After the ball drops each year, everyone’s focus seems to turn to health and weight loss. But what about happiness? Whether you realize it or not, this oft-overlooked pillar of wellness plays a major role in your overall well-being and success—and yes, that includes your flat belly success, too! And while it’s true that our genetics plays a part in our “happiness set point,” about 50 percent of our happiness is well without our control. So why not do everything you can to make 2017 your happiest year yet?
To help you feeling positive as much as possible, we’ve teamed up exclusively with our friends at Happify—a cutting-edge tech company that delivers science-based activities and games to help you build skills for greater happiness. Thanks to their amazing data, we’ve found 30 easy-yet-totally-effective ways to reduce your stress, gain confidence, conquer your body goals and bolster your happiness in the year to come!
A shocking 52 percent of Americans check their email before and after work—and a lot of us are checking our emails on sick days, too. Not only is it making us cranky, but studies also show that constant connection hurts our productivity and boosts stress. Lower your stress and boost your happiness by deactivating pop-up settings so your mood isn’t shifted every time a message arrives. And better yet, don’t check your email more than once or twice a day when you’re out of the office.
Looking for more ways to boost your happiness? Then check out these 23 Foods Happy People Eat!
GET OUT THAT DATE BOOK
Being social (IRL, not online) may be the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling blue, but it’s just what the doctor ordered. In fact, a British study found that regular contact with 10 or more friends significantly increases happiness and lengthens life. So get out your date book and start penciling in some plans with your buddies—meet up for coffee, see a movie or offer to whip up a meal! These healthy chicken recipes are sure to be a dinner party hit!
PLAN A TRIP
Ever notice how planning a trip is often more exciting than the actual trip? That’s not all in your head; it’s a very real thing. Research suggests that the anticipation of a vacation makes us happier than the vacay itself—and vacation length doesn’t affect our happiness levels at all. With that in mind, plan several short vacations throughout the year instead of just one long one! And to get your bod into tip top shape for your trip, check out these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss!
SEND A LOVE NOTE
No matter the relationship or its duration, it’s important to validate the people in our lives. Up to 41 percent of couples say they feel closer to their partner and happier in their relationships after using text and online messages. Send a little love note via email or Instagram one of your favorite #TBT pics with your S.O. That small, thoughtful act can go a long way.
CHECK YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE
We know it’s the opposite of other research you’ve been hearing lately, but there’s two sides to every coin. So go ahead and reconnect with friends and memories by checking your Facebook profile. Believe it or not, one study found that students felt more loved and worthy after logging into Facebook than they did after doing traditional self-affirmation exercises. Boost your profile’s happy-making powers by uploading a new profile pic that makes you feel fab or click through all of your photos to relive happy moments.
GET REAL WITH YOUR BOSS
If you feel like you’re married to your job, have a conversation with your manager. Simply voicing your concerns about never-ending emails and an overwhelming workload can reduce the pressure to be online 24/7, which in turn can boost your happiness and quality of life. And speaking of the downsides of the working world, check out these 21 Ways Your Job Is Making You Fat; but don’t worry, we’ve come up with ways to overcome each challenge.
While the idea of buying yourself something may seem rewarding, there’s nothing more rewarding than giving your time, money, and compassion to others. In one study, participants either spent $5 on themselves or $5 on someone else. The result: Those who spent money on other people were found to be happier than those who spent the cash on themselves. The good news is, you don’t have to hand out material gifts to reap the rewards. Offer your seat to a stranger on a crowded train, write a thank you note to your child’s teacher or coach, or offer to run an errand for a friend. The options are endless.
A major part of happiness is acknowledging and celebrating your successes. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says that the brain is like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. All too often, we focus on our shortcomings and overlook how far we have come. Our advice: Sit back and applaud your efforts—it may just make you smile more!
No matter what your weight, gender or age, people who exercise daily feel better about their appearance than those who don’t. Whether it’s dancing, cycling, running or lifting weights, find a type of exercise that excites you—and then do it regularly! Research shows it’s the most reliable way to feel good about your body. And for the best fit fuel for your active body, check out these 25 Best Foods for Your Muscles.
Research shows that positive sexual experiences breed body satisfaction—sounds like a good enough reason to get busy to us!
MAKE A POSITIVITY LIST
While you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react to it. It’s easy to let rejection, loss, and failure affect how you feel about yourself—don’t do that. Instead, keep a list of all the things going well in your life. This way, when things feel hopeless, you have a very visual and real representation of what’s going on in your life. A quick reminder of the riches in your life may make it easier to stop focusing on any shortcomings and help you feel happier in the long run.
CHANGE YOUR DINING PARTNER
Everyone has that one friend who is chronically dieting and makes dining with them a bit annoying; but if poor body confidence is the root of your unhappiness, consider changing up your dining partner. Eating with people who are constantly restricting what they eat can hinder your happiness by lowering your self-worth.
Volunteering is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. In fact, a UnitedHealth Group survey of people who volunteered in the last year found that 94 percent of respondents said volunteering improved their mood while 78 percent said it makes them feel less stressed. Look for opportunities to give back to your community or dedicate some time at a homeless shelter. You’ll get more out of it than you put in.
Get this: A whopping 85 percent of the stuff we worry about never actually happens. Even when our worries do become a reality, about 80 percent of those polled say they handled the outcome better than they thought they would. Next time you find yourself anxious over a possible outcome, brew a cup of tea, sit down, and reflect on you’ve survived 100 percent of the situations that have come your way so far—and you can easily handle anything else that comes your way.
