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Life in the 2020s has been rough, with waves of COVID-19 and other world-disrupting crises coming one after another. We all could use a little cheer right now.
Luckily, daily opportunities for joy are there for the taking, experts in the art of happier living say.
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“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 into 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 eight ways to flex those muscles.
1. Greet the dawn
Sunsets are awe-inspiring. But sunrises are special in additional 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. “I think 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 with 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.”