You want to feel happier. Everyone does.
And why shouldn’t you?
Happiness is great, and something we should all strive to experience as often as possible.
There are a number of things that have been proven to increase your happiness in the long run.
But what if you want to experience more happiness as soon as possible? Say, in the next 24 hours?
That’s what this post is about.
Here you will find 20 simple things you can do right now that will leave you feeling all smiley inside.
1. Express Gratitude
This simply HAD to be the first one on this list.
Nothing is more immediate or more powerful than simply counting your blessings.
Think you’ve got nothing to express gratitude about?
Think again. Right now, you are reading this, which means a couple of things.
First of all, you have a computer at your fingertips. Many people in the world don’t have this luxury. And nobody had this luxury sixty years ago.
Secondly, you have eyes that work. According to the WHO, in 2002, there were 161 million visually impaired people in the world, including 37 million blind individuals.
Third, you can read. That sets you apart from the 793 million adults in the world who are illiterate.
I know these things about you without having ever met you. And these things hardly scratch the surface of why you should be grateful.
If you just take a moment to actually think about it, you will easily come up with dozens of reasons to be grateful. It doesn’t matter where you are, what your life has been like, or anything like that.
Right now, I want you to get out a piece of paper.
Do nothing else until you’ve filled up the page with things you are grateful for. This shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes. And I’ve already given you three ideas.
You can do this exercise any time you want, and I guarantee you will feel a nice surge of happiness. It’s a great way to start and/or end your day.
2. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
In today’s fast paced world, there is one thing that consistently gets sacrificed: sleep.
While it can be incredibly tempting to cut back on sleep to squeeze out an extra hour of work or hang out with your friends, sleep deprivation can take an incredible toll on your mental health.
We’ve all had those days where we are so busy that we only have time for a couple hours of sleep. I don’t need to tell you about how awful you feel the next day.
But what you may not realize as acutely from the all-nighters is the effect that chronic sleep deprivation has on you. If you are only getting 5-7 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis, you almost certainly feel less happy than you should.
Consider this: the average American gets only 6.1 hours of sleep per night. Contrast that with the 7.5-8 hours per night that is recommended, and you can see that there is a huge problem!
Since it can take some time to fall asleep, I suggest that tonight you leave yourself nine full hours between going to bed and when you intend to wake up. That extra bit of buffer space will help ensure that you get a good night’s sleep.
When you wake up, you will feel a lot better. Tomorrow evening, take a moment to reflect on how much better you feel after a night of proper sleep.
3. Take A Walk
Not enough people take walks these days.
If you aren’t a regular walker, you probably don’t “get" what’s so great about something as simple as a stroll down the street or through the park.
You might even think it sounds boring.
But there just is something about a simple half hour walk that has incredible happiness promoting power.
For me, it’s the scenery. Whether it be a hike through a forest or a romp through an urban jungle, there is just so much to see. Appreciate the trees. Appreciate the architecture.
There’s also the whole getting off your tush and moving thing. Especially if you sit all day at work, the whole drive home, and for two hours in front of the tube, you could really benefit by adding some movement into your life.
Some people like to think while they walk. You can go over the events of the day if you walk at night or plan your day if you walk in the morning. I guarantee this will be cathartic and help you deal with stress in your life.
Other people like to clear their mind while they walk. If you do this, you will feel very peaceful, and the worries of your day will simply melt away.
4. Exercise Intensely
On the other end of the spectrum is intense exercise. Spend 20-30 minutes lifting heavy weights, doing sprints, swinging kettlebells, or doing anything that leaves you exhausted, muscles on fire, and gasping for air.
Maybe that doesn’t sound appealing to you. I don’t blame you.
But a hard workout can be exactly the sort of thing you need to feel great.
You know you should be exercising. So when you do, you will feel better about yourself.
Not only that, but your brain will reward you as well.
One word: endorphins.
