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How to be Happy: 15 Practical Tips

You may not know this about me, but I’m a giant nerd, truly a scientist at heart. That means that when I got really serious about figuring out what it takes to be happy in life, I delved fully into the science of happiness by reading, learning, thinking about, and testing out everything I could get my hands on – studies, theories, philosophies, memoirs.

There is still much to learn, but certain themes keep coming up again and again. While I don’t believe that the quick fix/instant gratification route is necessarily the one to lasting happiness, this cheat sheet will get us well on our way.

1. Be nice!

Don’t be a jerk, and don’t let your children be jerks. That statement right there sums up a lot of the ones below, but let’s be a little more specific.

2. Do something for someone else.

Small scale, big scale. Doesn’t matter. Acts of kindness make you feel good mentally and physically. Believe it or not, altruism can even lower your blood pressure! You’re also making someone else’s day, so there may be ripple effects. 

3. Move!

Seriously, you have to move your body. Our lifestyles are so sedentary these days, yet our bodies weren’t designed that way. You can’t expect your brain, a (very important) part of your body to work optimally if you’re not maintaining the system. Besides, tons of data coming out suggest that exercise has antidepressant and antianxiety effects. 

4. Similarly, eat real food.

Real foods (with ingredients you can pronounce and without added sugar) will nourish you and keep you full longer. Hanger is real. You’re not happy, and neither is anyone around you. Moreover, see above for the whole brain/system running optimally argument.

5. Stop complaining.

Complaining brings you down and trains your brain to notice all of the negative things. Besides, complaining doesn’t usually change or fix anything, does it?

6. Instead, be grateful.

Gratitude is more about choice and mindset than it is about external circumstances (e.g., physical possessions). You can be a billionaire yet unhappy if you’re not grateful, or you can be a prisoner with nothing and yet be happy. Look around. There are so many things to be grateful for! Try focusing on all the things you appreciate, that went well, and that made you happy instead of all the reasons why today sucked, or try this simple exercise. 

7. Connect with people. 

Reach out to loved ones. Talk to strangers. Don’t worry about feeling weird about being judged or stepping out of your comfort zone (which is actually really good for you to do, by the way). And, if you are worried, DO IT ANYWAYS! We’re all navigating this thing called life and probably have more in common than we realize. Taking a minute (or more) to connect with another human being helps us feel less lonely and gives a mood boost. Here are two easy ways:

Basic manners, please.

Make eye contact. Smile (or nod or wave if you’re masked). Hold the door for someone. Say “please.” Say “thank you.” Like you actually mean it. It feels good.

Give someone a compliment.

It takes 2 seconds, and I guarantee it will boost your happiness and theirs. By the way, say “thank you” if someone gives you a compliment. Thank you is the appropriate response. Do not let your mind dismiss it with some self-deprecating, “Oh, I’m not really XYZ” comment.

8. Practice mindfulness. 

It’s been around forever, for good reason, and neuroscience and all sorts of other research is now confirming what yogis have known for millennia: a mindfulness practice is good for you. (Please know that I say this as a former skeptic. It took compelling data and arguments for me to really embrace this practice. Now I think it is one of the most critical practices for success and wellbeing.)

9. Get off social media, or, better yet, screens in general.

Maybe not all together, but definitely set some limits. You’ll have more time for other things that are more meaningful or more likely to boost your happiness, and you won’t be getting all the input that increases the icky “not good enough” feelings and concern for the state of the world.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

10. Sleep

It’s hard to be happy when you’re tired. It’s hard to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and anger when you’re tired, and inadequate sleep can compromise our health. Get your Zzzzs.

11. Learn something. Anything.

Be an active participant in life rather than a passive consumer. I firmly believe that stimulation is critical for happiness. Technology makes it possible to learn absolutely anything these days. Don’t tell me it’s boring. Don’t tell me you can’t.

“In this world, you are either growing or you’re dying.” – Lou Holtz (and a bunch of other people) 

12. Speaking of, start looking for the reasons why you can, instead of the reasons why you can’t, do things. 

Don’t let limiting beliefs, circumstances, or other people hold you back. YOU are in charge of your life, and you CAN make choices to improve it, even when the deck seems stacked against you. It is up to you to choose to be happy!

