Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

How to Be Happy

8. Help Yourself by Helping Others

After recovering from a bout of depression, philosopher John Stuart Mill said, "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." He came to believe that "those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind.... Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way."

Helping others makes us feel capable and full of purpose, experts note, and it lets us quit stressing about our own problems for a while. (I can attest to this; I'll bet you can, too.) In a study published in 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers could literally see the joys of giving. Subjects were hooked up to a brain-imaging mechanism and asked to click yes or no to charity-giving opportunities. When they donated, the machine registered a boost in blood flow to a part of the brain associated with recognizing a reward.

That doesn't mean you have to book your already hectic schedule with endless community-service commitments. Small gestures work, too, says Stephen Post, Ph.D., coauthor of Why Good Things Happen to Good People. You could pay the highway toll for the car behind you, or try to be pleasant to everyone you encounter for a day (it's harder than it sounds).

9. Choose to Choose Less

Having a lot of options isn't always so great, says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. In a 2006 study of job seekers, he found that "maximizers" (those who searched until they found the best position) were less happy with their choices than "satisficers" (those who took the first good one).

Schwartz explains that too much choice can cause anxiety and lead people to blame themselves if their decisions don't turn out as well as they expected. His recommendation: Learn how to accept good-enough options.

10. Introduce Your Body to Your Mind

Fred B. Bryant, Ph.D., coauthor of Savoring, says you can increase happiness just by articulating it. In several experiments, subjects instructed to visibly express their reactions while watching a funny movie reported greater pleasure than their more subdued counterparts. So get your body involved when you're feeling good. Jump up and down or dance around. (Evidence that this technique isn't as silly as it sounds: I unleashed a self-congratulatory "yahoo!" after my last set of tummy crunches and felt a lot more revved up.)

11. Be More Forgiving

A conciliatory attitude can help counteract feelings of depression, powerlessness, and anxiety about future hurts. What's more, in a 2006 study of over 200 subjects, Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., author of Forgive for Good, found that forgiveness training even reduced participants' stress by 25 percent.

So how do you let go of anger and resentment toward others? Take into account the stresses that contributed to the wrongdoer's behavior, remember his positive traits, and consider requesting an apology. And if your motivation starts to falter, keep in mind that forgiving is really a gift you give yourself.

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
 
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
insomnia
Is it menopause or something else?
 
Couple with troubles
Article
Bone density illustration
VIDEO
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow