Want happiness fast? Do you let the small hassles of everyday life get you down? Psychologist Dr Tim Bono brings us a crash course with seven ways to happiness, in his new book When Likes Aren’t Enough
Most of us seem to oscillate between periods of ‘woe is me’ and the occasional ‘yippee’ moment. But what if there were some tools you could employ everyday to increase the regularity of the latter?
If you’ve ever wondered what the people that actually study the science of happiness think would increase those all too elusive moments of joy, don’t budge from this page.
Dr Tim Bono is a psychologist and lecturer in happiness at Washington University. In his new book When likes aren’t enough, Dr Bono outlines the simple but powerful tweaks you can make to your day to have a big impact on your level of happiness and contentment.
1. Break your day up with a walk
It goes without saying that sitting down all day every day provides little to no benefit to our health. In 2014, high profile news outlets including Time magazine, claimed that ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
Many of us have jobs that require being sat at a computer for most of the day but being sat down and lacking physical exercise can increase our risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Exercise isn’t only beneficial to our physical health but our psychological health too. Moving around more will increase our happiness, motivation and our ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
Exercise can also help us deal with stressful situations calmly and rationally and help with our confidence when handling personal problems.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that we do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity. So, if we were to spend 20 minutes a day, participating in physical activity that increases our heart rate and makes us sweat, we would be doing enough exercise to prevent risks to our health.
Dr Bono says that ‘exercise increases the production of mitochondria’ which are the ‘energy factories’ in your cells; the more exercise you do the more mitochondria you produce and so, the more energy you will have. Deciding to include exercise into your daily routine can activate a mindset that will lead you to make other healthy decisions, such as having a healthier lunch.
‘Exercise primes healthy living’ Bono states, ‘sticking to an exercise routine can set the stage for other behaviours that will boost happiness throughout your day.’
When we feel low and groggy, physical activity is often the last thing we think of but in fact it can be most effective in improving our mood and motivation. According to Dr Bono, if we can accomplish exercise when feeling down and unmotivated, it will increase our confidence, make us happier and improve our overall well being.
So, the next time you are feeling stressed or unmotivated, increase your supply of energy and go for a walk. If you’re feeling lonely – ask a friend or work colleague to go on a walk with you. Exercise is cheap, easy and proven to make you happier.
2. Practice your power pose (and smile)
If you’re feeling down and need a quick fix to improve your mood (it isn’t coffee by the way), you can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy by forcing yourself to smile. Smiling activates our face muscles and therefore our smile muscles, which sends a message to the brain that we are feeling happy. ‘The simple act of smiling is enough to trigger the emotional experience of happiness,’ says Dr Bono.
Our facial muscles aren’t the only ones we can use to trick our brain into making us happier.
The movement and position of our whole body can affect how we feel. Standing upright and smiling slightly will increase your confidence and happiness. One of Dr Bono’s students increased her confidence by ‘power posing’. She went into the bathroom before an interview and stood with her arms and legs wide apart, chest out and her chin up. Try this ‘power pose’ next time you need a happiness or confidence boost and see if it works for you. Find out more about power posing here.
3. Recharge your well-being as well as your phone
Before you go to sleep you put your phone on charge, the next morning you wake up to a fully charged phone – your phone may be fully charged but are you? Margaret Thatcher once said that ‘sleep is for wimps’.
Like Margaret Thatcher, many people do not feel it is important to prioritise sleep – but they really should. Many studies prove that people who have more sleep are psychologically healthier. More sleep provides a person with more enthusiasm and energy and lessens anger and disappointment throughout the day.
Speaking of phones, the more frequently people use technology and devices before going to bed, the more likely they are to report symptoms of insomnia and daytime sleepiness. According to Dr Bono, the light from modern-day devices ‘interferes with the release of melatonin, a hormone the brain secretes to help us feel tired.’
If you find it hard to fall asleep this could be why, try switching your phone off or switching it to ‘do not disturb’ a few hours before you drift off to the land of nod. Zzz.
We all look forward to our lie in on a Saturday or Sunday (or both) but I have some bad news – gone are the days of ‘catching up on sleep’. It turns out that ‘there is no way to make up for sleep debt,’ says Dr Bono.
It appears that an irregular sleep schedule can negatively impact our social well-being. We should in fact be getting the same amount of sleep every night. Sleep variability can lead to stress and other negative emotions throughout the week, it can even undermine our ability to fall asleep the following evening.
