Many, if not all of us, are on a journey to find happiness. But happiness isn’t an end destination — it’s an ongoing practice, much like patience or mindfulness. More often than not, we can choose to be happy. We can train our brain to be positive. We can let happy thoughts flow in and out of us. A happy life is within reach; we just have to make sure we’re equipped with the right tools to reach for it.
One of those tools is a stress-free mind that cultivates happy thoughts.
Our busy lives create a recipe for stress that can drive anyone to negative thoughts and negative emotions. When we’re overwhelmed with these negative thoughts, it becomes harder to just be happy.
Half the articles you read on the internet today talk about stress being a rampant problem in our society, which is bad news. Chronic stress takes a toll on our ability to be positive and stay happy. When we learn to control our stress, it’s a powerful thing — we live our best lives and become a better person overall.
Happiness doesn’t always magically appear, so here are nine ways to seek out a happy mind.
1. TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS
How do we pivot our attitude and train our brain to start thinking happy thoughts? Well, have you ever tried forcing a smile and noticed that you immediately feel happier? It turns out there’s truth in the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.”
In fact, Charles Darwin was among the first to vocalize the idea that our outward responses influence our inner moods. What he’s describing is a sort of feedback loop between mind, body, and mood. There’s research to support it too: One study found that participants who were forced to laugh and smile improved their mood.
The first step in getting happy is making your brain think you are. The same goes for regaining calm. A good chunk of our attitude happens inside our brain. If you are upset with someone, practicing compassion and changing your attitude around the experience with them can shift the negative emotions into a more positive response.
2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE DAILY
Some of the happiest people in the world don’t have as many luxuries as the rest of us, yet they have a happy life. Research shows that money can only “buy” happiness up to a certain point. The reported income sweet spot is between 45K and 75K, but different income groups have different measurements of happiness. Unhappiness isn’t always associated with a lower income group. Even winners don’t have it all — research has shown that bronze medalists are much happier than silver medalists.
What are happy people doing differently? Their not-so-secret superpower is gratitude.
Regardless of how hard things get, happy people find little good things in everyday life to be thankful for. According to a recent study, “Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”
Gratitude may be difficult in the short term but will pay off greatly in the long term. A few small ways to start:
- Vocalize your thanks to others (a simple “thank you” works)
- Take a few moments after a good event to soak in the experience
- Count your blessings (health, home, family) before bed
3. DITCH SOCIAL MEDIA
You’re probably tempted to ignore this one. After all, you probably found this article through Facebook. But don’t skip ahead!
Social media is a high stressor for many of us — 86 percent of Americans are constantly checking their social media accounts. We are always comparing, judging, shaming, stressing and overthinking everything instead of being in the present moment.
While every notification is a reward to our self-esteem, every comparison to “better people” brings us down. This short-term pleasure is exactly that: temporary. Soon enough, we’re down the virtual rabbit hole, procrastinating on important, long-term goals.
The thing is, though, social media is not reality.
We all have ups and downs, good moments and bad moments. That’s life — and that makes our lives rich and teaches us important lessons. Unfortunately, most people only share nice things on social networks, trying to present the best possible version of their life.
Try this: Only check social media twice per day, once in the morning and once at night. Set a timer and exit the app when it goes off. If you’re feeling stronger, remove the social apps on your phone and take a social media hiatus. You reduce the temptation to mind wander if the option is not even there.
4. TRACK YOUR POSITIVE THOUGHTS, PROCESS NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
Remember when you were a teenager and kept a journal? If so, you can probably recall how it helped you work through life’s challenges while also acting as a place to process emotions and ease anxiety around daily life. Well, it’s time to bust out your journal once again. This time, use it as a way to track positive thoughts, moments of gratitude from the day, and ambitious goals to work towards.
Journaling is a powerful thing; it allows us to take concepts and ideas out of our head and into the world. Doing so makes us more likely to hold ourselves accountable to reach the goals we set. We feel more accomplished when we reach goals, leading to more positivity and a self-esteem boost.
Putting pen to paper is a win-win all around. It helps us process negative emotions and even better, it can help us process our positive thoughts and experiences. We get a snapshot of our mental state. It’s one of the best methods for remembering happy memories.
