently negative people. Sure, there are those rays of sunshine who can handle the negativity, though they’re few and far between. The rest of us need to watch how much time we’re spending amidst these folks to become happier.
17 – SHALLOW WORK
The term “shallow work” was coined by MIT-trained computer scientist and professor, Cal Newport. Instead of defining shallow work, let us note its opposite – what Newport calls (naturally) “Deep Work.”
Per Newport, Deep Work describes “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”
Why engage in deep work? Because it “[creates] new value, [improves] your skill,” and, perhaps most importantly, “are hard to replicate.” Read: you’ll make more money and live happier.
18 – INCONSISTENCY
Being inconsistent in your efforts is detrimental to the achievement of the life you desire. It does little good to be filled with motivation and drive one day and then drift back into the same ole’ bad habits the next.
Inconsistency is often the byproduct of poor planning. As such, it is crucial to have a plan going into the day.
19 – SOCIAL MEDIA
Let’s bring Cal Newport back into the story. Besides being a big fan of sustained attention, Newport is a digital minimalist. In other words, he’s Facebook’s and Twitter’s worst nightmare. In one talk, he rails against the former, calling the social media platform an “entertainment product” – and, essentially, a colossal waste of time.
The fact that the average person spends 2.5 hours per day on social media does little to counter Newport’s argument.
20 – TAKING THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY
Here’s an exciting experiment: go anywhere you want, sit down with a beverage of your choice, and observe people for one hour. Watch closely. (Not too closely, lest an officer of the law intervenes.)
All joking aside: what do you see? Are people rushing around? Scrunched-up faces and tight shoulders? A seeming lack of purpose or direction?
This is how most people live their lives. Some people never stop living this way from the time they’re told to “grow up.”
Cliché time! Life is too short to take things so darn seriously. Let’s loosen up and be happier!
Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.
Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.
Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.
A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.
For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.
Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.
The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.
Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.
These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”
In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.
7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland
Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
Embrace who you are, warts and all.
Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
Stay even-keel via equanimity.
Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.
As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.
Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,
“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”
The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ <Canada> https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help
Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.
“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might
The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.
At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.
As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.
Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.
There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.
At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.
Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.
In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.
There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.
For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.
Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.
Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.
Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.
Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.
These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.
Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.
Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.
Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”
During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.
April 2, 2020
Jennifer Cheavens Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The Ohio State University / The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
20 Ways To Be A Happier Person In 2020, According To Therapists If you’re going to make a resolution for the new year, it may as well be improving your mental health.
Looking to make 2020 your happiest, most fulfilling year yet?
If your mental and emotional wellness took a backseat in 2019, there’s no better time than right now to prioritize it. (If anything, it’ll make the election year just mildly more bearable.) Your mood affects everything in your life ― your relationships, your work, your self-care ― so improving it should be at the top of your goal list.
That might feel like a huge and lofty task, but small, actionable habits can help you get there, according to experts. Below are the most common happiness tips therapists recommend. Maybe they’ll sound challenging or unrealistic (more on that later), but maybe they just might change your life.
1. Conquer one anxiety
Give yourself a motivational benchmark to start conquering your biggest fears this year.
“Single out the goal of selecting an anxiety that is holding you back, and thoroughly commit yourself to obliterating that fear,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist. “Hold nothing back in your assault; treat that fear as though it is enemy number one.”
Perhaps you’ve been worried about signing up for a half marathon. Maybe you’re afraid to reach out to book agents because you don’t want to be rejected. Perhaps you’re fearful of having a difficult conversation with a toxic friend or family member and you’re putting it off. Set the goal, pick a reward you’ll get when you complete it, then get to it.
“The thing to keep in mind is that very often happiness is found just on the other side of a doorway guarded by our anxieties,” Talley said. “And the new year is a great time to start kicking down some doors.”
2. Lock down a sleep schedule that works for you
You may think you’re doing OK on sleep, but take a closer look at your schedule. Are you really getting optimal hours? Are you maintaining relatively the same bed time every night?
“Getting a [consistent] good night’s sleep is vital; chronic sleep deprivation is a huge problem, especially for those who work late or are extremely busy,” said Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic. “It’s not just the 40-hour marathons without sleep which can be detrimental to your psychological health, but simply losing an hour or two on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your mind and well-being.”
That last bit is important. If you’re constantly shaving off an hour here or there ― thinking you can get by on five hours a night ― it’s time to reevaluate that sleep schedule.
“Start with small steps by giving yourself a sensible and realistic bedtime,” Konstantopoulou said. “Try to go to bed half an hour before your usual bedtime and stick to it. Evaluate this new habit every day by having a journal and writing down your progress.”