To feel refreshed, most of us should consistently get up to eight hours of sleep a night. If this isn’t possible, try and incorporate a 15-20 minute afternoon nap into your daily routine. Try not to lie in any longer than an extra hour on the weekends.
Establish a bedtime routine and it will lay a foundation for establishing other routines – like exercise – that will help us gain the energy we need to focus on our goals and increase our happiness.
4. Build your willpower muscle
If you work out for 45 minutes, afterwards you will be physically tired and unlikely to want to do anything too laborious. But in the long term, after a few months of working out at the gym, you will be physically stronger and more capable.
Similarly, by repeatedly developing your will power through hard work and meeting deadlines, you will be strengthening your long-term willpower and more able to stay focused on challenging work in the future. ‘Willpower is like a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it becomes; and the less we use it, the weaker it becomes,’ says Dr Bono.
You can also build your willpower muscle by practicing self-control. Next time you are offered a biscuit at work turn it down, resist the urge to check your Facebook notifications or spend an extra ten minutes at the gym. Over time, it will get easier and easier to resist these tiny daily temptations that add to your burden of not being able to achieve a goal, be that weight loss or more focus during the day.
Build your willpower muscle by practicing self-control
Create a routine. When a behaviour becomes habitual or automatic through a routine, it requires less psychological strength and mental energy to execute it. So, if you’re planning to exercise more, make a daily time to do it and stick to that, seeing it as your new routine. This will eliminate any internal deliberation, pros and cons and wasted willpower that causes unnecessary stress. The more habitual behaviours become the less willpower they require, the sooner that exercise session feels as natural as brushing your teeth.
5. Don’t snack on emails
Do you check and respond to your emails as soon as you receive them? Turns out that although this may seem productive, it can have a negative impact psychologically.
Keeping your inbox closed more often may help to alleviate stress and increase happiness. Dr Bono states that replying to emails individually takes away a sense of urgency. Checking your inbox periodically however, will create that anxiety-bearing arousal that is so effective in motivating efficiency – when time is limited we work more efficiently. You will then only respond to those that really require your attention and wont waste time on other emails that will offer no real value to your work but could still cause you stress.
‘To make our time more plentiful we need to cut out any time drains that may be slowing us down,’ says Dr Bono. When we hear that ding of our email alert it hits the pause button on the progress of the task we are working on. After reading the email, whether important or not, we use mental energy to redirect our attention back to what we were working on.
Treat ’email checking’ like you would your three meals of the day. If you need to check your emails, set a time for you to check them and stick to that time, make sure it isn’t during those times when you are tackling your most important work.
6. Before you do anything, write it down first
We all have those bad days that leave us feeling grumpy and angry, wanting to take our anger out in the gym or scream and shout at the top of our lungs.
Negative emotions stay with us far longer than positive ones, thanks to a ‘pesky neurochemical taking its sweet time to travel through our circulatory system,’ says Dr Bono. Venting our anger in fact prolongs and delays our emotional system’s natural return to a calmer state.
Venting our anger prolongs our emotional system’s natural return to a calmer state
Instead, put pen to paper, expressing how you’re feeling emotionally in words. This will help you move beyond your anger. Dr Bono suggests that you set a timer for 15 minutes. Write down as much as you can of the experience that led you to this emotion, describing how you felt at each point.
It requires psychological work to keep your emotions bottled up, causing stress, higher blood pressure and heart rate, all of which can make us sick and unhappy. Write about them, process them and let them go.
7. Make memories not memes
Fact: life experiences and memories will bring us more happiness than material goods. That new laptop may fill you with joy, but that will soon fade. Going on a holiday however, will form memories that will fill you with happiness in the long-term.
Life experiences give us something to look forward to, helping us create memories we can relive and stories we can share with friends and family in the future. Experiences also strengthen our social ties, connecting us to other people which is fundamental to our well being and happiness.
But for some, documenting their experience is far more important than actually enjoying it. Nowadays we are so wrapped up in getting a perfect picture for our Instagram or Facebook account that we miss out on actually enjoying the moment for what it is.
Even having your phone in your bag is temptation enough to divert your attention away from the experience.
Next time you are doing or seeing something amazing, take one or two pictures and then turn off your phone. Pay full attention to your surroundings and take note of how the experience is making you feel.
But do social how much you enjoyed reading this post.
When Likes Aren’t Enough by Dr Tim Bono is published by Seven Dials and out now.
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