Don't wait for bliss to come to you. You can actually make joy happen—simply by planning for it.
Sometime this morning, during your shower or at work, you probably did a mental run-through of your day. You decided when you'd fit in errands. Maybe you vowed to skip lunch and hit the gym. Perhaps you plotted how to get out of something (sorry, PTA meeting). The one thing you forgot to schedule? Happiness.
Remember: Happiness doesn't just show up on the doorstep, like a pizza. You have to make it happen—and you can. Splashy events and expensive toys are not the ultimate bliss bringers, researchers have found. As people get older, they tend to find ordinary treats, like a latte and a manicure, just as joy-inducing as extraordinary ones. How can you amp up your everyday elation? We asked top psychologists for their tips, which we gladly pass along to you. (And, as you'll see, sharing the love is one way to make yourself feel good, too.)
1. Make It Your Goal
Consciously increasing your happiness shouldn't feel like work—that would be counterproductive, wouldn't it? But a can-do mind-set comes in handy. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, people who were told to listen to music with an ear toward how it made them happy had a greater boost in bliss than those instructed only to relax as they listened to the same upbeat tunes.
Try This: Decide to be a glass-half-full type. It comes down to motivation. Researchers say they believe genetics is behind about 50 percent of the variation in happiness levels, and that everyday circumstances account for maybe 10 percent. You are fully in charge of the rest.
2. Wake Up And Smell The Shower Gel
The act of savoring—mining pleasant moments for their joy—is a proven happiness booster. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, 101 adults kept diaries for a month, noting how much they did or didn't savor activities that were supposed to make them feel positive. Those who tended to enjoy a good thing—and share their delight with others—maintained high levels of happiness no matter what the day brought. Those who did not needed additional positive events to get into a good mood.
Try This: Just tune in to your senses—it's a no-brainer. Inhale that pinot grigio bouquet. Feel the plush rug under your bare feet. Enjoy the sweet scent of your shower gel. You can even find ways to relish more mundane tasks. Try turning on YouTube while you're deleting your junk e-mail, for instance. (Why haven't there been more studies on the happiness-inducing powers of panda videos?!)
3. Think Perky Thoughts
On days when you have no time to breathe, recalling something that made you happy can give you a boost. In one study, bus drivers who smiled after thinking about a positive event, such as a child's recital, were more upbeat than workers who fake-smiled.
Try This: Say cheese. A full-on grin that involves muscles around the eyes sparks a change in brain activity related to a good mood, science suggests.
4. Go Off The Grid, Big-Time
Weekend getaways can be great, but for a deeper feeling of joy, you can't beat a long trip. That's because when you take only a quick journey, the elation spikes: You're high on the way there but return home (and to reality) almost as fast. An extended vacation—even to somewhere familiar, like a beach town three hours from home—might create more lasting memories. And having a bank of them to tap into can add to happiness, research shows.
Try This: Budget for a two-week trip. Even the planning gives you a boost: The findings of one Dutch study indicated that the bliss of a trip can start months before it begins, owing to the anticipation.
5. Prioritize Your Pleasure
Sigh if this sounds familiar: You make a major effort to avoid stress—staying up late, say, to finish laundry so tomorrow will be easier—only to suck your evening dry of all fun. In a get-stuff-done-now world, that's hard to avoid.
Try This: Don't fit joyful activities into your days—build your days around them. You'll never hear a devoted churchgoer say, "Can we reschedule the weekend services because something came up?" Have that church mentality about whatever gives you pleasure, and protect your sacred time from "nibblers" by announcing to everyone when you need time to recharge your batteries.
6. Make "We" Time
Sunny people have one thing in common that has nothing to do with their paycheck, IQ or gender: They have a variety of social relationships. That includes interactions that psychologists call social snacking—little ways of connecting with others including strangers. In one study last year, participants heading to work by train either refrained from engaging with fellow passengers or made conversation; the chatty commuters—introverts and extroverts alike—reported having the most pleasant commute. In another study, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that it doesn't really matter if you interact with people you know well or only casually. Folks feel more chipper when they mingle than on days when they keep more to themselves, the researchers discovered.
Try This: Talk to a stranger (or two). Camaraderie—that feeling that we're all in this crazy world together—is comforting.
7. Buy The Right Kind Of Happy
As anyone who has ever bought a trendy, overpriced accessory knows, the kick we get out of purchases wears off fast. However, research shows that spending on experiences (tickets to a show, for example) rather than things (another black sweater) creates lasting contentment—with one caveat. People fail to get pleasure from objects or experiences meant to give them bragging rights, a recent study at San Francisco State University found. So if you're a burger-joint gal who plans a birthday blowout at Le Fancy Schmancy Bistro, you might get likes on Facebook but miss out on personal delight.
Try this: Follow your bliss, not someone else's.
8. Make Sunday Your Future Fun-Day
One thing you should do every weekend is make plans for the next one. Not only does the anticipation power you through the workweek, but the tactic also helps you avoid making passive, meh plans such as accepting a Saturday dinner invitation from a couple whom you don't really like just because you've got nothing better to do.
Try This: Adopt a PEP (physical, escape, people) strategy. That is, try to put together a mix of physical activities that energize you, escapist activities that relax you and people you find inspiring. PEP is a framework for leaving you happier each weekend—not to mention during the week.
9. Be Nicer
Nobody is calling you evil, but committing to a few do-good gestures every day can increase your level of contentment. Researchers have found that when people are told to attempt doing three to five acts of kindness per week, they get happier.
Try This: At the store, let someone get in line ahead of you. Give a compliment. Smile at someone. No need for grand deeds. Or, simply do something thoughtful for your significant other. (C'mon—it won't kill you!)
10. Ration What Gets Your Attention
What do gold, petroleum and your spare time have in common? They're all scarce resources. Allocate time to maximize your moments of pleasure. Do you need to be on social media every second? A study in the journal Plos One found that the more people went on Facebook, the more their overall life satisfaction levels declined.
Try This: Shut off your phone for a couple of hours each night, or carve out e-mail-free Saturdays or Sundays. Electronic time-outs are lifesavers. You also want to dump any activity that "should" make you happy but really doesn't, like a book club that picks lousy reads or a class with an overly earnest yoga teacher. It might be hard to walk away, but remember: Lost happy time is lost forever.