She noted that this new routine will improve your memory, reduce anxiety, and “transport toxins out of the brain” to potentially prevent chronic illnesses.
3. Find one small self-care act that works for you and prioritize it
Pick a you-centric activity and engage in it regularly, said Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
“The most impactful mental health goal a person can set is the commitment to balance workload and responsibilities alongside activities that bring them a sense of well-being and enjoyment,” she said. “When there is an imbalance in what we’re giving out to the world, and what we’re taking for ourselves, that’s when our psychological resources get depleted.”
Her suggestions to get you started? Try beginning each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation session. Want to go further? “Go to therapy to unravel a lifelong pattern, get a personal trainer, or make time for reading,” she said. “This commitment can be broken down into specific and concrete goals, depending on your personal preferences, but it all comes down to making self-care a priority.”
4. Spend 10 minutes a day outside
Go for a walk during your lunch break, spend a few minutes drinking your morning coffee outside or pick up running. It doesn’t even have to be for a long period of time.
“This year, resolve to spend less time inside and more time outdoors in natural settings,” said Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist. “Research in multiple countries show that spending time in green spaces can lift your mood and relieve anxiety in as little as 10 minutes.”
5. Regularly practice a simple mindfulness exercise
“Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus, missing a great deal of what is happening in the here-and-now,” said Anna Prudovski, the clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services.
Making an effort to be more present “increases the sense of well-being, promotes vitality, heightens our awareness, helps train our attention, improves the quality of our work, and enhances interpersonal relationships,” she said. Sounds pretty nice, right? “Be more present” can feel a little vague, so here’s how you can get started:
Each day, spend five minutes noticing your surroundings and how you feel. Do this by naming five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s OK if you point out something far away from you. Then take a second to label how you’re feeling in the moment (like, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m excited”). This is known as a grounding exercise, which experts say helps with anxiety.
6. Say nice things about yourself
Roseann Capanna-Hodge, pediatric mental health expert and psychologist, suggested an adjustment to your everyday vocabulary, both in your thoughts and out loud.
“Instead of always focusing on the negative, flip your dialogue to only positive outcomes. For example, instead of saying, ‘If I get that job,’ switch it to, ‘When I get that job.’ Those subtle changes in using positive language helps to change your mindset to a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.”
You can also increase your positive thoughts by stating one thing you like about yourself when you look in the mirror each morning. Cheesy, but worth a shot.
7. Give up or cut back on one unhealthy habit
We know when things are bad for us, which can cause stress. You can curb that by reducing them or giving them up entirely, said Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist. Think activities like high alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine consumption.
Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.
8. Find a physical activity you love
“Exercise plays a large role in mental health,” said physician Jena Sussex-Pizula. “While studies are ongoing, a review article found consistent beneficial effects of exercise on depressive symptoms across multiple studies.”
How often? McEwen suggests 30 minutes a day if you can. “This [amount] has been shown to produce the most benefit for improving mood and reducing stress levels,” she said.
The most important part is finding something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s pilates, martial arts, spinning, running, dancing or lifting weights ― just make sure the activity is something that excites you.
9. Try meditation
Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon just yet? Now is as good a time as ever. McEwen suggests meditation for those who want to improve their level of stress resilience.
“A mindfulness meditation practice will have a tremendous positive effect longterm,” she said. “I recommend allocating at least 30 minutes daily, which can be divided into morning and evening.”
Feeling intimidated by the concept? McEwen suggested trying a local class or an app like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer.
“Research has shown that the regular practice of meditation can actually improve your health because it lowers the negative effects of not only high cortisol, but also high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said. “Other great benefits of regular meditation include mental clarity and focus, improvement of memory and overall higher level of mental performance.”
10. Stop negative thoughts in their tracks
“Our thoughts are not always reality,” said Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of ”Stop Self Sabotage.” “And we need to get into the routine of challenging them and changing our relationships to our thoughts.”
You can do this by asking yourself a simple question when you’re beating yourself up. Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself: Does this completely and accurately capture what’s going on?”
Ho said from there, you can transform the thought using one of two tactics. One is called “yes, but” and one is called “labeling.”
“‘Yes, but’ involves recognizing a not so great thing, and [adding] something that is positive or shows progress,” she said. “Example: I did eat three cupcakes while trying to cut down on sugar, but I have been doing a great job with healthy eating and can start fresh tomorrow.”
