from the issue

Six More Ways to Put a Smile on Your Face

Each Monday in January, we’re sharing a number of science-backed tips guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Here are more things you can easily do (today, tomorrow, next week or next month!) to find your happy place.

 

Prepare Yourself

Is there anything better than knowing dinner is ready as the workday ends? Cooking meals in advance—then storing or freezing them for later—may improve your mood, according to Amit Sood, M.D., author of The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness. “Given our compressed lifestyles, we are seldom able to cook a hot meal each day,” says Dr. Sood. “Planning the week’s meals and preparing them as a family means you aren’t stressing out about what you will be cooking as the clock turns closer to 5 p.m.”

Get the recipe: Spicy Pork & Butternut Squash Stew

 

Feel Amazed

When was the last time you said something was awesome and meant it literally? Awe—the kind you experience while taking in an incredible natural vista or an artistic masterpiece—is such a strongly positive emotion that it not only makes your soul soar, but may also make your body healthier. In a 2015 study, researchers found a link between feelings of wonder and amazement, and lower levels of harmful, inflammation-inducing molecules. Other emotions, like contentment and pride, also were found to confer benefits, but awe took the top spot. The researchers noted that awe makes you feel connected with others (a happiness- maker in itself). So when an opportunity to experience something that will make you gasp and say “Wow!” arises, take it!

 

Cry Your Eyes Out

Don’t hold back the tears. There really is something to the idea of a good cry. Folks who were shown tear-jerker movies and got all choked up reported better moods an hour and a half post waterworks than they’d experienced before the screenings. The non-criers, on the other hand, reported no mood changes at all after the flicks. The theory is that feeling a little down, even if the feeling isn’t rooted in anything in the real world, leads to feeling better once the emotional event has passed. So queue up a classic heart-wrencher like Terms of Endearment or Forrest Gump, or any movie that tugs at your heartstrings. We promise, the happiness you feel will be worth the box of tissues you go through.

 

Make Small Talk

That old adage about not talking to strangers? Forget it now that you’re an adult. In a University of Chicago study, commuters who shot the breeze with  seat mates they didn’t know reported a more enjoyable ride than those who kept to themselves. More surprising yet: Participants who reported longer conversations, in which they learned more about their fellow commuters, said they had a more pleasant trip than those whose chats were shorter. In another study, researchers in British Columbia sent subjects to Starbucks and asked some of them to chat up the barista who took their order. The conversationalists reported feeling more joyful than the silent sippers. Talk about the gift of gab!

 

Spread the Wealth

Spending even a small amount of your hard- earned cash on someone else, by giving a gift or donating to charity, can make you feel truly rich. “When giving money to others, an individual experiences happiness from the successful performance of her moral duties, a feeling that’s also been described as ‘human flourishing,’” says Lalin Anik, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

 

Learn Something

Feeling blah? It might be time to pick up a new skill you’re excited about. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., says that being completely focused on a creative activity (a state he calls “flow”) elevates satisfaction levels. His theory is that people feel a heightened sense of awareness during these experiences—they are intensely absorbed, feel alert, are in effortless control and can lose track of time and place, all of which leave them feeling energized and excited.

Flex your kitchen muscles with these brand-new how-to cookbooks.

The Magic of Spice Blends: A Guide to the Art, Science, and Lore of Combining Flavors, by Aliza Green, $25

Making Dough: Recipes and Ratios for Perfect Pastries, by Russell van Kraayenburg, $25

Fermentation & Home Brewing, by Jessica Childs and Eric Childs, $25

For all of our happiness tips, click here.

Ways to Boost Your Happiness Right Now

Each Monday in January, we’re sharing a number of science-backed tips guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Here are more things you can easily do (today, tomorrow, next week or next month!) to find your happy place.

Eat with Your Ears

If your idea of a happy meal involves crunching your way through a bag of chips, science is on your side. Researchers at Oxford University had participants score food for nine sensory qualities and found that those they described as “crispy” and “crunchy” gave them the most pleasure. This effect may be evolutionary, since these textures were a signal to our ancestors that food was fresh enough to eat. So pass the celery—or the salty snacks!

