Sometimes being happier takes big changes--a new job, a different relationship, or painful and prolonged grappling with past trauma. That's not what this post is about. This post is about the quick and relatively easy lifestyle changes that science says will make you happier pretty much instantly.
Study after study shows that seemingly minor changes to how we live our lives can yield outsized benefits for our mood. So if you know little things can make a pretty big difference, why not commit to eliminating these scientifically validated happiness busters from your life today?
1. Mindless social media
Facebook and science aren't friends. Study after study confirms that mindlessly scrolling through social-media feeds is likely to make you lonely, envious, and dissatisfied with your life. One recent bit of research even found that quitting social media made study subjects happier.
Much of this science makes a distinction between active use of these sites--to plan a real life gathering, say--and passive consumption of others' highly curated online lives. The former is fine, as getting together with friends is generally a huge mood booster. The latter is likely to bring you down.
So quit it today! Or if the thought of being without your beloved social media strikes you as terrifying, Pick the Brain offers a suggestion to ease you into a new routine: "You don't have to quit social media cold turkey just yet. Try deleting the mobile apps first. That way, when you head out, you can start being free."
2. Spending all day indoors
Humans didn't evolve sitting in cubicles, so unsurprisingly we're hardwired to find happiness in nature. Even just looking at green spaces for as little as 40 seconds can make you more productive, and tiny changes like adding potted plants to your office can lift your team's performance.
Actually leaving the building is even more powerful, according to a host of studies that have found spending time in nature enhances self-control, lifts your mood, and encourages innovation, as well as being good for your physical health. Have you gotten outside much this week?
3. Being materialistic
Worrying about paying the bills will make you miserable, so you might think that after you've got the basics covered, you can continue to buy yourself greater happiness. Not so, says science. In fact, research shows that once your basic needs are met, focusing excessively on acquiring material goods is one of the quickest routes to unhappiness out there.
What should you do if you think it's high time you dial back your craving for more stuff? There are plenty of research-backed tips, including consciously reflecting on your values, limiting your exposure to advertising (as much as is possible in our current age), and choosing to purchase experiences rather than material goods. A new TV will make you happy for about a week, after all. Remembering that surfing trip to Costa Rica will bring a smile to your lips for years to come.
4. Chronic busyness
Neuroscience would like to inform you that you are wildly undervaluing the importance of doing nothing. "Many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain's stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life," a recent Scientific American article reported.
In short, constant busyness and productivity fries your brain and makes you unhappy (not to mention less productive in the medium and long term). The takeaway? If you're not leaving room in your schedule to just breathe, you're doing your mood no favors. Don't feel guilty, slack off sometimes!
5. Bottling up your creativity
As best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, "If you're alive, you're creative." Every one of us has some creative impulses. If you just ignore that fact, you're going to be sadder and less fulfilled than you could be. You're also probably going to be less healthy.
"Expressing yourself creatively reduces the risk of disease and illness while simultaneously strengthening your health and wellness. For example, this study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that art helps to reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions, and reduce the likelihood of depression, along with many other benefits," explains the Buffer blog.
You don't need to be Picasso to exercise your creativity. Just overcome your fears (Gilbert has specific tips) and throw yourself into a creative hobby or mind-expanding side gig. Cooking, knitting, or strumming that guitar are all good. Just don't ignore your creativity entirely.
Are you guilty of any of these happiness busters?