13. Practice compassion.

For yourself (silence that Inner critic) and for others. Operating under the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can really cuts down on anger and negativity. It may not change events or circumstances, but it definitely makes me happier.

14. Spend less. 

There’s a widely accepted cultural myth that money leads to happiness. The happiness that comes from acquiring is fleeting at best. Besides, if you spend less, you need less money, and how many people would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t stress so much about money?

15. You do you, and let me do me.

This is two part. One: be yourself! You’ll be happier if you’re not trying to fit some mold or live up to someone’s perceived expectations. Two: don’t worry about what I do (as long as it doesn’t actually hurt anyone or prevent you from doing you). Accepting others rather than trying to control them leads to a lot more peace, internally and externally.

Simple steps, right? At least in theory! What are your favorite tips and tricks to be happy?

“Happiness is not a goal…It’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
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Is Your Inner Critic Ever a Good Thing? 

Do you have an inner critic? You know, the voice in your mind who tells you you’re not good enough, reminds you of times you’ve messed up, compares you to others who might be doing better, and generally makes you feel smaller than you actually are? 

In the Ascend program, we talk a lot about the “committee in your mind.” This is the set of voices that we all deal with on a constant basis, every single day. They chatter at us constantly, and some of them are incredibly unhelpful.

For many of us, our critical inner voice is an extremely loud committee member. But, have you ever considered whether our inner critic is a good thing?

Stayin’ Alive

If the Bee Gee’s are currently playing in your head right now, you’re welcome!

As we explore this ridiculous-sounding question, it’s important to remember a basic principle of our mind: it’s job is to keep us alive, while expending the least amount of energy possible.

To accomplish this, our mind relies on a very small toolkit of tactics that attempt to keep us from doing anything that is:

  • New
  • Uncertain
  • Risky
  • Ambiguous
  • Bigger than we’ve done in the past

It does this by sending us a slew of anxiety-producing, self-doubt-producing, unhelpful chatter….many times, in the form of our inner critic.

So, from that standpoint, your inner critic actually has your best interest at heart. It’s trying to keep you safe. It’s trying to direct your thoughts and feelings in a way to positively shape your life experiences. 

Build Your Relationship

Trying to keep us safe or not, for many of us, our inner critic isn’t all that helpful. We set a big goal, speak up in a meeting, talk to someone new, pursue a new project, and our inner critic steps in to deter us. 

And here’s the thing, you can’t stop it from happening. Contrary to what internet gurus will try to tell you, hard science shows that we can’t control our thoughts. (Bee Gees, Bee Gees, Bee Gees….see!)

But, even though we can’t completely silence our inner critic, we CAN decide the relationship we want to have with them.

In the case of your inner critic, think about what kind of relationship would be most HELPFUL for you to have with this roommate in your mind who isn’t going anywhere.

Many of us naturally gravitate toward a relationship where we’re somewhat of an employee and our inner critic is a boss figure. This is why our inner critic controls our behavior so easily.

But, what if you took a different approach? What if you cultivated a parent-child relationship?

What if you are the parent and your inner critic is a 2-year-old child? What if you responded to your inner critic’s chatter in the same way you’d respond to a 2-year-old’s tantrum. You’re aware of it, but you’ve simply decided not to engage with it or give it any more fuel.  

Or, yet another example, what if you decide that your inner critic is your paranoid friend? They love you and have your best interest at heart, but you just don’t put a lot of stock in their cautious warnings.

Choose Your Relationship

You can see how each of these examples shifts the power balance from your inner critic holding all the power to you being in a position of power over your inner critic.

They still squawk at you constantly, but your relationship with them is different. You don’t give as much credibility to what they’re saying. And as a result, they have less real influence over you and your behavior.

You get to choose the relationship you have with this inner voice who is just trying to save you from yourself. 

Maybe you don’t need saving.

Try It Out

As with any psych strength building exercises, this one won’t work unless you do it. So, try it out!

Decide now the relationship you want to have with your inner critic. Then, the next time it gets loud, respond compassionately from the position of this new relationship. 

Tell it, “Thank you. I know you mean well, but I’ve got this. I really can handle myself.”

Try this out and see how you feel. And check out the Ascend program if you want to know more about the “committee in your mind” and how to lessen their impact on you.

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life. It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.”
― Robert Kiyosaki