Get the recipe: Wedge Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Crunchy Croutons

 

Make a Getaway Plan

From the fun-is-in-the-anticipation files: A large-scale Dutch study revealed that it’s not necessarily a vacation that promotes happiness; the act of planning a trip and the anticipation you feel leading up to it may contribute to your good mood, as well. In fact, in the study, only the vacationers who had fully kicked backed and relaxed while away reported a lasting happiness boost after they came home. Sounds like a good reason to plan your next vacation at a soothing, stress-reducing spa!

 

Use the Good Stuff

Don’t save Grandma’s silver for special occasions. Using fancy cutlery makes even an unremarkable meal more joyful. According to a study by the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, people who ate dinner with heavier, more formal- looking cutlery enjoyed their meal more than those who used lightweight utensils. The participants also guessed that the food eaten with the higher-end utensils was worth more money and judged it as more “artistic” than did the diners who dug into the same dish using lighter-weight forks and knives.

 

Put on a Happy Face

We’ve all heard that the link between smiling and feeling happy works both ways—feeling good leads naturally to a grin, and conversely, pasting on a smile, even a forced one, can lift a bad mood. But a smile can also keep you calmer under stress, a study from the University of Kansas shows. Subjects held chopsticks in their teeth to create certain facial expressions and were subjected to stressors like multitasking and physical discomfort. When they “smiled”—albeit unintentionally—through the stress, they recovered faster and felt better.

 

Volunteer Your Time

People who lend a helping hand are happier than those who don’t, studies show. Any amount of time you can give to others is worthwhile, says Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. But the volunteering sweet spot to make you feel good is 100 hours a year, according to a European study. That’s only about two hours a week—more than manageable! Visit volunteermatch.org for ideas of ways to help others in communities near you.

 

Catch Some Rays

Everyone wants to get outside on a sunny day to hit the beach or grab a table at a sidewalk café. And there’s a reason you should indulge that urge. Serotonin, a body chemical associated with mood, is affected by exposure to daylight, and high serotonin levels are linked to more positivity, greater mental focus and a sense of calm—quite the trifecta. If you’re a cubicle dweller, tear yourself away from those oh-so-urgent emails and get outside in the sunlight periodically, says one researcher. No one’s suggesting you skip the sunscreen, but you might think about slipping off your shades for a bit, however cool they make you look. Even 10 to 15 minutes of letting your eyes drink in the sunlight could make you healthier and happier.

 

Get more tips for happiness here!

More Tips for Happiness

Each Monday in January, we’re sharing a number of science-backed tips guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Here are more things you can easily do (today, tomorrow, next week or next month!) to find your happy place.

 

Make Your Meal Happy

Yes, you can eat to your heart’s content! “The largest factor that you control in terms of your happiness is at the end of your fork,” says Drew Ramsey, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of The Happiness Diet and the upcoming book Eat Complete. This feel-good recipe uses seven of his favorite mood-boosting ingredients.

Get the recipe: Pan-Seared Salmon with Miso Watercress Pesto & Lentil-Black Rice Salad
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Your Happiest Year Yet!

We live for the moments that put smiles on our faces: the soul-gratifying bite of a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie, the joy of accomplishing a big goal, the warmth of a sunbeam on our skin. Experiences like these produce not only emotional but also physical reactions: They spur the release of chemicals, like serotonin or endorphins, that make us feel happy, even euphoric. Of course not all your days can be filled with unicorns and rainbows, but turning a frown, you know, the other direction is actually pretty easy. Try these bliss-making moves, all backed by science, and check back next week for more—We’re sharing a new set of tips every Monday in January. Your happy place is closer than you think!

 

Eat More Chocolate

The countless reports of dark chocolate’s health benefits have been food for the soul for a lot of us. And here’s one more: The American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research reported that when people who suffered from stress were given small amounts of dark chocolate daily, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol were lower after two weeks. Ain’t life sweet?

