Are you happy? Many people struggle to answer that question. Everyone’s ultimate goal is to be happy, and they usually search for that elusive happiness in their own way. Some dig around for gold, believing that riches will plant a permanent smile on their faces. Others collect friendships, relishing in the constant activity of a vast social network.
Whatever your method, in the end we are all yearning for that feeling of happiness, of ultimate contentment. There are of course, many ways to attain it. Happiness is a very personal matter, but there are scientifically-proven ways to make yourself and your body feel better. Do yourself some good and try them out:
1. Create something, anything
We are becoming a society of purely consumers. From the moment we open our eyes, we turn on our phones to read (and consume) what others have produced, then we go to work, listening to music that have also been penned down by others. We watch charity videos and “contribute” by sharing a link on our page, not thinking to do anything else. It’s an easy life. Convenient, entertaining, effortless. But there are also plenty of moments of emptiness, of feeling like you haven’t done anything of consequence.
See, the reason we sometimes feel restless is because humans thrive on achievements. A study published in 2009 showed that mastering a skill may stress us out in the moment, but eventually gets us to a happier place .
You don’t have to create anything major, or bring peace to the universe. Start small, perhaps instead of buying herbs at the supermarket, start your own herb garden. Instead of just reading blogs, pen down some of your thoughts. Learn to paint and come up with your own masterpieces. Arrange for an outing instead of always waiting on your friends. The possibilities to create are endless!
2. Give more
Who doesn’t love receiving presents? I know I do! Especially if the boyfriend got my very subtle hints right this time. But what beats getting presents? Giving them! You know those jitters you get seeing someone open the gift you got them? Or the excitement you feel making or picking something out for someone special at the mall? Those are there are a reason. Giving actually makes you happier than getting stuff for yourself.
A research on happiness conducted in 2011 asked participants whether they’d choose to spend money on themselves or someone else. Those that made a purchase for someone else reported “feeling significantly happier”. 
Give more! Not just presents, but give more of your time to help those in need and you’ll find yourself feeling more fulfilled than you are now.
3. Get enough sleep
Lots of us are cranky without our morning coffee. Some of us are still cranky throughout the day for no reason. But is it really no reason? Perhaps being tired all the time is a good enough reason. With most people’s snoozing hours ranging from a measly 4 hours to a barely sufficient 6 hours, we’re sleep deprived and this is not just ruining our bodies but also causing our happiness levels to dip.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan showed that getting an extra hour sleep each night actually had more effect on someone’s happiness than getting a large income raise (in this case, US$60,000) . Another study found that those who take afternoon naps tend to be more positive as it helps tune out negative emotions .
Instead of devouring useless Facebook and Imgur posts late into the night, tuck in an hour early! You shouldn’t say you don’t have time for more sleep, because by being honest with yourself, you’ll realise how much time you’re actually wasting each day instead of getting stuff done.
4. Get out!
Being cooped up indoors all day, everyday can really make you a gloomy bear. If the only time you’re outside is walking into the office from the LRT station or parking lot, and walking back home, then you’re probably not reaping the best benefits of the great outdoors.
Besides giving you a boost of vitamin D, sunlight can actually put you in a better mood too. Last year, a study found that individuals with depressive symptoms showed less symptoms of depression after being out in the sun more than those who were seeing a doctor . And sunlight isn’t the only factor in your happiness, just being outside helps with your mental well-being too. Researchers studied 1,991 participants found that walks in nature were associated with significantly less depression. Those who walked at least once a week “experienced positive emotions and less stress”. 
You can argue that you get enough sunlight from that tiny window in your office, but we beg to differ. Head out for a walk during lunch and make sure you plan some time outside during the weekend! Picnics or a short hike can be fun!
5. Be a good friend & family member
It might be more tempting to lie on the couch marathoning episodes of The Walking Dead than braving the traffic back home to see your family. Some nights, after a long day at work, you’d rather just head home than have that dinner on the other side of town with your good friends. While you should definitely get your rest when you need it, forgoing time with the ones you love could be exactly what’s standing in the way of your ultimate happiness. Humans are, after all, social creatures who crave meaningful connections.
This isn’t science, but it made an impact on me so I thought I’d mention it anyway. Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent many years caring for those on their deathbed, observed that those dying often had similar regrets. And in the top 5 of regrets were not staying in touch with their good friends . There’s plenty of science to back this up too. Social connectedness is associated with lower rates of anxiety and depression . Long-term relationships help lower your risk of depression and suicide .
Make plans and stick to them. It’s easy to cancel on people thanks to non-commital lines like “I’ll see if I can make it”, “not sure if I’m free” etc, but try. It’s also a good idea to build new meaningful connections, you don’t have to stop making friends just because you’ve found your “circle”.
6. Spend your money right
Lots of people say that “money can’t buy you happiness”. But numerous research has since proven that this adage is not as black and white as we assume. Money can buy some form of happiness, but what’s interesting is that what you spend it on could affect how you feel later on. So, maybe spending it on that Chanel bag isn’t as wise as using it for a backpacking trip across Europe.
Harvard Business School professors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn scoured through years of behavioral science data and research to find that in the long-term, experiences pay off while material goods depreciate . Not directly related, but another research found that giving money to charity or spending money on gifts for other people makes you considerably happier .
Perhaps it will make some sense to reconsider what you should be spending your money on. I don’t know about you, but personally I have multiple expensive purchases lying around that I barely use, while experiences spending time with friends at a good hawker stall or parasailing stay fondly on my mind.
So, instead of buying that bracelet or newest piece of technology, maybe try planning a trip or having a meal somewhere special. Oh, and since giving money makes you happy, these sites are great for some online altruism: Kiva.org (you lend needy people US$25 to help get their lives on track), Worldvision.com.my (you can choose to sponsor a child or donate money). You could always go offline to your favourite charity too!
7. Sweat it out
Everyone loves to hate it, but exercising really does score you some serious happiness points. You huff, and you puff, but working up a sweat releases endorphins, which are chemicals that make you feel great. Maybe you haven’t gotten to the point where you feel uneasy and cranky without your morning run (we’re still working on getting there ourselves!), but there are people out there who are actually excited to work out, and positive feelings probably has a lot to do with it.
According to Penn State researchers, people who are more physically active report greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm than us regular less-active people . In a more recent study published last month, researchers from Sweden found that exercise could actually help remove harmful chemicals brought about by stress. 
You don’t have to go all out immediately. Start by doing a slow jog or brisk walk a few times a week, then gradually build it up when you have the stamina (and endorphins running!) No time or equipment? Try this scientific 7-minute workout formulated by the American College of Sports Medicine (you can do it at home!)
8. Be more grateful
Complaining can be really fun. I indulge in it from time to time, but what I found was that while doing the deed itself was fun, it annoyed those around me and the great feeling didn’t hold up later on. At the end of the day, my source of complaints would still by lying around poking me in the face. After observing those around me, I found that people who rarely complained were the ones who seemed the most content with their lives.
Psychologists and researchers conducted a study where they asked participants to write a few sentences each week revolving around (i) things that they were grateful for that week, (ii) daily irritations, or (iii) events that affected them, both positive or negative. What they found after 10 weeks was that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives compared to the other two groups. They even exercised more and had less visits to the doctor! 
Start a diary of daily gratitude! Write 3 things you are grateful for each night and feel the difference! Say thank you more, smile more at people, and just generally try to think of situations as glass half full instead of half empty. I know it’s hard, I’m predisposed to being displeased myself, but happiness really is all in your mind. Change your mindset and you’ll charge up your happiness.
What are you waiting for? Go out and start soaking up the joy!