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12 Ways to a Happier You

Amanda Page Oct 25th, 2012 (updated Sep 26th, 2013)
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Between 50 to 80 percent of our happiness may be predetermined by our DNA, but the other 20 to 50 percent is left up to us (set point theory of happiness; Brickman & Campbell). Whether or not you suffer from clinical depression or a mood disorder, the stress and strains of everyday life can leave you feeling anything but happy. But there are things you can do to take charge. Here are 12 simple ways to increase your happiness.

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Go for a hike
Go for a hike

Taking in the natural wonders of the world can improve your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that people who live within .6 miles of a park or forest exhibit less anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD than those with limited access to nature.  No matter what the season, nature will provide a peaceful soundtrack, beautiful scenery, and fresh air to help soothe the soul. 

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Keep a daily journal
Keep a daily journal

Reflecting on the events of your day can help put your emotions in perspective. Before bed, make an effort to jot down a positive memory from that day and reflect on how that experience can apply to other areas of your life. Brief journaling sessions can even aid in self-discovery, establishing new goals, and spurring motivation.  

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Just do it
Just do it

You are probably familiar with what the research shows: having sex reduces anxiety, depression, and even helps you lose weightStudies have also shown that sexual intimacy can boost happiness throughout the next day by triggering the release of oxytocin – even if orgasm isn’t achieved.  

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Take a virtual break
Take a virtual break

More than 30 percent of American adults spend at least seven hours a day looking at electronic screens. It’s worth noting then that a recent study concluded that those who aren’t glued to technology are less stressed and more productive. Designate a time each day--perhaps an hour--when you will go “tech-free” and focus your attention on relaxation and organizing your thoughts.  

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Be nostalgic
Be nostalgic

Surrounding yourself with reminders of happy memories and reflecting on past joys may be the key to happiness. Nostalgia may feel bittersweet, but according to new research, thinking about good memories for just 20 minutes a day can make you cumulatively happier. We naturally tend to reminisce when we are feeling sad, which suggests  we are trying to self-remedy the blues. 

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Express yourself
Express yourself

On the surface, playing an instrument or expressing yourself in other artistic ways can provide an outlet for stress, while building upon individual strengths and skills. On a deeper level, studies have revealed that playing an instrument can actually reverse the signs of stress, improve memory, boost cognitive abilities, enhance reasoning skills, relieve depression, and counteract the effects of aging. 

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Meditate
Meditate

Meditation has proven to be effective in promoting stress reduction, relaxation, and productivity. According to researchers at UCLA, the brain also gets stronger as meditation is practiced over time. Brain strength is measured in the amount of gyrification, or folding of brain tissue, a trait which allows the brain to process information more efficiently. Gyrification is good for memory, attention, thought, and self-confidence. 

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Plan ahead
Plan ahead

Having something positive to look forward to can work wonders for your mental health by promoting optimistic thoughts about the future. Start by scheduling a series of smaller plans like weekend day trips a few weeks in advance, and make big plans like vacations a few months in advance. Studies have shown that looking forward to fun and happiness can provide benefits long before the good times actually happen.  

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Quit comparing
Quit comparing

There is always going to be someone skinnier, richer, and more talented. Constantly comparing yourself unfavorably to others will have an impact on your mental health. A healthier activity is to compare yourself to who you were a week ago, a month ago, and a year ago, and keep striving to be better.  

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Stop ruminating
Stop ruminating

When a stressful event occurs, ruminating over the situation and resulting consequences can really wear on your mood.  Altering thinking patterns is difficult and will take time, but it’s worth working at it. 

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Read a book
Read a book

Research shows that reading is great for your mental health and can reduce stress levels by 68 percent.  This is because the human mind processes reading much like meditation – shutting out distractions, relaxing muscle and heart tension - and focusing attention towards one specific thing.  Take some time to get lost in a book and experience the ultimate form of relaxation.  

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Good deeds
Good deeds

Why not share your happiness with others?  Performing good deeds can make you feel better about yourself while you brighten somebody else’s day.  Send a thank you card, bake some brownies for your co-workers, or compliment someone you usually don’t talk to.  Even small good deeds can have a big impact on your mood.