Let’s be honest, figuring out how to be happy with yourself in the moment can be a bit of a struggle. I personally find myself always thinking I’ll be happy when… and then focusing on achieving those goals. Although there is nothing wrong with trying to make yourself happier, we should be cultivating our current happiness, too. This slight obsession we have with figuring out our own happiness may be due to the fact that we’re bad at it—or at least that’s what some research says.
“We aren’t always particularly good at it, and we seem to be getting worse,” says Sherry Benton, Ph.D., who has more than 25 years of experience in counseling psychology and is also the founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect. According to the 2017 World Happiness Report, the United States ranked 3rd among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in 2007; but it since has declined to the 19th spot (in 2016).
Money Can't Buy Happiness
What’s interesting is that some of the things that we think may make us happy actually won’t do so long term. Based on scientific research conducted over the past 40 years, Benton says that most of us need a basic level of financial security and stability to be happy. But beyond that, making more money doesn’t necessarily add to our happiness.
Things like raises, promotions, new houses, or other new possessions feel good for only a few fleeting moments, but they have no long-term benefits.
“Things like raises, promotions, new houses, or other new possessions feel good for only a few fleeting moments, but they have no long-term benefits,” the expert tells us. So what tends to push the needle when it comes to happiness? Family, friendship, social connections, new experiences, and gratitude and compassion are some. “Real happiness is not a destination—it’s a journey,” Benton tells us. “We experience happiness in the here and now from the choices we make in our daily lives.”
With this idea in mind, we asked Benton to help us round up 10 ways for you to be happy right now. Keep reading and then get started.
10 Ways to Be Happier Right Now
1. Pursue new experiences, rather than new things. Forgo buying material things. Rather, favor experiences. Book vacations, take fun strolls in the park, purchase tickets to concerts or unique performances. “Go someplace new or do something new,” Benton suggests.
2. Meditate regularly. Not only is this activity helpful in reducing anxiety and depression, but it will also help keep you grounded. And did we mention its health benefits? “Mindfulness meditation for just 10 minutes per day can lower blood pressure and pain levels,” says Benton.
3. Make a daily gratitude list. We become more satisfied when we focus on what is good and right. “Take time to turn off your steady stream of negative and worrisome thoughts each day,” the expert says.
4. Cultivate an active social support network. “We all do better when we have a community we feel connected to,” Benton explains. No matter what, carve out time to spend with family and friends because these will be the people who will always have your back.
5. Help others. When we are compassionate and caring toward others, we end up becoming happier in our own lives. Volunteer at the soup kitchen, mentor at-risk youth, or simply help a family member or friend.
6. Avoid being judgmental. “When we become judgmental and critical, the dopamine system shuts down,” Benton says. “Then we become unhappier and dissatisfied with our lives.” In case you didn’t know, happiness is connected with the release of dopamine, a substance that carries signals between your brain cells.
7. Exercise regularly. Yes, a trip to the gym is always good, but working out in fresh air is better. Benton says research indicates that being outdoors makes us happier. Try walking, biking, or really anything that will just get you moving.
8. Engage in activities that you find completely absorbing. Ideally, you are trying to get yourself into a mental state known as “flow.” Such activities include creating something, participating in sports, cooking, writing, playing music, knitting, fishing, and sailing. Flow is when we forget about ourselves and our own ego and are completely focused on the experience, according to Benton.
9. Enjoy your work. It can be difficult, but you prioritize finding a career that you genuinely enjoy (for the most part). Benton says to try to find a work situation that uses your strengths, where you can experience some success, and where you enjoy your co-workers’ company.
10. Get a good night’s sleep. No excuses—you should try to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. “It makes a big difference in your energy, enthusiasm, and general happiness throughout the day,” Benton explains.
Parmentier FBR, García-toro M, García-campayo J, Yañez AM, Andrés P, Gili M. Mindfulness and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population: The Mediating Roles of Worry, Rumination, Reappraisal and Suppression. Front Psychol. 2019;10:506. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00506
Dfarhud D, Malmir M, Khanahmadi M. Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2014;43(11):1468-77.
Pearson DG, Craig T. The Great Outdoors? Exploring the Mental Health Benefits of Natural Environments. Front Psychol. 2014;5:1178. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178
Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015;38(6):843-4. doi:https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4716