How to Be Happier Without Really Trying

12 minute read
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You are already a happiness expert. Seriously. You’re just a bit inconsistent.

You already do a lot of things that researchers recommend for increased happiness. You just don’t realize it. And that’s the problem. If you did them more consistently those joyful times would be so much better and you’d be happier all around.

They’re small, they’re silly, and you can do them without really trying.

What the heck am I talking about?

One of the key happiness principles is savoring. That’s a fancy term for really taking a second to appreciate those happy moments in your life.

You often think that it’s the world that makes you happy but it’s really how you respond to the world. Those silly little things you do here and there in response to good moments; increasing those is the key to how to be happier without really trying.

Happiness researchers Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff looked at what works when it comes to savoring and came up with 10 simple activities that really make people happier.

Like I said, you’ve done all these things. You just don’t do them often enough.

Let’s change that…


1) Tell Friends “The Greatest Thing Happened To Me!”

Share the good moments with friends. If they’re with you when it happens, turn to them and say, “Isn’t this awesome?”

If they’re not with you, recount the story for them later. It’s that simple. Too simple to make a difference? Wrong.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

Indeed, this social-behavioral approach to savoring is the single strongest predictor of enjoyment…

If you do nothing else on this list, do this one. Does it matter who you share it with?

Any friend is good. But the researchers say you can get a bigger boost by telling “others who are exuberant and outwardly expressive in sharing their joy.” Target those upbeat extroverts.

This method is so powerful you can even do it alone. Ever said to yourself, “She is not going to believe this when I tell her!” You just made yourself happier. Merely thinking about sharing good moments with others gives you a boost.

(To learn what research says the happiest people do every day, click here.)

Okay, this is the most powerful savoring activity you already do… how can you take it to 11?


2) Mentally Instagram It

Those pictures in your head of the good times? They’re really powerful. How many times have you looked back on them fondly? Reminiscing and being nostalgic are effective types of savoring.

So at that great dinner with friends or that perfect relaxing vacation, take a second to mentally snap a picture you’ll remember.

The researchers call it “Memory Building.” And one of the reasons this method is so effective is because it amplifies #1. The better the picture in your head, the better you can recall good moments and share them with others.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

We would expect this greater capacity for memory building to be associated with a greater capacity to share these memories with others… and the available data confirm this hypothesis.

So Instagram in your phone is good. But Instagram in your head is even better.

(To learn the secret to being happier and more successful, click here.)

Now doing a crazy touchdown celebration might get players in trouble with the NFL, but those guys know something about happiness. Here’s what they can teach you about savoring…


3) Do a Touchdown Dance

Ever achieved something you were proud of and told yourself, “I have waited so long for this moment.” Bingo. You just made a happy moment even happier.

“Self-Congratulation” is a great savoring booster. In fact, the Latin root of “congratulate” is congratulari and that means “to wish joy.”

Just don’t take it too far. As the researchers point out, bragging isn’t a good idea.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

Other forms of public self-congratulation, such as bragging and boasting, reflect excessive self-promotion that can antagonize and alienate others, shortening the duration of enjoyment in the short run and eroding the subjective quality of one’s friendships in the long run.

You earned it. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back a little.

(To learn the recipe for a happy marriage, click here.)

Ever been to an amazing concert? You’ve probably done something else that boosted your happiness. Here’s how to make it work for you anywhere.


4) Close Your Eyes at the Concert

The music is great so you close your eyes and really appreciate it. That’s savoring, Bubba.

The researchers call it “Sensory-Perceptual Sharpening.” (No, you don’t need to remember that and there will not be a quiz at the end.)

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

…intensifying pleasure by focusing on certain stimuli in the situation and blocking out others, trying to sharpen one’s sense through effortful concentration…

You don’t need to wear noise-canceling headphones at the art museum, but you get the point. When the pleasure is coming in through one of your senses, really make an effort to focus on that and block everything else out.

(To learn how to have a happy family, click here.)

So you’re not at a concert. You’re on vacation and it feels so good to not deal with all that stress. What magic words have you said that you need to say more often?


5) Say “I’m Normally at Work Right Now”

The researchers labeled it “Comparing” and it really makes you appreciate those great moments at the beach.

Contrast these great times with the times that ain’t so good. Or, if this sunny getaway is better than you thought it would be, compare it to your low expectations.

Sometimes it’s really good to be wrong.

(To learn how you can be happier at work, click here.)

I promised this would be effortless, right? Okay, time to make good on that.


6) Be Zen and Don’t Think Anything at all

If you’re having a blast and are totally in the moment, for god’s sake, ignore my ramblings and just be there.

