Happiness is such an important and profound subject that many of us assume that it will take big changes in our lives--a new job, a big move, a whole lot of therapy--to make a significant gain in our levels of well being.
Previous studies have shown that usually the simplest of actions, like, say, making someone smile, often have a bigger impact on our reported happiness levels than striving for big goals. That, of course, is awesome news. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sell your house and follow that dream of sailing around the world anytime soon, it’s totally achievable to make small changes to your routine and behavior without much fuss or pain.
What should these changes be? A recent thread on question-and-answer site Quora provided a bevy of great suggestions. In response to someone inquiring, "What are the simplest things one can do to make oneself happier?" dozens of thoughtful respondents offered ideas that you can implement today, including:
Assume Positive Intent
"All this means is that when someone does something that upsets you--like cuts you off in traffic--assume they're just trying to get through their day and in no way, shape, or form were targeting you," writes copywriter Jeff Shattuck. "There was no malice, just an awkward move in a fast-moving world. This little nugget has helped me immensely."
The Walk-in-the-Door Rule
"When I was in a dark period, I instituted a simple rule that changed my life,” explains social marketer Brad Einarsen. What was it? "When I arrive home from work, he says, "the very first thing I tell my wife is the best thing that happened that day."
The Breakfast (or Lunch) Surprise
Giving to others is one of the most powerful ways to make yourself happier. Why not start today, on a small scale, suggests CPA Brent Scott. "I normally grab breakfast from a drive-through restaurant that stays packed," Scott says. "A few weeks ago, I handed my card to the cashier at the window and she said, 'The gentleman in front of you paid for your order.' No idea who he was, and his car was gone by the time the cashier said that. It was completely unexpected and made me feel confident that even though there are a lot of things wrong in the world, random acts of kindness still exist…Since then, I've done the same for others."
This works along the same lines as the suggestion above but is absolutely free. Do it every day and "it changes your attitude and forces you to see the wonderful in each and all of us," argues Marie Stein. "Over time, it will become your nature and will bring you joy, because people will start smiling when they see you coming, because they know you're going to appreciate them and make them feel good about themselves."
If you want to buy something, that necessarily means something is missing from your life. Marketers manufacture problems and needs to get you to purchase more stuff, and all these little feelings of lack and inadequacy add up. The solution? Expose yourself to less advertising. "The underlying message of most ad campaigns is, 'Your life is crap, and you need this to be less crap,' says David Stewart. "Constantly being barraged with messages telling us we're inadequate is not good for us."
"Get a dog." That’s the simple suggestion of Matt DeCelles, co-founder of William Painter. I can personally attest it worked for me (also, it radically improved how often I got up and walked around each day, which is good for health and creativity).
Keep a Happy Diary
Harvard University happiness expert Shawn Achor has noted that simply writing down a few things you’re grateful for each day is one of the simplest and most powerful boosters of well being. It apparently worked for Angeline Lee: "Going through a fairly rough patch, I was really down and just couldn't see any silver lining. One of my friends suggested keeping a happy diary, so writing down the single best thing about the day every day…I was at the point where I would have tried anything, so I started off writing on Post-it sized notes and putting them in a box."
"At first I struggled to write down anything," she continues, but then after a few weeks, "I actually found that so many good things happened in my day (simple things, like the bus came on time, or I had some really nice bread) that I couldn't choose just one because they all contributed to making me happy."
Get Your Groove On
Most people know this one, but when you’re feeling down, it can be easy to overlook the incredible power of music to brighten your mood. "Listening to music is by far the simplest way for anybody to immediately be happier," writes Daniel Goodwin.
Get Some Perspective
This is a variation on the theme of gratefulness, but one that takes a more global perspective. "If you have the means and time to read this on Quora, you are better off than 95% of the people on this planet," Jussi Mononen reminds readers of the original post. Who knows if the exact percentage is right, but the essential point still holds, whether you’re surfing for tips on Quora or Inc.com.
The Body Basics
And, of course, no post on simple happiness boosters would be complete without a reminder to look after your basic physical needs by getting adequate sleep and exercise. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s still true, as many, many Quora responders pointed out. If you feel physically beaten down, you’re almost guaranteed to feel emotionally beaten down, too.