15 Incredibly Simple, Scientifically Proven, No/Low Cost Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing and Happiness That You May Not Know:
As a psychotherapist and professional coach, and also as someone who has recovered from intermittent depression, I know that the path toward happiness and wellbeing is not always a clear, straight path. Living in the information age, we are now inundated with approaches and techniques that lead to greater happiness and wellbeing. The information on how to lead a better life is staggering. In this article, I have broken down some lesser-known life hacks and added the scientific data to help bolster your commitment to leading an extraordinary life!
We know that exercising, eating well and being mindful throughout the day increases wellbeing and happiness. (And yet many people struggle with these “Big Three.”) I purposely did not include these three on my list of 15 ways to improve your wellbeing and happiness. My goal here is to get beyond the well-known and obvious tactics that lead to greater fulfillment and wellbeing.
Dive in here and make a commitment to trying one of these each month for the coming year (and a quarter!).
1. Complain Strategically
Conventional wisdom would have it that if you want to be happier and enhance your wellbeing you should stop complaining. But science bears out different evidence. If you want to increase your happiness and well-being, learn to complain strategically! Researcher Robin Kowalski from Clemson University states that people generally complain to gain attention and feel the sympathy of others. That is normal human behavior and nothing to fret about, so long as the complaining does not become a mindless habit. Kowalski’s research shows that the most effective type of complaining involves the complainer using factual information and a logical approach when delivering the complaint. They also must know what they want to accomplish and be speaking to someone who has the authority to impact the situation. Random, chronic complaining will reduce your happiness and sense of wellbeing, but strategic complaints, with informed data, delivered to decision-makers will likely enhance your sense of agency, personal power and control.
2. Compliment Others
Learning to give compliments well and often not only enhances the feelings of the recipients, but also studies show that your sense of self is improved when you notice positive traits in others and let them know.
3. Spend Time with Optimistic People
There are untold benefits of being optimistic and being with optimistic people. Want to enhance your wellbeing? Drop the “negaholics” in your life! Spending time with upbeat, light-hearted people elevates your mood and helps you to feel a greater sense of possibility and hope about your circumstances and future potential.
4. Enjoy Music
The benefits of listening to music (particularly uplifting music) are uncanny. Few life hacks offer such astounding benefit in one activity. Want to reduce depression, increase motivation, improve cognitive performance and perform better under pressure, just to name a few? Listening to music is linked with all of these attributes and much more!
Right along with listening to music is the benefit of singing. I am known for singing out loud as I prepare for my speaking gigs. Some of the event planners that have gotten to know me call me the “singing speaker!” (No, I do not sing professionally! I truly need to keep my day job!) Singing has been shown to reduce depression, increase feelings of well-being and to lower stress. Joining a group choir has the added benefit of enjoying a shared passion, and has also shown a greater impact on the overall well-being of the participants.
6. Sleep More
Gone are the days of the long-hour Lone Ranger awake until dawn. The massive amounts of data pointing toward the benefits of sufficient sleep are indisputable. If you have too much to do, take a 15-minute nap. If you want to get more done tomorrow, go to bed early tonight! It’s that simple. Sufficient sleep strengthens your immune system, bolsters your mood, increases your productivity and even improves your ability to focus on tasks.
7. Foster Love and Compassion
Easier said than done, perhaps, but fostering good will toward others is a free and definitive way to improve your well-being and sense of self. Foster love and compassion toward others by knowing that even the most difficult people are doing the best they can at any given moment. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, “When people know better, they do better.” Being loving and compassionate will hopefully open the doors for people around you to know better.
8. Question Your Beliefs
How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain, Waldman and Newberg, 2016
Mark Waldman and Andy Newberg, MD in their book How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain show that those who are more dogmatic in their beliefs are often also those who are more stressed and judgmental. They recommend listing out your most deeply held beliefs and going through them with an open mind to at least consider that your beliefs may not be absolute. In doing so, you become more open to acknowledging and appreciating the differing views of those around you over time.
9. Reframe Anxiety to Excitement
As a public speaker, I have a lot of opportunities to practice this hack. I get the classic speaker’s nerves before my speaking gigs, and I have long practiced this method of reframing my anxious feelings into feelings of excitement. It is a total game changer. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with the pending task, I am filled with a sense of awe and enthusiasm for the opportunity to touch an entire audience of people with my words and my work. It is thrilling to see the shift from anxious to enthusiastic within a moment.
10. Eliminate Distracted Driving
Mindful Magazine (mindful.org), August 2014
It is impossible to grasp the negative impact of distracted driving, but studies show that at least 23% of all auto collisions involve mobile phones. When we are unable to shut off our need for distraction – even while driving – we are putting ourselves and others at risk of injury and even death! In fact, Car and Driver Magazine did a study where they got their drivers intoxicated to do some controlled road testing. The result? Texting and driving are worse than drinking and driving.
11. Look at Pictures of Nature
We all know that being in nature is good for stress reduction and well-being, but did you know that even gazing at pictures of nature is helpful for you? A recent study showed the benefit of looking at nature scenes in reducing stress, enhancing mood and even reducing impulsivity in decision-making. If you are someone who struggles with impulsivity at work, maybe it’s time to change your office décor and screen saver image!
12. Increase Your Civility
Scientific American Mind January/February 2015
There are few things worse than working in a toxic work environment filled with distrust, disdain, and negativity. It will breed burnout faster than long hours and lack of raises. But new information shows that your ability to bring greater civility into the workplace by being thoughtful, kind, smiling and being pleasant to those around you serves to reduce burnout for everyone involved. Nothing wrong with bringing a little kindness to work! It’s worth a try!
13. Engage in Activities that are Stimulating, Enjoyable and Challenging
Doing so induces a “flow” state as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman. Many recreational activities are simply mind numbing and dull. Surfing the net, a marathon of reruns of your favorite TV shows or movies, social media and the like all serve to numb you out more often than lift you up. The seminal work of researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on “flow states” shows that if you want to elevate your mood and even transcend waking consciousness, get deeply into an activity that is stimulating, challenging and enjoyable. Think about the last time you were working on a big project that you enjoyed and the hours slipped away without your conscious recognition. It could be building a tree house with your child, rebuilding an engine with a friend, or writing an article. The activity matters less than the level of challenge and enjoyment you feel from it.
14. Focus Goals for “Success” on More than Money and Career
Success is such an elusive term that means different things to different people. It is hard to know, “Am I successful now?” There is useful research that shows that the more you view success holistically, incorporating community, family, contribution, and career, the more you will have that ongoing sense of being successful and satisfied.
15. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
Ironic, but true, the more you focus on being happy, the more elusive it may be. Rather than blindly pursuing happiness, studies show that you are much better off cultivating your overall emotional intelligence. That means to focus on learning to regulate and manage your emotions, to read people and situations well and to communicate with others such that you foster connections and collaboration rather than separation and competition.
After going through this information, ask yourself, why did you read this? Are you going to dash off to the next good read? Or can you do something to integrate this knowledge into your life right now, starting today? What will you do to take action on enhancing your wellbeing, starting now?