These little guys are chemicals that are structurally similar to morphine, and make you feel great. Intense exercise stimulates your brain to produce endorphins, resulting in a mild euphoria. If you’ve ever heard of a “runner’s high", now you know what it is.
But you don’t have to run. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of time doing anything. The more intensely you exercise, the less time you have to put in.
I’m not telling you to start an exercise regimen right now (although that is a great idea). Although regularly working out will be good for your health, that’s not the point of this.
What I am telling you is that if you exercise just this one time, you will experience a great mood boost.
5. Take An Action Towards A Goal
We all have goals.
And I’m sure that if you think about it, you have at least one goal where progress has stalled.
Here’s a simple way to feel a little happier: restart your progress towards that goal!
It doesn’t take much. Just take the first step. It can be intimidating to look at a goal and plan the entire process to completion.
But you don’t have to do that. Whatever your goal is, you just need to do the next small task that will bring you closer to success.
Having meaningful goals is one of the greatest ways to become happier in the long term, but you can feel great right now by simply taking the first step.
As a side benefit, you make progress towards your goal! I know that’s obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.
I have written extensively about goals before, so if you would like more information, I suggest you check out this post:
“Wait, Mike…you can’t be serious. I’m strapped for time as it is! I can’t spend my time on someone else!"
Not so fast.
Research shows that spending your time helping others actually increases your subjective sense of “time affluence". And that’s compared to wasting time, spending time on yourself, or even being given a windfall of extra free time!
I’d like to add that when you volunteer, it takes your mind off of yourself and helps you be thankful for the positive things in your own life. In other words, it makes you happier.
Chances are high (let’s say, oh, 100%) that there is an opportunity local to you where you can volunteer for something that you are passionate about. Hospitals, soup kitchens, religious or political organizations, schools, and plenty of other groups are looking for volunteers.
Volunteering is one of those things that is hard to start, but can change your life once you do. It might take a few tries before you find an opportunity that is right for you. That being said, you will still feel happier in the short run for having volunteered, whether or not you are particularly fond of the organization.
So give it a shot. Start with just an hour so that it’s not a big commitment.
If it “feels right", keep doing it. And if it doesn’t, try another place. The benefits of volunteering are hard to communicate (although I tried to describe the benefits of my own volunteering here), so you should simply jump in and do it.
7. Remove A Stressor
Has something been bothering you recently?
I can just about guarantee that there are several things right at this moment that are stressing you out.
Perhaps it’s an annoying coworker. Perhaps you need to go to the DMV (ugh). Perhaps you have a big presentation coming up.
Whatever it is that is stressing you out is distracting you from the awesomeness going on around you.
So why not get rid of it?
Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is well within your abilities to eliminate a stressor from your life.
There are all sorts of different ways of doing this, and some may not work for all of the infinite variety of stressors that are possible.
If you can eliminate something that is stressing you out, do it by whatever means necessary.
Less stress = more happiness.
Spend five minutes writing down things that stress you out during your daily life. Then spend another five minutes brainstorming solutions to these stressors. Take action and eliminate one.
Until the stressor is completely eliminated, you should do what you can to manage it in the moment it occurs. Stuck in traffic? Take ten deep breaths. You’ll feel happier.
So many people dismiss meditation as some “new age" mumbo-jumbo that can’t possibly work. That’s such a shame, because meditation opens up a whole new world of possibility, and I will barely scratch the surface here.
Meditation is the practice of concentrating your focus of attention on something in order to experience an increase in awareness of the present moment.
What a mouthful!
Even though there is a lot of depth to meditation, it doesn’t need to be complicated.
For example, a basic meditation that will serve you well is “square breathing". Breathe in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, exhale slowly for a count of four, and wait another four before taking in another breath.
While you do this, focus only on your breathing. Feel the physical sensations of your body, but don’t analyze them. How does the air feel in your lungs? Check and see if there is any tension in your body.
When thoughts inevitably begin to pop back into your head, don’t dwell on them. Accept it, then let the thought go.
