Happiness isn’t all fun and games. Research shows that it can improve your life substantially, and that unhappiness sets you up for less success and poorer health. Happier people are more productive than their less happy peers, and also tend to be more financially responsible. They’re also half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50 percent lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
But let’s face it. No one feels fantastic all the time. We feel a wide range of emotions—as we should. Happiness is not about trying to feel joyful all the time; denying negative emotion; or searching for a new job, diet plan, or relationship to make you happy. The truth is, an overall happy life is found (and lost) in everyday decisions and habits that you probably don’t think about much.
Here are three surprisingly easy research-backed habits that can add more happiness to your life right now.
Express emotion when you feel it. Suppressing negative feelings—say, in a meeting with your boss—should make room for happiness, right? In fact, as David Rock shares in his book Your Brain at Work, people who try to suppress negative emotion are just as agitated as those who express it. But describing your emotion in just a few words or labeling it (i.e. “frustration” or “jealousy”) calms you, reducing feelings of fear and anger. (That’s not to say you should unload on your boss! Walk outside, phone a friend, and tell them what you’re feeling.)
Don’t leave yourself hanging. Indecision is never a fun experience, but trying to make a perfect choice—whether it’s a new winter coat or your child’s after-school activities—feels especially bad. As Time.com reports, you bring too much emotional activity into the decision-making process when you’re searching for perfection. In essence, you overwhelm your brain. This neurological activity pulls you toward negative impulses and routines.
But making a “good enough” decision stimulates a part of your brain that makes you feel more in control. So just pick! Anything is better than straddling the fence. (And if your straight-A self can’t stand being “good enough,” read this now.)
Lend someone a hand. On a bad day, the last thing you feel like doing is reaching out and helping someone. But if you want to fight stress, you’ll do just that. Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and bestselling author of the book The Happiness Advantage, shared with The New York Observer that the people who survive stress the best are the ones who “increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do.”
In other words, connect with others when you want to crawl under a rock. For an even bigger happiness hike, give without expecting anything in return. Achor’s research shows that those who do so become significantly happier (as well as 40 percent more likely to receive a promotion).
All of these habits help buoy you through moments of day-to-day stress. Practicing them makes you more resilient and less vulnerable to sadness and depression—and that builds a foundation of life-improving happiness.