There’s a misconception that happiness is built-in and that we can’t change it, but science shows that our circumstances — how rich we are, what job we have, what material possessions we own matter less for happiness than we think.
Happiness, experts say, means accepting negative experiences, and having the skills to manage and cope with them, and to use them to make better decisions later.
Here are five exercises that clinical studies have shown improve your feelings of happiness and well-being.
1. Enhance your social connections
Social connection is the biggest factor affecting happiness, multiple studies have found. One of the most convincing is the Harvard Study of Adult Development which means spending time developing and nurturing friends and acquaintances around you or joining groups where you feel supported and accepted.
2. Engage in random acts of kindness
Find ways to perform small, random acts of kindness during your day. Deliberately performing random acts of kindness can make you feel happier and less depressed. This could include helping someone in a supermarket, letting someone in the queue in a traffic jam or helping a friend.
3. Express gratitude
Writing down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day, and why they happened, leads to long term increases in happiness according to a 2005 study from Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
4. Practice mindfulness
Exercises like meditation that teach your brain to focus on the present instead of the past or future can lead to feelings of happiness and acceptance according to a 2011 study from the International Journal of Wellbeing. So if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take time to look around, pay attention to what you see, feel, smell and hear.
5. Practice self-compassion
This might be the most challenging item on the list but having a propensity for self-criticism as a cultural value, we tend to self-punish when dealing with setbacks and failures so accept some things go right and some things go wrong and accept you are 50% amazing and 50% a mess.