On any given day, it's easy enough to find things to feel bad about, whether you are contemplating personal woes or the woes of the world, from wildfires to war to divisive politics. We all could use a little more joy.
Luckily, daily opportunities for joy are there for the taking, experts in the art of happier living say.
“We often view happiness as this kind of passive experience … determined by good things that may happen to us or things that may not happen to us,” says psychologist Scott Glassman, author of A Happier You: A 7-Week Program to Transform Negative Thinking Iinto Positivity & Resilience. But, he adds, we can and should make bliss happen, every day. “Your happiness muscles can atrophy,” Glassman warns, if you don’t use them.
Here are nine ways to flex those muscles.
1. Greet the dawn
Sunsets are awe-inspiring. But sunrises are special in their own ways, says neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and Aarhus University in Denmark. “One of the things that really brings me joy is to get up before dawn and watch the dawn come,” he says. “Dawn has this magical quality whereby we come to realize that life is cyclical and that things will basically follow the same rhythms, but there will be something new. There will be something joyful.” Getting up with the dawn can also help us get into a rhythm in which we sleep when it’s dark and feel alert when it’s light, improving both sleep and well-being, Kringelbach explains.
2. Go outside and draw something
Spending time in nature, whether you are hiking through a forest or sipping coffee on your patio, is a proven mood booster. If you feel truly connected with nature, the mental health benefits are even greater, research shows. One way to boost that connection is to find something that attracts your eye — a flower, a tree, a hillside — and draw it, Kringelbach says. (If you are at a loss for how to start, he says, you can find excellent drawing tutorials on YouTube.) When you draw, “you really have to look at the shapes in front of you, and you see in a completely different way,” he observes. In the process, “you become engaged in the now.” Photography can provide the same focus, he says, if you know how to carefully compose your image, looking for areas of shadow and light. The key is “to open yourself to experience by allowing yourself to see things for what they are.”
3. Listen to some birds
Just tuning in to birds singing can lift your mood, whether you encounter the birds in your backyard, in a park or even on a recording, studies suggest. Even people who are depressed report feeling better after hearing birds, the studies find. To get a bigger boost from the mourning dove’s coo or the trill of the red-winged blackbird, take a moment to really notice how it makes you feel. You can sample bird songs on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website.
4. Talk to a stranger
A sense of connection to others boosts happiness, even if we don’t know the people we’re connecting with very well or at all, research reveals. In one famous study, people who went to a coffee shop and made an effort to connect with the barista — with a smile, eye contact and a little chitchat — got a mood boost not experienced by those who just went in and got their java. Bonus: The employee probably experienced an improved mood too.