Start by doing this for five minutes at a time (set an alarm, you will lose track of time!), but work your way up to 20-30 minutes. Try to do this daily if possible.
Seriously, give meditation a shot.
I guarantee it will change your life for the better, and it will make you feel great as you do it. All your concerns melt away for a period of time, and the feeling is incredible.
9. Simplify Or Declutter
All the various items you have laying around your house are killing you!
Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t be that dramatic.
But when you have extra items that you don’t use, they add stress to your life that you probably don’t notice.
As your possessions accumulate, so does your stress. You need to store them, maintain them, and worry about them. Your possessions gradually take over your mind.
Maybe you don’t quite realize this yet.
I didn’t believe it until this past summer, when I cleared out a huge amount of my possessions.
It’s hard to describe the feeling I had afterwards, but it was as though there was a weight on my shoulders that I had never noticed before, and it was suddenly lifted.
This isn’t just true for your possessions; you should also simplify your life in general.
How many things are you committed to? Do you get lunch with someone every Wednesday at noon? Do you spend time working for an organization that you don’t really care about?
Keep track of how you spend your time. When you have “obligations" that are not necessary and you do not value, cancel them (gracefully, of course).
This will free up time for you to do things that you do enjoy, and is another way of reducing the little stressors that add up.
10. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Everyone is afraid of something. Most people are afraid of many things.
If you are too proud, this can be a tough pill to swallow.
For example, I used to be afraid of heights. This summer I went skydiving (which was awesome, by the way. You should definitely try it.). I’m not afraid of heights anymore.
You might feel the same way, or you might be afraid of something else.
Whatever your fear, you must step outside of your comfort zone in order to decrease it.
You might think it would make you happier to simply avoid doing things you are afraid of; after all, fear doesn’t feel good!
But in reality, fear causes harm to you even when you aren’t doing what it is you are afraid of. Fear limits you.
A much better strategy is to overcome your fear. You can do this by accepting the fact that you are afraid…and then doing exactly what it is you are afraid of.
Push your limits. Every time you do something uncomfortable, it becomes easier the next time. You realize that what you were afraid of is not as big of a deal as you thought.
Your limitations are then removed, and a new world is open to you.
11. Learn Something New
One of the greatest pleasures you can experience is to learn something new.
You probably have many interests that you would like to pursue, but haven’t. I really want to learn how to produce electronic music, learn several languages, become a better writer, and a million other things.
When you have a half hour of free time, try to learn something that you want to learn. Just take the first step. It is very rewarding.
But learning isn’t just about gaining new skills or pursuing a hobby. There are things to learn in every facet of life, from social interactions to advanced physics.
If something interests you, spend a little bit of time learning more about it.
I am very fascinated by nutrition and biochemistry (yes, I am a nerd). It makes me incredibly happy to go on a research database and look around for the most random scientific perspectives on nutrition as I can possibly find.
Sometimes, the most fun things to learn are the things that you didn’t even know you were interested in. Try something new. Like I said above, step outside of your comfort zone.
Your local community college probably offers all sorts of courses for adults who want to learn a skill like knitting, cooking, martial arts, etc. Find the class that interests you the most and the class that interests you the least and sign up for both.
Learning doesn’t stop after college. You should be learning new things every day of your life. Be curious.
12. Read A Book
Books are awesome.
Both fiction and nonfiction books can entertain as well as stimulate.
With your busy lifestyle, you might find it challenging to find the time to read, but it’s worth it.
No matter what you are interested in, about a gazillion people have already written a book about it. So don’t worry about not being able to find something relevant to you.
Reading a work of nonfiction can help you learn new things and explore a topic you are interested in. Fiction can also help you learn, plus reading fiction is a very relaxing activity.
I suggest finding one fiction and one nonfiction book to read at any given time.
Let me emphasize something: you should be reading real books printed on real paper. Sure, e-books are great resources that also entertain and stimulate, but there is something about them that is missing.
