The goal of ‘being happy’ can be overwhelming. Culture Trip has broken this mission down into 30 easy steps, one you can take each day for a month, to work towards everyone’s ultimate life goal.
1. Go outside
Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of the body’s happiness hormone, serotonin. Even 10 minutes of sun on your skin is associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused. Just don’t forget your SPF!
2. Make some art
We’re not asking you to create a masterpiece. You don’t even need to show anyone (this will remove the pressure you might put on yourself). Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from your usual thoughts. It also makes your neurotransmitters work, creating dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the body – sometimes known as the ‘motivation molecule’.
3. Watch a performance
The majority of our entertainment comes from screens, so make the effort to go and see a performance live. Whether it’s a gig from your favourite band, the opera, or performance art, being surrounded by people who are interested in the same thing will enhance the enjoyment even more.
4. Have an early night
Sleep is crucial to our well-being. Deprivation alters activity in some parts of the brain, so if you’re sleep deprived, you may have trouble with decision making, problem solving, processing emotions and coping with change. You should be getting at least 7 hours per night, but try going to bed early, not setting an alarm and treating yourself to a lie in.
Plant a seed, buy a plant, or weed your garden. Gardening is often recommended to those with mental health issues, because it ticks so many boxes when it comes to improving the well-being of those who struggle psychologically: it’s a form of exercise, it allows you to interact with nature, and it’s a meaningful activity as well as a creative outlet. So get those green fingers dirty, and nurture something you can watch grow.
6. Talk to a friend
And make sure they’re a positive one! Reach out to people that you love spending time with, making sure that they’re the type to leave you feeling inspired, enriched, and connected. By surrounding yourself with inspirational people, you’re setting yourself up for a sunnier outlook on life.
7. Work up a sweat
You don’t have to be scared of this one. We’re not asking for a long, intense workout. It could be a five minute run for a bus, or bowling with friends. Anything that gets your blood pumping is a sure-fire way of boosting your mood.
8. Get crafting
Cross stitching, knitting, emboridery, papier mâché, pom-pom making… Learning a new skill boosts self-worth, and you could even meet new people by joining handicraft groups.
Starting your day with a few minutes of purposeful silence has been proven to change your brain chemistry. Meditation is about being present in the moment, and makes you more resilient against life’s hardships. There are lots of apps you can use that can help guide you through the process.
The practice of stretching and breathing with purpose dates back over five milennia, and has been proven to improve mood and physical health. Studies have shown that the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels spike after just a single hour of yoga. There are lots of different types to try, so even if you don’t think you’re a natural ‘yogi’, there is sure to be a practice to suit you.
11. Work on a puzzle
Whether it’s an old-school jigsaw with missing pieces or a brain training app, puzzles relieve stress by engaging our minds deeply in a lighthearted, ‘low-stakes’ way. Completing a puzzle also gives us a sense of accomplishment, boosts confidence and increases our self-esteem.
12. Listen to music
Skip that sad song and turn on something upbeat. Science has shown that as well as boosting your mood, happy music can benefit your body too. Music has an effect on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling blood pressure, heartbeat, and the limbic system (responsible for feelings and emotions).
13. Play with an animal
Stroking a pet has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Find a furry friend to spend some time with and see if you feel happier after. If you’re still in doubt, just ask the people in care homes, hospitals, or disaster areas, receiving affection from specially trained therapy animals.
14. Cook a meal from scratch
Avid cooks have long recognised the therapeutic power of time in the kitchen. Think of it like meditation, but with the promise of a nourishing, homemade meal at the end. If you can feed someone else too, all the better for those happy feelings.
15. Read a book
Stephen King once said, ‘Books are uniquely portable magic’. A 2008 study at the New School for Social Research in New York backed up his romantic prose, confirming that reading fiction can enhance theory of mind and develop the skill of understanding other people’s mental states. This in turn helps navigate complex social relationships, all leading to a happier existence.
16. Listen to a podcast
What better way to escape from the trials and tribulations of your commute than to tune in to any of the thousands of podcasts available. Learning something new is a core need to psychological well-being. It helps us build confidence, because humans have a natural desire to learn and progress – something that psychologists refer to as ‘mastery’.
17. Spring Clean
‘Tidy house, tidy mind’, the age-old adage goes. Cleaning can be an outlet for removing dust, dirt and clutter, but also removing negative emotions and energy too. A cleaner, more comfortable atmosphere will make you feel happier and more relaxed.
18. Make physical contact
Whether it’s hand holding, hugging or getting frisky between the sheets, skin to skin contact floods us with oxytocin and feel-good endorphins.
19. Take a bath or shower
A bath filled with bubbles, essential oils, candles, or a even a five minute shower before work has proven the positive effects of cleansing on well-being.
20. Stop procrastinating
Crossing something off your to do list will give you a sense of accomplishment and relief, especially if you’ve been putting a task off for ages. It might even motivate you further to do something else you’ve been delaying for ages and provide you with a sense of relief when it’s finally done.
Keep a diary! Writing everything down helps stop you overthinking. Get it all onto paper and you’ll feel much better for it.
22. Get dressed up
Make yourself look your best for no-one other than yourself. Take control of how you’re presenting yourself and put on your favourite dress for that trip to the supermarket.
23. Learn a new skill
New skills boost our self-confidence and sense of worth, while keeping us curious, and, of course, helping us learn how to do something new. Join a choir, learn a language online, and take yourself out of your comfort zone. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
24. Treat yourself
Don’t be afraid to treat yourself. Whether it’s a daily pick me up such as a pastry from your favourite bakery or some savings that you use once a month for something more special, make sure you treat yourself.
Whether it’s wearing a bold lipstick, spray tanning those wintry legs, a blow-dry, or a slick of your favourite nail polish, if you feel good on the outside, you’ll feel better on the inside.
26. Create a gratitude log
With so much complaining , it’s important to take a moment each day to reflect on what you have to be grateful for. Culture Trip’s Wellness editor Esme Benjamin writes about the importance of giving thanks in more detail here.
27. Write a list of what you love about yourself
Relationships and family may come and go, but you’re going to be stuck with yourself for as long as you live, so you may as well get on. Practice some self-love in its rawest form and write down all the reasons you’re really, really great.
28. Confide in someone
Someone once said, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. We can’t guarantee your problem will be halved, but sharing a problem you’ve been worrying about or a secret that’s been eating away at you lessens your burden. Your confidante can help you sort through your feelings, and may even provide a new perspective.
29. Help someone in need
From volunteering on a regular basis t0 a random act of kindness, giving is a scientifically proven pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. After all, giving is always better than receiving.
30. Visit a new place
Discovering a new place makes people happier. Travel makes people happier. Whether it’s a new neighbourhood in your home town or a backpacking trip across the globe, discovering a new place will broaden your horizons and make you realise how beautiful the world can be.