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
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