While there’s no one secret to happiness, regular self care can go a long way towards boosting your mood. People find joy in different places, so the key is to identify healthy habits that please you—and make time for them daily.
"As Aristotle put it, 'Happiness is an activity'," says Jason Wheeler, PhD, a psychoanalyst in New York City. "Lots of things in life just happen to us, but many other things we have to do, and being happy is one of them."
So what do mental health experts do to harness happiness? We asked three therapists to share the everyday self-care strategies that help them stay positive and grounded, even during times of stress. Here, four of their get-happy habits to try for yourself.
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The term "mindfulness" probably conjures up images of yoga or quiet meditation, but Wheeler says it's possible to embrace this way of thinking while doing many different forms of exercise. His mind-body workout of choice is swimming, since the repetitive motions naturally lend themselves to mindful thinking.
"To swim well, I must concentrate just on what I am doing," he explains. "I exist from stroke to stroke, from breath to breath."
Plus, swimming is a terrific low-impact workout. "When I'm done, I don’t feel sore, but refreshed and energized," Wheeler says, adding that 30 minutes to an hour of swimming is the perfect meditative break during a busy day.
Don’t just get grateful at Thanksgiving. Studies show that expressing gratitude can lead to benefits like better sleep and lower risk of depression. And unsurprisingly, mental health experts are all about it.
"If I’m getting down or feeling anxious, I’ll make a list of things that I’m grateful for," San Antonio-based therapist Kasi Howard, PsyD, tells Health. "It flips my mindset and keeps me from ruminating on things that are stressful, or from focusing on the negative. Plus, it’s a big mood lifter."
Ready to try it for yourself? Our gratitude challenge will have you feeling happier and more appreciative in just 21 days.
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Sweat it out
Another proven happiness-booster? Cardio workouts. "Running is a source of sanity for me," says Howard. "Not only is it my stress relief, it’s also when I think of ideas."
There’s a scientific reason why Howard feels particularly sunny after a sweat session. Exercise causes a spike in adrenaline throughout the body, which is followed by a release of mood-boosting endorphins. And even relatively small amounts of exercise can make a difference; one recent study found that light physical activity was associated with a greater emotional benefit compared to moderate and high-intensity exercise. Sweat, smile, repeat.
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Connect with others
"I spend a little quiet time with my husband every day talking about 'us,'" says Gail Saltz, MD, Health’s contributing psychology editor. "Doing so keeps our relationship strong, and that makes me happy."
Saltz and her hubby may be onto something. Communication is key in all relationships, especially romantic ones. In a 2015 study of newlywed couples published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers found that wives who perceived their husbands to be habitually suppressing their emotions reported lower marriage quality over time. So go ahead, express yourself.
Mind & Body – Health.com