How nice would it be to push a button and instantly feel happy, uplifted, and fun?
Turns out you can. Or at least exert the same amount of effort for the same results.
Recent studies are upending the age-old belief that emotions just happen to us. In fact, its just the opposite. We often choose which emotions we'll experience. The problem is, we don't realize exactly how we bring these emotions on ourselves.
If you'd like to choose happy more often, here are five concrete things you can do in less than 20 minutes that have scientifically shown to change your brain chemistry and your perspective.
Move your body
Extensive scientific research shows that our body language shapes what we think and how we feel. In a study performed by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy, just two minutes of assuming "power poses" is enough to make us feel confident, upbeat, and alert.
What is a "power pose"? It all has to do with open body language. Extend your arms from side to side, open your chest, and raise your chin. You don't even have to work up a sweat. The simple act of opening physically is enough to change your brain chemistry for the better.
Practice gratitude exercises
What do you focus on when you're feeling bad? Most likely, the promotion you didn't get, the amount of work still on your plate, or the person who was rude to you. All the things that aren't as you'd like them to be.
All the good stuff in your life? You probably take it for granted. It's a psychological phenomenon known as Hedonic Adaptation, and it happens to all of us.
Want to appreciate your life, ward off Hedonic Adaptation, and be happier?
Simply taking a moment to focus on five things you ARE happy with is enough to feel much happier in minutes.
It's easy to forget that we live in the most prosperous time in history. Chances are that you eat better than kings and queens did 150 years ago. Take a minute to recognize all that is good in your life from your relationships to your career to your health. Take a minute to appreciate how many people would struggle for the things you take for granted.
Tell someone you love how you feel
We often feel we need people to be nice to us when we're feeling down. In fact, the answer is quite the opposite. What we need is to be kind to other people.
One psychology professor found after writing out a note to someone they appreciated, every one of his students reported an increase in happiness. That's without even delivering the note. By sharing those hidden feelings of gratitude you'll get to experience them. You'll get to see the other person be touched by your gesture, compounding the effect.
Who in your life hasn't heard how much they mean to you in a while? Simply writing an email or taking 30 seconds to tell them how you feel in person will brighten both your days.
Take a walk outside
Per day, American white-collar workers will spend eight hours a day sitting in front of their computers and on average, another 3.5 in front of the television. With all that sitting and staring, it's no wonder that we sometimes feel stifled.
Exercise is shown to decrease feelings of depression, and doing so outside magnifies the effect. Sunlight helps our body synthesize vitamin D, which is linked to increased serotonin. Even a tree-lined walk will do the trick, as feeling closer to nature is also linked with greater happiness levels.
A University of Rochester study found that just 20 minutes a day in a natural setting can "significantly boost vitality levels."
Want to cut back on stress and feel better almost immediately? Smiling is the easiest way.
Repeated studies have shown that even a forced smile will lower your heart rate, decrease stress, and increase feelings of happiness.
For maximum effect, the University of Kansas Department of Psychology has found that a genuine Duchenne smile is best (the smile that activates the muscles around your eyes and forms crows feet).
Combine this with the fact that smiles are literally contagious -- people you smile at are much more likely to smile back at you -- and you've got a positive feedback loop that is guaranteed to lift your spirits.
Know someone who could use an instant pick me up? Share this with them (and maybe also a gratitude note).