The experience of reading the printed word has a unique feel to it. For starters, it’s easier on the eyes than reading off of a computer screen, but there is more to it than that.
I can’t quite describe it, but if you’ve ever read a book online and then a real book, you probably know what I’m talking about.
Don’t like reading? Give it another shot.
It’s very common to be conditioned to dislike reading because of bad experiences in your literature classes. But when you read something by choice and don’t have to write a paper about it, you will enjoy it much more.
13. Commune With Nature
Wake up, commute for a half hour, work 9-5, commute back home, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep.
This is a fairly typical routine for a large percentage of Americans. There are a million different complaints I can come up with against that type of routine, but I’m going to stick with one for right now: there is no time spent outdoors!
You can experience the negative feelings of cabin fever before you realize it consciously. A few days without spending much time outside will leave you feeling weak and empty.
Did you know that vitamin D is critically important for a ton of functions in your body, including ones related to mood? And did you know that the best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is most likely caused by vitamin D deficiency during the colder months when we have less exposure to sunlight.
So, instead of eating lunch in your cafeteria, go outside and eat at the park. Get some more vitamin D.
Also, at the risk of sounding like a stoned teenager, trees are awesome. Just go outside and appreciate some more of that natural beauty all around you that you probably spend most of your time ignoring.
14. Do Some People Watching
Seriously, people watching is one of the most entertaining things of all time.
Find a place with a decent amount of foot traffic that has a bench or something for you to sit on. Get comfy, and observe what’s going on around you.
I guarantee if you spend at least a couple of minutes there, you will see some very odd but entertaining things.
My favorite place of all time for people watching is Washington Square Park in Manhattan, but every city has at least one quirky park like that.
If you go people watching with someone else, you can even make a game out of it.
One that I like to play is called “My Team". The goal is to build a team of the most ridiculous, eccentric people as you possibly can. Whoever points out the strange person gets them on their team. It’s very simple, but very fun.
You’ll find that people watching is one of those activities that allows you to step outside yourself and let your thoughts melt away. You realize that there are billions of other people out there, and they all have their own concerns and worries and lives. Your own concerns become less significant.
15. Be Social
We humans are inherently social creatures. Sure, some of us may be more or less outgoing than others, but all of us have a fundamental need to socialize.
There are two types of socializing I will mention here: fostering old friendships and making new ones. Both are very important for keeping happy.
Friendships require an investment of time, but it pays dividends to spend that time.
Your friends are your social support; they share in the good times with you, and they cheer you up or bail you out during the bad times.
Besides the people you are already friends with, you should always be looking to meet new friends.
I’ve had a lot of great conversations with people while waiting on lines or by lighting their cigarette. Sometimes I talk to that person again (accidentally seeing them again or intentionally), and sometimes I don’t. But it’s always worthwhile.
I can’t overemphasize how important it is that you spend time socializing with other people if you want to live a happy life.
So, here are your tasks: 1) call up a friend who you want to hang out with, and then hang out with them, and 2) start conversations with people around you during your daily life.
For more information on how to talk to strangers, check out this post:
16. Forgive Someone
Every once in a while, someone will screw you over.
It can be easy to get mad at that person, and that’s what most of us do. Unfortunately, we can hold onto that anger and resentment for a long time.
When you remain angry at someone, you only hurt yourself. Think about it. The anger is a negative emotion inside you, not them.
A much better idea would be to forgive someone for what they have done, despite how difficult it might seem to do.
In fact, it really isn’t that challenging. Accept the fact that you have been wronged. Then let it go. Make a decision that you will not let it bother you anymore.
It might take some time before your decision actually “kicks in" and you’ve truly forgiven them, but take the first step and commit to it.
How does this make you feel happier?
The ill will that you held onto only forced you to be unhappy, and by truly forgiving someone, you release yourself from unnecessary negative emotions. It feels liberating.
There are also situations where you have wronged yourself or others. It is just as important that you be able to forgive yourself, but this can be even more challenging.