Get the recipe: Ruth Reichl’s Hot Fudge to Soothe Your Soul

 

Become a Morning Person

It doesn’t matter what side of the bed you wake up on, it’s when you wake up that matters. Turns out, early birds have a sunnier disposition than night owls, according to research from the University of Toronto, because they’re more in sync with daylight hours (humans are diurnal, as compared with nocturnal). So if you’re not the sort to leap out of bed, adjust your internal clock by moving up your bedtime incrementally, by about 15 minutes every few nights. And shut down electronics two to three hours before you hit the hay. Your internal clock will adjust and, before you know it, you’ll wake up all smiles.

 

Break up with Your DVR

You may think you enjoy your nightly TV fix more if you start watching a show late so you can fast- forward through the ads. But commercial breaks actually enhance your enjoyment. “We are wired to chase and desire,” says Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., author of the upcoming book The Happiness Track. “If you keep delaying, you increase your longing to see the rest of the show.” That season finale just got a lot more riveting!

 

Extend Those Arms

A big ol’ bear hug is a surefire way to get that warm, fuzzy feeling (or give it to someone else), and research shows that an affectionate squeeze also bestows a host
of other positive effects. A hug, just like holding hands or having sex, spurs the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone.” And Swedish researchers have suggested that after an embrace, “thoughts of the hugging may put the individual in a more positive mood.” What’s more, a simple clinch has physiological benefits—for instance, lowered blood pressure and an increase in endorphins, which strengthens the immune system. And who wouldn’t be happy about that?

 

Say Yes to Cheese

If melty grilled cheese sandwiches and nachos dripping with queso have taught us anything, it’s that cheese is serious comfort food. Even science says so! Emerging research has shown that during digestion, the protein casein in cow’s milk (the milk used in cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other favorites) may produce casomorphins, which can have a slight opiate-like effect on some cheese-eaters—in other words, the lucky ones.

Bar Basics: Know Your Bubbles!

Champagne, cava and prosecco all sparkle, but they’re not the same. Get to know them a little better with this handy cheat sheet.

 

Champagne

Hometown

The Champagne region in northern France

Best traits

Can be toasty and dry (i.e. not sweet); available in a range of colors, from light golden to pink

Perfect date

A special occasion. Champagne uses high-quality grapes and takes longer to age, so it’s often the most expensive of the three. Save it for the times when you really want to celebrate.

 

Cava

Hometown

The Catalonia region in northeast Spain

Best traits

Earthier, fruitier and often less expensive than Champagne

Perfect date

A weekend party with friends. The crowd-pleasing flavor and budget-friendly price makes this sparkling wine great for a group. And who says you have to start the party with bubbles? Spaniards sometimes serve cava after a meal.

 

Prosecco

Hometown

The Veneto region in northeast Italy

Best traits

Light, crisp and apple-y; usually the sweetest and least expensive of the three sparklers

Perfect date

A leisurely Sunday brunch. You can sip prosecco on its own, and it also makes a great cocktail mixer. Thanks to its super-affordable price and low alcohol, bottomless mimosas can be had by all!

 

No matter which bubbly you choose, you can whip up a killer cocktail for your New Years Eve party. Here are some of our faves:

Cranberry-Cava Sparklers

 
 

Double Orange Spritz

 
 

Pomegranate Lava Lamp

Gingerbread House Do’s and Don’ts

Make your gingerbread house look anything but cookie-cutter—even if you’re working from a store-bought kit—with tips from beth “Ginger Betty” Veneto, owner of Ginger Betty’s Bakery in Quincy, MA., and multiyear winner at the Boston Christmas Festival’s famed Gingerbread House Competition. Read on for her delicious do’s and definite don’ts.