The researchers call this “Absorption.” It’s that “flow” state everyone always talks about. When you’re immersed in a game with friends, or a Netflix binge that is so engrossing the world stops, go full Buddhist and stay in the zone.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

Viewed from a Buddhist perspective, being in the moment does not involve judging what one is experiencing, but rather simply experiencing and being mindfully aware of what one is going through and feeling at the moment…

(For more on how to mindfulness can make you happier, click here.)

But sometimes the moment overtakes you and you have to say something… Go right ahead.


7) Shout “HOORAY!”

Yeah, sounds corny. But it works. Their fancy term is “Behavioral Expression.”

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

This purely behavioral response represents an outward physical manifestation of inner feelings in which one expresses an energetic response of exuberant joy, excitement, and enthusiasm by jumping up and down, dancing around, laughing out loud, or making verbal sounds of appreciation. Such responses or their inhibition may be purely reflexive or automatic, or may be deliberate.

Did you catch that last part? (Or do you skip the quoted material? Caught you.) It can be deliberate. So even if you don’t naturally act excited, doing it anyway can make you happier. Let those good feelings out.

(To learn how the 10 steps to raising happy kids, click here.)

This next one is tricky. It sounds sad but it’s not. Trust me…


8) Remember: This Will End

Seeing friends for that last time before you leave town, watching your kid leave home for college… Yeah, your heart aches a little but you also remember those times so fondly later.

Reminding yourself that this good moment will end and that you need to enjoy it while it lasts — the research shows this actually makes you happier.

They call it “Temporal Awareness.” You and I call it bittersweet.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

These types of bittersweet experiences may well be especially conducive to savoring, as people naturally reflect on the positive experience that is about to end with a renewed sense of perspective and appreciation.

And you don’t have to wait around for these moments. Reminding yourself that good things only last so long and are worthy of savoring puts you in the right state of mind to appreciate the happy times when they do come along.

(To learn more about how ancient philosophers used the seemingly bad to feel very good — and how you can too — click here.)

So how do you tie in some more of the happiness research with no real effort? Just do something you’ve done before that just happens to be the most proven method for making you smile more often…


9) Say “I Am so Lucky To Have This in My Life”

Gratitude is the tactical nuke of happiness.

Writing down three things you’re grateful for before you go to bed is probably the most proven way to increase happiness and I’ve recommended it so much that if you read my stuff regularly you are either nodding or rolling your eyes right now.

So when you’re in the midst of a happy moment just say, “I am so lucky to have this in my life.”

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

…reflecting on one’s blessings can enhance the effective quality of many savoring experiences, and we would therefore expect people to count blessings in relation to all sorts of positive outcomes.

You’ve done some version of this in the past. Do it more often.

(For more on how gratitude can make you happier, click here.)

Okay, those nine things you do can really make the good times roll. Let’s mix it up for number ten: what should you not do?


10) Do Not Say “I Should Be Working Right Now”

The researchers came up with a good name for this one: “Kill-Joy Thinking.”

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

…reminding oneself of other places one should be and other things one should be doing, thinking of ways in which the positive event could have been better… Beck (1976) highlighted kill-joy thinking as a hallmark of depressive cognition that intensifies and perpetuates depression.

Thinking for just a second you can see how this is the opposite of many of the good nine. It’s comparing, but not in a positive way. You’re not being in the moment and in flow. You’re thinking about how the moment could be better instead of feeling gratitude for how good it already is.

And you’ve probably done this one too. Cut it out. Don’t be a kill-joy.

(To learn the 3 ways to train your brain to be happy, click here.)

Nine tiny things you do that you should do more often — and one thing you shouldn’t. Let’s round them up.


Sum Up

The little things that make good moments better (and the one that doesn’t):

  • Tell friends “The greatest thing happened to me!” Share good moments with others.
  • Mentally Instagram it. Take a picture with your mind to better share the moment later.
  • Do a touchdown dance. Congratulate yourself on achievements.
  • Close your eyes at the concert. Focus on the sense that’s bringing you joy.
  • Say “I’m normally at work right now.” Compare to the times that aren’t as good.
  • Be Zen and don’t think anything at all. Be in the moment.
  • Shout, “HOORAY!” Express happy feelings.
  • Remember “This will end.” Bittersweet is good.
  • Say “I am so lucky to have this in my life.” Show gratitude.
  • Do not say “I should be at work right now.” Don’t be a kill-joy.
  • You’re already a happiness expert. You unknowingly do a lot of what it takes to enjoy life. Just do those things more often.

    And if you forget everything else, remember numero uno: share good experiences with others.

    If reading this made you happier, share it with friends.

    And with just the push of a button — you’re already on your way.

    This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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