17. Accept Something That You Can’t Change
In your life, there are things that you have control over and things that you don’t.
Too often, we spend time worrying about the things that we can’t change. This is just mental masturbation; it gets you nowhere.
It’s understandable that we think about these things. If it affects us, it’s hard not to think about it.
But if you can’t do anything to change the outcome, you are simply wasting your valuable mental energy on it!
Rather than spinning your wheels, focus your energies on the things in your life that you can change. This requires you to shift your energy away from things you can’t change…now.
How can you do that?
Simple: accept that which you can’t change. This doesn’t mean that you have to appreciate what it is, you must simply stop fighting against it.
Right now, visualize a situation that stresses you out that you can’t change. Consider all the horrible things about the situation. Imagine them vividly in your mind. Now take that picture, and let it get smaller and smaller in your mind until it disappears.
As simple as that little exercise was, it can be very powerful. Let your feelings about whatever the situation was disappear with the image in your mind. Repeat the exercise whenever you start dwelling on the situation again, and it will gradually lose significance to you.
18. Break A Bad Habit
Too much caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, laziness, or procrastination?
We all have some sort of vice. Pick your poison.
You probably know already that you should moderate yourself for the sake of your health.
But did you know that the process of breaking a bad habit can make you happier?
In other words, you don’t need to succeed in breaking the habit before you feel better about yourself. Simply the act of trying will improve your mood!
You don’t have any excuse to wait. If you’ve wanted to break your bad habit for a while, start right now.
All you need to do is take the first step. Resist the cigarette craving just this one time, or get off the couch and go to the gym just this one time.
Not only will you be happier, but you will make actual progress towards improving your health or becoming more productive. Great deal!
Keep in mind that you have to actually want to change. If you think avoiding that drink just that once will make you happy even if you intend to drink another one a tiny bit later, think again. You can’t cheat on this.
That being said, even if you don’t ultimately succeed in trying to break your habit, you will experience a mood lift during the time that you are actively trying to break it.
If caffeine is your vice of choice, I’ve written a complete guide on how to quit.
19. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Your mom was right about this one.
But when your mom told you to eat your vegetables, she was probably just looking out for your health. Recent research has shown that eating more fruits and veggies might make you happier as well.
Even though the old food pyramid suggests five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, that study showed that well-being peaks at seven servings…so let’s aim for that.
“Woah, Mike! I barely even eat any vegetables, how the heck am I supposed to get seven servings?!"
First of all, don’t worry. Even just one extra serving per day helps.
And second of all, if you want to, you can change your diet enough to get to that point.
Take a look at what you eat now. Is there a way to add more vegetables to any of the dishes you already make?
Let’s say you are like me and you eat eggs nearly every day. How do you prepare your eggs? Feel free to add more vegetables to the mix. Today I had two large mushrooms, a tomato, a large yellow pepper, and half of a green chili with my eggs. That’s not bad for one meal.
And to all you haters out there who are saying that this isn’t instantaneous…good point. But it’s still a great idea, so do it anyways.
20. Choose To Be Happy
It was a struggle to decide whether to include this as the first or last point on this list.
Ultimately, I think this one is so important that it needs to be the last thing on your mind when you finish reading this post.
It is so easy to forget that happiness is a choice. While there are many external factors that do influence your happiness levels, in the end it comes down to a choice on your part.
When everything is going well in your life, it’s easy to be happy without making any effort. It’s when the going gets tough that the choice becomes more apparent.
It’s not always easy to choose happiness. Sometimes, we just want to sulk, to feel sorry for ourselves, or to be angry.
You are free to choose to see the worst in people. You are free to choose to look for the negative aspects of a situation. You are free to dwell on your anxieties. You are free to ignore all the good things that are happening in your life.
But you are also free to look for the positive in people around you. Free to be optimistic. Free to stop worrying and start enjoying your life. Free to express gratitude.
Doesn’t that sound like a much better choice?