The excitement of the holidays has worn off, and now comes a new year. So many new possibilities lie ahead, but for some, the blank slate can be less exciting and more daunting. So much to do. So much pressure. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you change a few of your habits and your mindset, happiness can come easily. Here, are ten scientifically proven happiness hacks to get you through this new year with a smile on your face.
1. Smile More: While you may think of smiling as a reaction to feeling happy, some researchers suggest that smiling can also lead to joy. The simple act of smiling—even if you have to force it—might help to activate the happiness centers in your brain, leaving you in a better mood. My motto here is, fake it ’til you make it.
2. Load Up on Greens: Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are rich in folate, providing 33% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). This nutrient is linked to a decrease in negative moods and depression because it helps produce dopamine in the brain.
3. Buy Yourself Flowers: A team of Harvard researchers found that keeping fresh flowers at home does wonders in keeping away anxiety and negative moods. People in the study also felt more compassionate toward others and they felt a boost of energy and enthusiasm at work. I like to buy myself flowers every Sunday at the local Farmer’s Market and make arrangements for my bedroom, home office, and entryway.
4. Get Outside: Head outside to soak up some sunshine every day. The human body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s rays, and research suggests that people who are deficient in the vitamin are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and tired. Step into the sunshine for 20 to 25 minutes to enhance your mood naturally.
5. Try Meditation: Good news, meditation is a proven stress-buster with no harmful side effects. Studies have shown that its benefits range from pain reduction and lower blood pressure to a boost in libido. Best part? It releases “happy” chemicals in the brain—serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins—all of which work together to put you in a better mood. If you don’t know where to start, try a guided meditation to de-stress or start your morning. I like to start my morning with a 10-minute mediation. To learn more about my morning routine, you can read more here.
6. Play with Your Dog: Having a dog can seriously improve your quality of life—their excitement in seeing you come home and their unyielding loyalty make them great companions. I may be bias because of my dog, George, but there really are a host of reasons why pets improve your health. A study found that petting a dog for only 15 minutes releases serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin—all of which are mood-enhancing hormones, while lowering the stress hormone cortisol.
7. Practice Mindfulness: Defined by Marlatt & Kristeller as ‘bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis’, provides many observed benefits, including reduction in our stress levels, increment of self-awareness, improvement of focus, facilitation of calmness in the face of difficult emotions as frustration, resentment, boredom and anxiety.
8. Drink Coffee: This morning energy boost doubles as a mood booster. A Harvard University study found that women who drank two cups of coffee regularly were at a 15% lower risk of depression than women who did not. I like to start my day off with a coffee, easily made with my Nespresso machine.
9. Listen to Music: Speaking of music, have you ever heard a song over the radio that just felt good? Well, that’s due to the fact that music is a mood-booster. It releases the feel-good chemical dopamine into your system and brings on nostalgia. Have a go-to happy playlist to turn on when you need a quick pick-me-up.
10. Get off Your Screen: Put down your cell phone and take a step back from your computer screen. If you want to feel better—and fast—go to a friend or family member for some relief. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that human touch releases those feel-good chemicals like serotonin, as well as reduces blood pressure and heart rate making you feel more relaxed.