While you might already be familiar with some feel-good tips, like exercising regularly and making time for families and friendships, research has uncovered more ways to build on these fundamentals. Here are four things you can do right now to take your well-being to the next level.
1. Use your brain
“When it comes to brain chemistry, if you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Joe Dispenza, DC, author of Evolve Your Brain, (Health Communications, 2007). “When you think differently, you create new circuits in the brain, which creates new patterns in behavior and feeling.” Meditation can open up those circuits and boost happiness by cultivating contentment increasing blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain–the source of the higher-level thinking that enables us to chart our own course instead of just reacting to our environment. It also enables you to recognize and minimize thoughts that lead to unhappiness–such as those that center on guilt, blame, judgment, and pessimism–and favor those that foster a more positive state.
2. Foresee and reflect on happiness
It’s true that happiness is in the now, but thinking about positive things in the past and those that you anticipate in the future can actually boost your present happiness. “Savoring past pleasurable experiences boosts your positive emotions in the present, and positive emotions are the key to happiness,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness (The Penguin Press, 2008). Relish in the contentment the event triggered, not rue the fact that the experience is over. Anticipating happy events–like watching a funny movie–can also lift your mood. Research has even shown that you don’t need to laugh to reap the effects: Men who were planning to watch their favorite funny movies saw a significant increase in mood-enhancing hormones even before the movie started.
3. Buy someone a present or give to charity
Whether having more money boosts happiness over the long-term is up for debate. But research from the University of British Columbia has found that using your own money on someone else’s behalf produces a happiness surge. The researchers gave students either $5 or $20 and told half the students to buy something for themselves and the other half to spend it on someone else. Those who donated their money to charity or bought a gift for a friend reported a significantly bigger increase in well-being. And there was no difference in the uptick in good feelings between those who spent $5 and those who spent $20, suggesting that even small gestures have a big impact.
4. Eat dark chocolate
Food feeds your brain in addition to fueling your body. “Dark chocolate is the perfect brain food,” says Cheryle Hart, MD, author of The Feel-Good Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2008). While you don’t want to overdo it, indulging a little can give you an extra boost just when you need one. Sugars fuel the brain, caffeine provides an energy lift, and magnesium helps the body manufacture serotonin. Hart suggests one or two ounces of organic, high-quality dark chocolate in the midafternoon, when serotonin typically dips to its lowest level of the day.
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