The question heard around the world: How can I be happier? Do you need to get a new job, lose 10 lbs, or find your soulmate? Maybe it would take winning the lottery or going on your dream vacation? We tell ourselves, “I’ll be satisfied when I make more money,” or “I’ll be happy once I move to that new city,” or even, “I’m waiting for Friday (or 5 p.m.) to enjoy my life.” As easy as it is to promise yourself that you’d be happy “if only…,” it just isn’t true. Psychology tells us that happiness is not based on circumstance; it’s something you learn.
That’s right: happiness is not something that happens to you when you get the dream job, dream relationship, or even dream life. It’s a skill that requires just as much practice as any other skill. If you’re not practicing it now, it won’t happen no matter what changes. In fact, you should be thinking of happiness as a cause, not an outcome. Instead of, “I need to get a promotion and find my soulmate so I can be happy,” be happy now so that you can get a promotion or meet your soulmate. In other words: be happy first, and it will be the most important skill you ever have in your life. Here are eight ways to be happier that you can do RN (now that’s way easier than a move, promotion, or relationship, right?).
1. Say “no”
Those unlimited yeses, whether they’re for your boss, kids, parents, or friends, might be reducing your happiness by forcing you to spend time and energy in ways that drain you, rather than investing time and energy for a happy life. Boundaries let other people know that you expect respect, but more importantly, they help you believe that you deserve respect; saying “no” when you want to say no means you’re putting your needs first. Whether it’s the coworker who asks for help when you’re already swamped, the neighbor who needs a favor when you’re exhausted, or getting guilted into a family event you know will just be toxic, say no if it’s not a true yes. A half-hearted yes drains your time, energy, and self-worth, while a “true yes” is in line with your best interest and will make you excited without doubt or worry.
2. Get outside
Being in the great outdoors can boost your mood and help ease stress to feel happier and more relaxed. Even just 20 minutes sitting in a park or going on a walk can elevate your mood and help foster important skills that contribute to happiness, like confidence, kindness, and the feeling of awe. Some doctors are even writing “nature prescriptions” (along with pharmaceutical prescriptions when necessary, of course) to encourage patients to get outside for an overall boost in wellbeing and reduce stress. For an instant mood boost, get outside as often as possible: sip a morning coffee on your balcony or porch, take a walk on your lunch break, or sit facing a window while working to reap some benefits. Also, take your workouts outdoors whenever possible and spend your free time at a local park or beach (instead of on your couch).
3. Rethink what you consume
News flash: the podcasts we listen to, the people we spend our time with, the shows we binge on Netflix, and the accounts we follow on Instagram are all things that feed the mind, just like a plate of food feeds the body. We can use whatever we watch, read, and listen to as ways to nourish our minds, or we can consume “junk food” that doesn’t help our mood (and might even make it worse). I love a Real Housewives binge and a guilty-pleasure Instagram follow as much as the next girl (no shame in my RHOBH game), but it’s also important to be aware of how your mood is affected by what you consume. Start with your Instagram feed: is every account you follow helping or hurting your happiness? Also, occasionally try to listen to a funny podcast instead of the news or swap out that thriller novel with one of these 10 books that will make you a happier person.
4. Do something just for fun
PSA: “fun” is not an unproductive emotion or a reward after we check everything else off the to-do list; it’s one of the most important factors of happiness. Take a life evaluation right now: when is the last time you did anything just for fun? How do you spend your off-time that isn’t bingeing Netflix, working out, or sleeping (all important things as well, BTW)? If it’s difficult (or impossible) for you to think of an answer, you need less time in your schedule and more time spent laughing. Find time for activities that have no other purpose other than just being fun. For example, turn on your favorite playlist and dance, play a game you used to play as a kid, or do something creative like coloring, scrapbooking, or writing.
5. Replace complaints
Think about how many things you complain about in a day: the weather outside, the crowded Starbucks line, the shirt you thought didn’t look good on you, or the TV show you didn’t like. As harmless and innocent as these complaints seem, they’ll make you immediately feel negative and reiterate a helpless mindset (as if the world happens to you, rather than feeling like you’re in control of how you react to situations), which are two of the biggest factors that reduce happiness. More importantly, complaints accumulate over time, so those momentary feelings become more permanent.
Try going on a complaint cleanse: notice every time a complaint comes up, and then replace it with a positive thought. For example, “the coffee line is so long… but I’m so excited for my favorite latte, and I’m so lucky to have the time,” or “the rain is actually pretty relaxing” instead of “the weather sucks today.” Even if you don’t necessarily believe the positive replacement, you’ll still be replacing thoughts that contribute to unhappiness with thoughts that will only make you feel happier.
6. Get outside yourself
An instant boost of happiness, you ask? Focus on someone else besides yourself. The advice that helping other people helps you is cliché because it’s true. Focusing on what other people need will not only invoke empathy (a key factor of happiness), but will remind you how lucky you are (and you already know how much gratitude affects mood). Tell your mom how much you love her, thank the healthcare workers that you know, Slack your work wife a compliment, donate money to a local charity, Venmo $20 to your sister for lunch on you, or check in on a friend going through a tough time lately. Thinking of both big and small ways you can make other people smile is perhaps the quickest way to make yourself smile too.
7. Think of a positive word
While it may sound too simple to be effective, even just thinking of a positive word can activate memories and feelings. For example, the word “vacation” can bring to mind a relaxing trip you had and the feelings that came with it, or if you have a happy family life and think of the word “family,” you might feel warm and fuzzy or calm and secure (depending on what the word means to you). The best part? Not only does this exercise give you an instant mood boost, but it can help boost happiness in the long run, since the more you focus on positive words, the easier it is to generate positive emotions and thoughts in the future. Make a list of words that make you feel good, whether it’s something that sparks a happy memory from your past, something you love, joyful words like “smile,” or even an exclamation like “wow!”
8. Become more “you”
We spend so much of our lives trying to be accepted, prove ourselves to other people, and blend in that sometimes we lose who we really are. And–no surprise–that’s basically a recipe for unhappiness. In fact, I would argue that happiness is really the ability to be true to ourselves. When you’re spending your time in ways that light your soul on fire, when you’re caring for people who love the you that you love, and when you’re comfortable and happy being your truest self, well, that’s pure happiness.
Make a list of your qualities, likes, strengths, and passions. Then, become more of that, unapologetically. Get rid of the activities or traits that don’t feel true to you, and fill up space with more you-ness. Make time for your favorite activities, or pick out your truest personality traits (quirky? Compassionate? Hilarious?) and bring them into work life, relationships, and the time you spend alone. All of our most authentic selves are all vastly different, but you know what they all are? Happy.