What you can do right now to feel happier
Do you want to learn how to proactively bring more joy into your life?
The first thing you need to know is that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all directly linked to each other.
Remember the last time you felt sad? Likely, you were behaving in a way that reflected that feeling. You may have felt less motivated to do things you usually enjoy, or napped more during the day and experienced insomnia at night. And you were probably having thoughts that follow that same pattern—doubting your self worth or feeling hopeless about your future.
The thing about the linkages between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is that the more we think, feel, or act or a certain way, the deeper the cycle becomes—and the harder it is to get out of it.
Conversely, think of a time in your life when you have felt hopeful, or joyful. You were likely spending time with people you love, doing things that continue to nurture joy, and you were also probably thinking more confidently about yourself and your future.
The good news is that this direct relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors means that if we intervene in any one of these domains, we are likely to create a ripple effect in the others.
Based on this foundational principle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), research shows that if you act happy you can feel happy. In other words, fake it 'til you make it.
Empirical studies have found that the following behaviors that can directly stimulate the emotional reaction of happiness:
Smile. Behaviors create an emotional response, or is it the other way around? Whether you feel anxious because your heart races, or your heart races because you are stressed has been long debated by behavioral psychologists. But where all can agree is that there is a mutual relationship between physiological responses and feelings.
Make friends. Social support has been shown across the board to increase joy and connection and decrease depression and isolation. Researched effects of the positive outcomes on mood and wellbeing from social support is the basis for group therapy, support groups, and many of the group programs we see in our healthcare system today.
Take initiative. Self-esteem and confidence is vital to your enjoyment and wellbeing. And the best way to build confidence is to observe the relationship between your actions and positive results over time. But that means you need to take risks, and then track your successes to build trust in yourself and your competency.
Also, taking the initiative can help you feel more empowered in your life. Research shows that those who accept the fate of their life passively experience more depression. Taking control of your life is a great way to feel more emboldened, and more successful, and therefore happier in your decisions.
Give away. There is fascinating literature on the relationship between charitable giving and pleasure. Based on fMRI studies, brain activity was monitored in the act of giving, and was found to light up the midbrain region, the area of our brain that is responsible for cravings, pleasure, and satisfaction. Altruism and charitable giving have also been shown to have an impact on your blood pressure, studies show.
Exercise. There is an abundance of research on the correlation between happiness and exercise. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post dedicated exclusively to exercise.) Exercise is one of the most well-cited behaviors to include in behavioral treatments for just about any mood disorder, due to its researched benefits.
But don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself. These are all things you can do right this second. No need to think about it, or even feel. Like a good behaviorist-- just do. And then drop me a line and let me know how it went for you.
Dr. Ayelet Krieger is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified yoga teacher who is dedicated to helping you live mindfully to beat stress and maximize joy. Click here to learn about services offered at Oasis Therapy Center and click here to schedule your free consultation.