And as for labeling, try mentally recognizing or acknowledging that the thought you’re having is toxic. According to Ho, this “takes the wind out of the sails of a negative thought and reminds you that a thought is just a mental event, and nothing more.”
11. Invest in a quality relationship
“If you want to have good long-term mental and physical health, you need to first see if you have meaningful, loving relationships,” said clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. “Who knows you better than anyone and who do you know better than anyone? Have you invested in that relationship by staying in touch and talking on the phone (not just texting)? And when was the last time you got together?”
Gilliland suggests picking one person close to you this year, and planning to spend quality time together.
“If we’re not careful, we will end up giving our best in places that aren’t good for our mental health,” he said. “Study after study finds that loving meaningful relationships are good for our mental and physical health.”
12. Read self-development books
“Read at least one book on someone you admire, and how they have dealt with the struggles in their life,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of ways to learn about your mental health, from therapy to self-help to the lives of other people.”
You can pick up many tips and find a lot of inspiration in these motivational books, whether they’re memoirs or expert-backed advice. Need a specific suggestion?
“I have so enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and recent album ‘Western Stars’ where he talks about his struggle with depression and family issues,” Gilliland said. “It’s powerful and encouraging … You can’t help but see yourself in some of his stories, he can paint with words like very few people can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your mental health without feeling like its work.”
13. Cut back on your social media use
So often we view people’s highlight reels on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in our own lives, according to experts. And given that research shows spending too much time online is linked to poor mental health, now’s the perfect time to cut back.
“External validation is temporary; it’s difficult to maintain the pressure to chase ‘likes,’” said therapist Jennifer Musselman. “Build your self esteem from competence of something important to you, and by being of service to others.”
14. Set better boundaries
Did you find yourself feeling chronically overwhelmed and stretched thin in 2019? Time to reel that in and make more space for you by setting boundaries.
“This one is more important than people realize, and they have way more control than they realize,” Gilliland said. “If you don’t want to go, then don’t go!”
Consider: Is it something you think you “should” do? If so, then why? In the words of a popular therapist joke, stop should-ing yourself. Set those boundaries to thrive in 2020.
15. Make a progress list each week
Expecting perfection guarantees you’ll feel like a failure at least part of the time, and can lead to serious anxiety.
“Learn the art of progress, not perfection,” Musselman said. “We are setting ourselves up for failure from the get-go [when we expect] to ‘have it all’ perfectly balanced. In other words, we will always feel like we are failing.”
From “doing it all” as a mom to building your entrepreneurial business to perfecting your talent, it’s time to let go of that expectation that things are always going to be perfect. Instead, try writing down the incremental improvements you made each week. Celebrate small successes that eventually will lead to big ones.
17. Get a therapist if you’re able to do it
If you were trying to get in physical shape and had no idea where to start, you might turn to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health works the same way.
There are so, so many benefits to seeing a therapist. And there are affordable options, too: Attend group therapy at a local mental health center, seek free options in your community, opt for a sliding-scale psychologist, find a provider through your health insurance or try an app like Talkspace to get started.
“Getting a therapist in 2020 would be a good goal if you need a therapist and have been putting it off,” Talley said.
18. Write in a gratitude journal
Practicing gratitude “is so essential for a full and happy life,” Talley said.
Instead of allowing your brain to go to a place of anxiety and stress, Talley says to arm yourself with grateful thoughts. Writing them down helps.
“If you wake up and focus on that which you have to be grateful for, your brain becomes better at finding even more [gratitude],” Talley said.
19. Turn your phone off
It’s been shown in many studies that too much tech time can negatively impact mental health.
Become less available via text and email so you don’t feel emotionally tethered to your phone, and spend more time off your devices. Opt for screen-free activities ― especially at night ― that help you disconnect from certain social and work stressors.
“While it’s unclear if sedentary screen time is a marker for or risk factor for depression (as all that has been shown is a correlation), there appears to be a consistent association of increased screen time in patients with depression and anxiety,” Sussex-Pizula said.
20. Reduce food shame and stress through mindful eating
Have thoughts around food, calories, dieting, etc. been weighing on you in 2019? Lisa Hayim, a registered dietitian and founder of food therapy program Fork The Noise, said it’s time to kick this to the curb.
“When we feel nervous, scared, anxious, or even unsure of what to eat or how much, our stress hormones begin to fire,” she said. “Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we’re no longer making empowered decisions.”
Does this sound like you? Are you constantly thinking about what a food choice might “do” to your body?
“Breathe. Your body knows what it wants and how much it wants, when it wants it,” she said. Listening to it is called intuitive or mindful eating: enjoying whatever you want and taking cues from your body when it’s hungry and full.
