14 Ways to Squeeze More Joy Out of Every Day

The following story is excerpted from TIME's special edition, The Science of Happiness, which is available at Amazon.

Sometime this morning, during your shower or at work, you probably did a mental run-through of your day. You decided when you’d tackle various tasks and errands. Perhaps you vowed to hit the gym at lunchtime. Maybe you plotted to get out of something (apologies, PTA meeting). The one thing you forgot to plan for: happiness.

With all the books on mood-boosting technology that does everything for us but laugh, we expect happiness to show up at our doorstep like a pizza. But it doesn’t work that way. For most of us, we have to make it happen.

“When you’re young, other people orchestrate your enjoyment of life,” notes Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of Positivity. “Your parents keep you entertained, and in college your friends make sure you’re OK. But after that, the scaffolding of having a good day is taken away, and nobody is telling you how to provide that for yourself.”

Also tricky: staying happy when you have work to do, kids to raise, bills to pay and more work to do. Mercifully, big, costly, splashy events are not what ultimately bring the bliss. As people get older, they tend to find ordinary treats just as joy-inducing as extraordinary ones, found a study by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania. With age, the authors speculate, we’re more aware of how fleeting time is, so we’re particularly likely to relish everyday bright spots.

What you won’t find here: a step-by-step happiness guide. How draining would that be? Instead, top positive psychologists offer easy ways to infuse your days with pleasure. Consider this a pick-and-choose list; even doing just a few will help.

Make happiness your goal

Although increasing happiness levels shouldn’t feel like work, having a can-do mind-set really comes in handy. People who were told to listen to music and attempt to feel happier had a greater boost in happiness over a two-week period than those instructed only to relax as they listened to the same upbeat tunes, found a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. It comes down to motivation: you can transform into more of a glass-half-full type.

While researchers believe that genetics are behind about 50% of the variation in happiness levels among you and your neighbors, and that life circumstances account for maybe 10%, you’re fully in charge of the rest. “A lot of people think you can’t control happiness—you either have it or you don’t—which is totally not true,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness. “It’s like controlling your health. First you need to believe that you can do it before you take those first steps.”

Know what makes you happy

When was the last time you mulled over what truly brings you pleasure? “A key to steering your own happiness is reflecting on the things that make you come alive,” Fredrickson says. Perhaps it’s been so long since you’ve done some of them that they’ve fallen off your radar. Make a list, if it helps. “Think back to what gave you joy in your younger years,” says psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, Calif., and author of Play. Maybe you’re not jamming on a guitar in your bedroom anymore, but “you can recall the carefree state,” Brown says, “in which the outcome wasn’t as important as what you were experiencing.” You want to find what does that for you now and . . .

. . . Prioritize it

Sigh if this sounds familiar: you make a major effort to avoid future stress—say, staying up late to finish laundry so tomorrow will be a better day—only to suck your evening dry of all fun. Happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener, the founder and managing director of the consulting firm Positive Acorn in Milwaukie, Ore., knows this treadmill effect well. He delivers a lecture regularly at Portland State University: “I give the students an hour off and tell them to do anything they want that’s legal that will make them happy. Some have a hard time with it—they even do homework! What they say is ‘I’d be stressed if I didn’t get that task done.’ People think that working toward less stress will make them happier. That’s a minor form of insanity.”

In a get-stuff-done world, it’s hard to avoid our efficiency instinct. The answer, then, is to focus on enjoyable stuff, along with the must-dos. “Don’t fit joyful activities into your days—fit your days around them,” Biswas-Diener says. “Do you ever hear devoted church attendees say, ‘Can we reschedule church because something came up?’ You need to have that church mentality about whatever it is that gives you pleasure. If you say that your weeks are full, find the next blank spot in your calendar.” Protect that sacred time from people who need your time, like family, says productivity consultant Julie Morgenstern, the author of Time Management from the Inside Out: “Announce to everyone that it’s your time to recharge your batteries.” Tap a friend to make sure you use that time strictly for fun.

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