The fast pace of modern society can make even the happiest person feel stressed. Making this even worse is the continuous media coverage bombarding us with an endless stream of bad news.
It leaves many people with a constant low-level feeling of anxiety and depression, a sense of unease lurking just beneath the surface of our frenzied daily lives.
Those who cope best with life’s daily stressors know one big secret that often eludes those who struggle: happiness requires continual practice.
It’s not something we achieve one-time in an exalted epiphany and then carry forever. We must continually reinforce our well-being, on a daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute basis. Here’s how you do it.
How to Be Happier in 4 Simple Steps
Whether you’re habitually careworn or naturally happy, here are four fast and easy things you can do to noticeably be happier. Amazingly, none of these practices require much extra effort. They can be done in the few minutes — sometimes seconds — of downtime that everyone has (yes, even the busiest person).
Try these out while driving, standing in line at the store, in the shower, lying in bed, or whenever you have some idle moments. You’ll discover they produce a quick, noticeable uptick in your well-being.
1. Practice gratitude
We spend a lot of time every day thinking about the things we don’t have, wish we had, or envy others for having. Or we dwell on fearful, anxious, angry, or otherwise negative thoughts about ourselves, our loved ones, co-workers, or people we encounter throughout a day.
Even for the average, non-depressed person, up to half their daily thoughts are negative. This torrent of negativity must be counteracted.
Related Article: The Power of Positive Thinking
A quick, easy way to do this is to practice gratitude.
Each day, in your idle moments, make a conscious effort to think of whatever is going right in your life, those things for which you are grateful. Perhaps even though you have financial struggles, you have a loving partner or children. Importantly, scientific studies show that those things for which we’re grateful needn’t be “big, important” things. Remembering to be grateful for seemingly mundane things that we often take for granted boosts happiness just as much.
Something in your life is going right, even if it’s only that you are one of the lucky people in human history to have indoor plumbing and electricity. Or a warm cup of quality coffee in the morning, or a beautiful sunset. This practice only takes a few seconds or minutes every day and it will work wonders.
2. Help someone else to feel good
Every day, we interact with numerous people, whether family, co-workers, that person on phone tech support, a server in a restaurant, or a clerk in the supermarket. Make an effort to say something positive and complimentary towards another. Or do someone a small favor or act of kindness.
It needn’t be a major, life-altering act; small acts of kindness—whether verbal or active—are enough. You’ll discover that uplifting someone else positively rebounds on you, making you lighter and happier as well.
Related Article: How to Stop Negative Self-Talk
3. Change your media consumption
Studies show that the media we ingest whether through TV, film, music, books, video games, or surfing the internet – profoundly affect us mentally and emotionally. Stop watching too much depressing news or that latest serial killer TV show and watch something uplifting or at least light-hearted. Listen to beautiful music.
Don’t keep replaying your favorite sad song or death metal. Read a book about the life of a saint, a great historical figure, a spiritual scripture, or your favorite inspirational author.
You don’t need to forgo everything “negative”. Staying well-informed is essential for democracy, not to mention some of the world’s most important literature or film is none-too-cheery, but you also don’t have to ride every high and low of continuous 30-minute news cycles, or only read depressing Russian novels, either.
Consciously skew your overall media consumption toward the positive, paying special attention to lightening it whenever you feel in the grip of negative emotions.
Related Article: 10 Winning Beliefs that can Change Your Life
4. Repeat a sacred word formula
This practice is found in every religious tradition. The Indian tradition call it japa, in which we repeat an uplifting mantra silently to ourselves. Whenever you can remember, especially in those idle moments, lapse into repeating your mantra to yourself. Even if it’s only a few seconds here and there throughout the day.
If you find yourself having anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful thoughts, immediately start repeating your mantra, substituting the positive mantra for the negative thoughts and emotions. You’ll discover that your deleterious mental state quickly lessens, even entirely reverses itself.
Choose your own custom mantra by selecting a few words (between 2-10), that you can easily remember. They can be from a Psalm, The Lord ’s Prayer, a zen koan, Hindu names of gods, native American supplications, or non-denominational positive phrases such as, “peace, love, joy.”
Related Article: The Incredible Power of Self-Talk
I know this seems too good to be true, but these 4 steps to be happier genuinely work. These practices are pulled from authentic, time-tested techniques, sometimes stretching back thousands of years, and also have abundant mainstream scientific research proving their efficacy.
In addition, I’ve personally witnessed their positive effects in countless numbers of people I’ve known or taught. Try these 4 ways to be happier for yourself and I bet you’ll be surprised at the positive change that comes about in your life.
Sean Meshorer is a spiritual teacher and New Thought minister based in Los Angeles, as well as Spiritual Director of a non-profit organization. He spent fifteen years meditating, studying, practicing, and living in an ashram and spiritual community in Northern California. He is the author of The Bliss Experiment: 28 Days to Personal Transformation.
Photo by S. Yanes
Updated August 2014