Here’s the lowdown behind the newest research on how to get more happy -- right now.
1. Walk like you're in a shampoo commercial.
The gist: What you do affects how you feel, says author Richard Wiseman, Ph.D. in his latest book, The As If Principle. In other words, behave as if you’re happy and you’ll be so, scientifically.
One weird thing to do that may actually work: Change your walk. Researchers found that people who strode down the street (long steps, arms bouncing) for three minutes felt "significantly happier" than those who shuffled (small steps, slumped shoulders, looking down).
2. Pretend it never happened.
The gist: Most of us have certain ideas about when or how we’ll enjoy life more ("After I get that job!" or "If I get married!") which actually keep us unhappy, says Sonja Lyubomirsky in The Myths of Happiness. Not all of these misconceptions are about the future, either. Thinking that if we had behaved differently in the past, we’d be more content now is equally damaging.
One weird thing to do that may actually work: Create a "new possible self."
The first step: Look back on the thing or things you so badly wanted but you didn’t get (e.g., "I wanted to ice skate in the Olympics!" or "I wanted to have a child"). Next, examine the specific reasons why that dream didn’t come to life: Which people and events influenced you; what big and small choices did you make? Once that painful task is done -- a task that most people avoid -- you’ll be better equipped to imagine a "new possible self." That is, you can start working towards who you want to be now, instead of comparing yourself or trying to catch up to the person you wanted to be then.
3. Give 'til it helps.
The gist: Give until you succeed, says Adam Grant, Ph.D., author of the upcoming book Give and Take, which explains how generosity encourages you to flourish, not fail -- even in the toughest environments.
One weird thing to do that may actually work: Buy mom some cashmere socks. Researchers at the Harvard Business School, the University of British Columbia and the University of Liège found that purchasing anything for someone else -- as long as it’s within the very affordable price range of $5 to $20 -- makes you happier than buying the same item for yourself.
4. Whisper in the dark.
The gist: The recession has left more Americans dissatisfied with their professional lives than ever before, says Lyubomirsky. Yes, this may be the result of lower pay and longer hours. But it might also be that we get used to the positive parts of our jobs and very quickly take them for granted.
One weird thing to do that may actually work: Create a work-specific gratitude list that keeps track of what you like -- and maybe even love -- about your job: the open attitude about bringing up new ideas, say, or a take-home laptop. If you’re one of those people who lists the things you're grateful for right before bed, please be aware that your spouse may be slightly alarmed should he hear you whispering in the dark: "All-you-can-drink gourmet hazelnut creamer. Kind boss. Free Post-its."
5. Give up on smiley-faced thinking.
The gist: Some people play to win. Others play not to lose, says the new book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence. Discovering which type you are helps you motivate yourself, succeed faster and just plain feel better.
One weird thing to do that may actually work: Refuse to be optimistic (if you’re just not a positive person). In an experiment run by the two authors, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., and E. Tory Higgins, Ph.D., "play-not-to-lose" people (who also tend to be pessimists) were given a word game. Halfway through the game, they were told that they were succeeding -- and promptly lost their motivation and stopped performing. On the other hand, when they were told they weren’t doing so well at the same halfway point, they got inspired to do better, solved more puzzles and had a more enjoyable time. All of which leads us back to the old happy-ism: Be yourself. Even the positively negative you.
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