“Decreasing stress around food choices is not just good for the body, it’s good for the mind and the soul,” Hayim said.
6 Things To Let Go Of
If You Want To Be A Tiny Bit Happier This Year
Examining the toxic thoughts and behaviors that you should kick to the curb and advice on how to do it.
Most people kick off January by creating resolutions that drastically aim to add healthy habits to their daily lives (which doesn’t always work, by the way ― and that’s OK). But sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let some things go instead.
“The new year offers a fresh opportunity, while the weight of the past keeps us in a place of inaction,” said Olecia Christie, a certified life coach and owner of Optix Communications in San Antonio, noting that it’s important to discern when to release the things that no longer serve our own growth and happiness.
With that in mind, here are a few things you should consider leaving behind in the new year, according to Christie and other experts:
Comparing your life to others’ on Instagram
In this era of social media, it always appears that everyone is living their best life — that is, everyone except you. Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, said you should remember that social media is a highlight reel. Comparing your daily life to a single picture capturing a perfect moment isn’t the best use of your time.
Instead, Osibodu-Onyali suggested engaging with the people you admire in 2020.
“Rather than spending so many hours per week scrolling mindlessly, begin to actually connect with people you admire on social media. Send them a DM, ask for advice, seek out actual mentorship,” she said. “You’ll be surprised how many new friends you will acquire just by reaching out, rather than being a jealous onlooker.”
Letting fear hold you back from something you want to do
Anthony Freire, the clinical director and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York, said in order to release fear, shame and guilt, you must first “shine a spotlight” on them.
“On your deathbed, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having completed your bucket list for any reason, but especially because of feelings like guilt, fear and shame — which are only problematic feelings because you’ve told yourself that you should feel that way,” he said.
Worrying about things you cannot control
It’s unrealistic to suggest giving up worry or stress entirely ― these feelings are a normal part of life. Instead, try to focus just on the worries you can take action on.
“Focus your thoughts on things you can change. When you have a list of worry thoughts, write out what you can change and what you can’t. Work on the situation that you can change, and just release the rest. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn this skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’ll worry less,” Osibodu-Onyali explained.
For some, this is easier said than done. If you find that you’re unable to manage your excessive worrying ― especially over things out of your control ― it might be worth seeking advice from a professional. This could be a sign of an anxiety disorder, which is a very real and common condition.
Old grudges or grievances
Research shows holding onto a grudge or anger for longer than necessary can be toxic for your physical and mental health. Right now is the perfect opportunity to work on letting go of some old baggage “by either working on repairing strained relationships or closing the chapter on relationships that cannot be salvaged,” Osibodu-Onyali said.
This doesn’t apply to people who have severely damaged or hurt you, but could be useful for someone you’ve grown distant with or just no longer envision as a healthy part of your life. You can either choose to move forward or let go.
“Although saying goodbye to a relationship can be tough, the closure can be very freeing,” Osibodu-Onyali said.
What other people think of you
There’s a saying that goes “what other people think of you is none of your business.” It’s important to know what your values are and to be grounded in them, so that you’re not swayed by the thoughts of others. Osibodu-Onyali said she often challenges her clients by asking: “So what if they don’t like you? What happens next?” She said more often than not, the answer is usually “nothing.”
“The truth is that the world doesn’t end and you don’t have to be liked by everyone,” she said. “Stick to your core group of supporters who truly love and respect you, and don’t spend time worrying about the people who don’t quite get you. If they don’t get you, that’s OK. You can’t be a part of every group.”
The need to be right in every conflict
We’ve all strived to win arguments; however, that can cause more stress than it’s worth. Freire said letting go of the need to win “takes up enormous energy because people tend to want to be right.”
“How many times do we fight with someone and we’re simply fighting to be right?” he said. “We say things we can’t take back and later we apologize and think to ourselves ‘I overreacted’ or ‘We fought over something so stupid.’ Sometimes we don’t even remember why we were fighting to begin with. Sometimes trivial things we get stuck on are just smaller manifestations of larger underlying issues.”
These kinds of interactions can often lead to “negative self-talk and anxiety as [we] overanalyze the situation and stress about the impact of the interaction,” according to Elise Hall, a licensed and independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts.
Instead, try looking at a fight as a problem to be solved (experts say there’s one phrase that can easily help you do this with a partner). This can help you let go of the need to be right and put your focus on a solution.
This all might be challenging, but it could be worth it to increase your joy — even just by a fraction.