Happiness. That elusive, sunny disposition we all crave. That end-game we envision without a realistic route of getting there. That “thing” most people say they want out of life. “As long as I’m happy…” they say, honestly admitting that hopes and dreams only amount to one emotion making it all worth it. Most of us have noticed by now that happiness is not as easy to come by as it seems. In fact, each year, about 6.7 percent of the American population ages 18 and over suffer from major depression. And that’s only looking at those who are diagnosed.
Social Media and Depression
With social media being used to showcase users’ curated highlight reels, it’s no wonder that heavy use of social networks such as Facebook is also linked to depression. It makes sense: we’re in a state of constant comparison, whether or not you are conscious of it. So, in a world full of seemingly happy people, it can feel even lonelier to be experiencing sadness.
On a personal note, I’ve been there. Though I haven’t been diagnosed with depression, I definitely have bouts of highs and lows that might seem abnormal to outsiders. Maybe it’s a combination of my introversion and the ridiculously high expectations I set for myself, but sometimes I get pretty damn sad.
But don’t worry. This isn’t a pity party (although I do love parties centered on me! Hint! Hint!). This is just a little post to share with others that it’s OK to be sad. Yeah, dude, I said it. Social media makes it feel like everything you do is on display, but the truth is, it’s not.
Your 500 followers aren’t with you when you realize you forgot to switch the laundry over to the dryer for the third time in a row. Your thousands of viewers aren’t next to you when you receive the news that a family member is, like, really sick. Your constant commenters aren’t there to witness the layers of concealer you’ve applied, then wiped off, then applied again, unsuccessfully trying to cover up that stubborn pimple that popped up the day before your big speech.
The truth is, it can be hard to be happy at times.
And sometimes, the more you’re focusing on happiness, the more aware you are of the happiness void you’re trying to fill. Kind of like how sometimes you try to diet, but you’re thinking about food too much and you end up eating more than usual. (I’m talking to you, low-carb diet, when, instead of eating carbs, I just eat multiple bags of salami. Which is obviously not conducive for looking svelte.) Stupid how that happens, huh?
Well, I do a lot of research. It’s part of my job as a journalist, after all. So I thought I’d share some of the best tips for cultivating happiness and making it a habit. See, ’cause that’s the thing–you’ve almost got to train yourself to allow happiness to enter your life. You’ve got to feed yourself the right ingredients to produce happiness, and in doing so, happiness no longer becomes an unattainable goal, but instead a behind-the-scenes habit. Which is the way things should be, my homies. (Do you guys like being called homies? Should I try another term of endearment?)
The tips below are a result of both my neverending research as well as my own trials in establishing the happiness habit. I hope you’ll try them and see if you can get a little permanent smile going, too.
8 Things to do to Make Happiness a Habit
The easiest rule in the book. It’s actually been proven that if you force a smile on your face, your muscles recognize the motion to mean happiness and thus releases some of those feel-good vibes even if you’re feeling like a big pile of you-know-what. You’re literally tricking your brain into being happy. So, when it doubt, smile it out.
To quote the intelligent Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” If you have a hard time believing this decorated Harvard law graduate, perhaps you’ll believe this evidence. Anyway, I can personally attest to this one. As a runner, I can tell you I mostly continue running because the runner’s high is WORTH IT. And even if I’m ~heavier~ than I unrealistically wish to be, I still feel like a trillion bucks after completing a sweaty workout that may have featured a few curse words. Something about knowing you are doing something to improve yourself, your health, just makes you feel inherently proud and accomplished.
3. Notice when you’re happy
In order to cultivate a happy lifestyle, you’ve first got to acknowledge what happiness feels like when you experience it. Every day, write down five positive things that have happened. By focusing on the positive instead of the negative, you’ll start to say ‘see ya’ to that lame stuff you used to dwell on. Boom.
4. Do that thing that you love
If this tip sounds simple, that’s because it is. We all have interests and passions. Some people live for church on Sundays, some need to kick the soccer ball around, and others like to spend time by the sea. Whatever it is that truly feeds your soul, go do that thing. Doing the thing you love allows you to break away from the humdrum of life and gain some perspective, resulting in a more fulfilling sense of being. Find your thing and do it more often than not.
5. Eat well
What you put into your body has more to do with it than how it looks on the outside. It also impacts how you feel on the inside. Junk food makes you feel lazy and unsatisfied, whereas fueling your body with the correct nutrients not only energizes you, but it also sends you the important message that you’re worth wellness.
6. Help others
Studies have shown that those who are altruistic (see: being unselfish) are generally happier people. Why, though? First, this article describes that any activity is a good activity. Depressed people often cannot leave bed… let alone go out into the world. Engaging in any ‘ole activity is a great way to help lift your spirits. Volunteering also fosters social connection, which is usually a positive thing for humans. (Haven’t you heard? Loneliness can kill you.) Oh, and helping others just feels damn good.
7. Hang with your homies
There I go again, using the word “homies.” Will I ever stop? The world may never know. In the meantime, use this moment to ring up your bestie and plan a hangout sesh. Seeing your friends is linked to happiness for some of the same reasons as volunteering. You know, the “social interaction is good” and “loneliness is a killa” things? Yeah, those.
8. Know that others don’t make you happy
So this is where it gets tricky. Being with others can definitely boost your spirits, but it’s important not to have your happiness depend on others. Too often, people seek happiness in a significant other and inevitably get burned if the relationship goes south. They believe that the person makes them happy, which results in a lot of anxiety. It’s great to have a partner who increases your happy levels, but don’t tell yourself that you’re only happy because of that person.
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