HEAD FOR TREES
Or at least buy a potted plant. From crazy workloads to annoying coworkers, the corporate world can run you ragged—it’s no surprise that work stress is a major source of our nation’s collective unhappiness. To stay happy when the going gets tough at your 9 to 5, head for the nearest park. Taking a nature walk reduces mental fatigue, frustration, and anger and improves positive feelings. (Bonus: It’s #17 on our list of 24 Ways to Shrink Your Belly in 24 Hours). Can’t step out? Buy a plant over the weekend. Studies show that people with plants in their offices are happier with their jobs than those with no greenery in sight.
MAKE THE MOST OF WEEKENDS
People are 12 times more likely to feel happy on days they spend 6 to 7 hours a day with family and friend. So, if you work full-time, make the most of those weekends!
PLAY WITH A PUP!
Feeling blue? Find a furry friend! It’s not your imagination; petting a pup actually boosts levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones. If you don’t have a dog of your own, offer to walk a friends or head to an animal shelter to volunteer. And don’t forget to find out the 10 Best and Worst Foods for Your Dog, too!
REACH OUT TO OTHERS
Studies have repeatedly shown that the strength of our social support system is the greatest source of resilience, success, and happiness that we have. When we accidentally sabotage goals by losing sight of them, having a trusted “other” to guide us and remind us of those goals gives us the strength to get back in the game. Call or text a friend when you’re having a rough day; taking it out may be all that you need to turn your frown upside down.
MAKE A STANDING DATE NIGHT
One study found that couples who spend time alone together at least once a week are 3.5 times more likely to report “being happy” in their marriages. And get this: They’re also 3.5 times more “sexually satisfied” in their marriage than couples who don’t make time for each other. Take a hint from happy couples and schedule time for date night; it lets you spend time with each other without distractions. (But avoid these 27 Foods That Mess With Your Sex Drive!)
TAKE A DAILY WALK
In the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” Never has a movie quote rung so true. Researchers have consistently found that aerobic exercise has positive effects on mood, especially when people are feeling blue. In other words, physical exercise can lift you up when you need it the most. In a more recent study, researchers found that physical exercise can be an effective treatment of mild and moderate depression. The bottom line: Body and mind are inseparable. A couple of minutes of jumping jacks or a quick walk around the block may go a very long way.
To get even more out of your workout check out these 25 Weight Loss Tips From The World’s Fittest Men.
FIND YOUR FLOW
Many people are happiest in a “flow state,” which is when they’re engaging in an activity that’s enjoyable, requires a degree of skill, and is just enough of a challenge that you can feel “in the zone” and lose all sense of time. Surfing and hiking both fit the bill.
People who regularly practice mindfulness meditation have increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for calm and happiness. The act has also been shown to ward off weight gain, so it’s a win-win! Not sure how to do it? Set up a yoga mat in a sunny, east-facing room and simply spend five minutes thinking about something that you’re grateful for. When you’re done giving thanks, slowly stand up and take on the day with gusto!
SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
A bad mood usually forces us to become overly focused on ourselves. Shifting our attention to others can trick our minds into forgetting our own little world, as we remember everyone else has their ups and downs too. Ideas to switch your focus: Help a neighbor; offer to buy a cup of coffee to the elderly man in line behind you; take time to really listen to a friend’s problem and help them see the way through. Building up others will lift you up, too.
HIT THE WEIGHT ROOM
Strength training has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and improve self-esteem—it’s also a great way to stave off age-related muscle loss and subsequent weight gain. Hit the weights at your gym, or check out a boot camp class with a friend to get those endorphins flowing. And be sure check out our new Eat This, Not That! fitness section!
TURN UP THE BEATS & DANCE
A recent study showed that when people actively tried to feel happier while listening to upbeat music, they felt their moods lift more than those who just listened passively. To boost the effects of your favorite beats further, groove to the beat. After a new second of making happy movements (think dancing, or jumping with your arms in the air) you’re more likely to feel happy.
The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us. Studies show that writing gratitude letters to someone you’ve never properly thanked can immediately increase your happiness and decrease depressive symptoms. Get out your phone—or better yet, a pad and a pen—and fire off some heartfelt thank you notes.
GO FOR DARK
Turns out chocolate’s delicious taste isn’t the only reason it makes you feel so warm and fuzzy. The sweet treat also gives you an instant happiness boost. But sorry, Snickers bars don’t count—you’ve got to reach for the high-quality dark stuff. Why? Cocoa is the ingredient in chocolate that does your body good, and it’s only found abundantly in the pure dark chocolate bars. A few ounces of dark chocolate a day is all you need to reap the benefits—and keep your flat belly in check.
Saving is difficult in part because it does nothing for our happiness today but wise saving can provide us with enormous happiness down the road. To make your future self a happy camper, take advantage of your job’s 401 K or vow to put 10 percent of every paycheck in a savings account—or better yet, do both!
Happy people are more forgiving than unhappy people, according to a recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. But, does inner positivity help a person move on, or does letting go increase positivity? The answer may be “both”: Whether you start out happy or not, forgiving someone for a past transgression can make you feel better. But get this: Despite conventional wisdom, there’s no need for reconciling, or pretending that everything is fine, in fact, you never even have to say the words “I forgive you” out loud. Instead, think of forgiveness is an internal process, something you do to help come to terms with a past experience and end your pain, anger, and resentment around the event. To make it happen, commit to stop focusing on blame and move forward in a more positive direction. It’s a gift you give to yourself, and one that will help you drastically increase your happiness!