Happiness isn’t always easy to catch and hold onto. Yes, some relationships can provide deep joy, and material possessions might offer a short-lived thrill, but these sources of happiness are somewhat out of your control. To nurture and sustain feelings of happiness, develop routines you can rely on no matter what else is going on in your life. These five actions can help you make happiness a habit:
1. Experience something new. You know that rush of endorphins some of us get when we go shopping? Unfortunately, that happy high quickly fades. Studies show people tend to receive more pleasure from experiences than they do things. Instead of buying that pair of shoes, go on an adventure. For the cost of a tank of gas and a few snacks, grab a friend and take a short road trip to explore a new place. More introvert than intrepid traveler? Try a new form of creative expression, listen to music you don’t normally vibe to, or cook a dish you’ve never made before. These experiences will provide happiness in the here and now while also creating memories that can make you feel happier in the future when you dust off memories.
2. Find a reason to be thankful. Why is gratitude so important? Studies show your brain has a gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened. In other words: the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. Try thinking of three things you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up—before you check your phone and savor that first cup of coffee. What you’re thankful for can be as simple as comfy slippers or as complex as your relationship with your significant other. This practice has a positive effect on your mood and can make you feel happier the rest of the day.
3. Exercise regularly. A workout gets your blood pumping, increases your energy, and can help clear your mind of mental clutter and negative emotions. It also increases endorphins, also known as happy hormones. You don’t an expensive gym membership to get physical. Walk around your neighborhood or go for a hike on a local trail. Doing your exercise outdoors serves double duty for your happiness, because exposure to nature can help boost your mood. But don’t skip a workout if the weather is bad or you have to work late. An indoors workout works, too.
4. Meditate. Meditation doesn’t have to mean silently sitting alone in a quiet room. In fact, it can be done any place, any time. Be mindful of your breath, clear your thoughts and realize that no matter what is going on, you have everything you need in this moment. You’re breathing, you have a pulse, and that’s what matters. Meditation can reduce stress and increase happiness. Sit with your back straight and close your eyes. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do this for as long as you want. Even one minute of meditation can refresh your mind and bring you back to the moment.
5. Give back. There’s plenty of evidence to show the more we give away, the more satisfied we feel with ourselves. Monetary donations are helpful, but volunteering at a local charity strengthens your sense of community. It also helps you see your life differently by highlighting how much you have to be thankful for. If you really want to make yourself happier, start by doing things make other people happy. Happiness really is contagious.