Movement is an amazing way to disrupt our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Regular exercise creates chemical changes in the brain that decrease our stress and increase our pain tolerance.
Exercise is a form of mindfulness in motion. When you’re engaged in a workout, your attention is held by the present moment. Exercise won’t let your mind wander; it forces you to focus on one task.
You can choose any level of exercise from yoga to running to cycling. The tough part is making exercise a high priority. Getting to the gym can seem like a big event. Also, how are we supposed to be thinking happy thoughts when our muscles and lungs are working so hard?
Approach exercise with a positive attitude. Think of it as a necessary part of your journey to happiness and as an excellent way to release steam.
6. HEAL YOUR GUT
The link between your stomach and mind holds the key to calmness and emotional well-being. Scientists and naturopaths have been studying the tremendous connection between healthy gut bacteria and positive mood for some time, but it’s only become part of the mainstream vernacular in recent years.
For instance, patients on SSRI’s for mood disorders are looking for alternate ways to ease stress and anxiety and doing so through probiotic supplements. Supplements strengthen the intestine and keep flora in balance. This way, the bacteria can communicate with receptors in the brain and really impact our emotional well-being and sense of ease.
The best way to keep these bacteria in check? Add in more legumes and leafy greens to your diet.
7. SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LIKE
In a recent TED Talk about happiness, psychiatrist Robert J. Waldinger mentions that building and nurturing quality relationships is an important part of our mental health. Spending time with people we like not only helps us create happy memories to reflect on, but can help strengthen our self-esteem.
One study showed that positive relationships between at least one sibling decrease the risk of depression in older age. Another study showed that happiness between marriage partners correlated with better health and mood for older adults.
When you create happy moments with people you care about, it makes life a little more meaningful. That’s why social media is so powerful; we all need human connection to be happy. Instead of a virtual connection, try a real-life connection. A little quality time is a powerful thing!
8. SPEND TIME WITH YOURSELF: MEDITATE
As important as it is to spend time with others, it’s as important to spend quality time by ourselves and with our own thoughts. Meditation is a great way to do that. Not only does meditation decrease stress and anxiety, it also changes our brain structure. Regular meditation practice strengthens areas of our brain associated with attention and sensory processing. These are lasting improvements to a very important body part.
Meditation allows us to invite calm into our lives. Don’t be intimidated — meditation is not just about focusing on calm and happy thoughts.
A good session of meditation allows negative emotions to pass through without judgment so we can calmly focus on the present moment. In fact, there shouldn’t really be any strong emotions associated with meditation. And just like exercise, meditation can train us to deal with bad things more effectively.
9. TAKE A MOMENT TO BREATHE
Although we never truly stop breathing, there are a lot of times throughout the day where your body becomes tense and your breathing is very shallow and stagnant. This is a sure sign of stress and sometimes you don’t even realize it until you’re completely tense and holding your breath.
In these moments, it’s important to immediately reconnect with your breath. This can dramatically improve your sense of calm and well-being in only seconds. Read up on the numerous benefits to consciously taking deeper breaths.
Meditation is a great tool to reconnect with your breath, but don’t stop there. There are many deep breathing strategies to choose from. If you need help remembering to breathe, there’s always the Spire Stone.
HAPPY THOUGHTS, JOYFUL LIFE
We shouldn’t look at happiness as one of our far-reaching, ambitious goals. Realize that being a happy person is an exercise in mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, and more. This will make it easier to work towards becoming one of those happy people we admire.
Most of these practices are simple but as with any habit change, they can be hard to integrate into your everyday life. But focus on the long-term benefits of these practices. It might feel awkward at first when you force yourself to start thinking happy thoughts. But let the awkwardness pass and remember that these habits are an investment in yourself and building a happy life.
It’s also important to remember that having negative thoughts every so often doesn’t mean we are destined for unhappiness. We need the negative emotions to truly revel in the happy feelings. We don’t suggest sweeping it under the rug — find a way to look at those negative moments with a positive attitude.
Here’s a happy thought: The hardest part is starting, and by reading this article you’ve already begun.
Do you have a calming practice or happiness habit that you enjoy that didn’t make this list? If so, please share in the comments.