 

 

DO

 

Make a mischievous Rudolph by coating a marshmallow in melted chocolate, adding pretzels for antlers, red candy for a nose and paper-doll sunglasses for an—ahem—clever disguise. Place him so he’s peeping out from behind a tree, thanks to a lollipop stick or skewer.

 

Transform ice cream cones into trees (coat with green frosting, then decorate with candy ornaments or sprinkles).

 

 

Build a fence out of pretzels. You can go the straight-up rod route, as we did here, or stand a series of traditional looped pretzels upside down. Use frosting as mortar.

 

Pile and scatter shredded coconut for sweet snowdrifts.

 

Gussy up your gingerbread men (or toy figures) with fun accessories. Licorice or any other candy that comes in strips makes for a cute muffler.

 

Place Peppermint Pattie candies or cookies as “pavers” to form a pathway to your house.

 

DON’T

 

Build on a rainy day or store your house in the fridge. Under these conditions, moisture can seep in a make the walls wilt.

 

Start decorating the house too soon. The frosting that holds the structural elements together should be 100 percent dry first. Every house is different, but give yours at least eight hours to set.

 

Now that you know how to build the gingerbread house of your dreams, find out how you can win $2,000 from Trulia!

Find Out Where You Can Order One of Rach’s 10th Anniversary Burgers

What to get the girl who has everything? How about a burger created in her honor! To celebrate Rach’s 10 years in print, 10 of the country’s best cooks came up with tasty tributes that are the most fun you’ll have on a bun–so good, in fact, that the chefs are serving them at their restaurants, too! Find out where you can score one of these awesome burgers, or make them for yourself at home.

 

Spike Mendelsohn’s Double-Peppers & Onions Burger – Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, DC (Capitol Hill location), 10/13 to 10/31

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Even Better Butter

Brown butter may sound cheffy, but the deliciously nutty, super-simple sauce is easy to make: If you’ve got a pan and some butter, you’re 90 percent there! Make a big batch and store it in the fridge so it’s ready whenever you need a hit of extra-rich flavor. Then drizzle it over roasted vegetables or fish, toss it with pasta, or stir it into pancake batter. Ready to give it a shot? Here’s how!

 

Brown Butter and Brussels Sprouts Fettuccine

 

1. Cut the butter into half-inch-thick slices and melt over medium.

2. Leave the melted butter alone until it starts to bubble and foam, about 2 minutes.

3. Stir the butter until light-golden specks appear. (Those are the milk solids separating out from the fat and starting to toast.) As soon as the specks turn dark tan and the liquid is golden, remove the pan from the heat. Use immediately or pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.

Pizza Dough Do’s and Don’ts

Store-bought dough makes pizza night as easy as pie, but creating a great crust takes a little TLC. Here’s how to make restaurant-quality pizza at home every time.

 

 

Do

Let the dough sit at room temp for 20 minutes so it can soften and roll more easily.

Roll it out with a rolling pin, working from the center to outside of the crust the edges. Or make a free-form pie by stretching the dough into shape.

Before you bake the pizza, brush the outside of the crust (the part that won’t get toppings) lightly with olive oil for a darker, crispy edge.

 

Don’t

Resist rolling out the dough if it starts to spring back. Let it rest a few minutes and soften up so it stretches easily.

Don’t place the dough directly on the baking sheet. Instead, line the sheet with parchment or dust it with flour.

Be careful not to pile on too many ingredients or else you’ll end up with a soggy crust.

 

 

Now get to it! Click here for some of our most popular pizza recipes of all time.

DIY Chile Powder

Make your own chile powder for unbeatable, super-fresh flavor, using the chiles of your choice to get a heat level that’s right for you. Start with dried mild ancho chiles, medium chipotles, red-hot chiles de arbol–or a combination–then follow these three easy steps. Stir the powder into stews or salsas, rub it on meat before cooking or use it as a base for hcili (add ground cumin, garlic, cayenne and salt).

 

Elmo’s Famous Chili, from our September 2015 issue

 

1. Chop

Halve your dried chiles lengthwise, then remove the stems, ribs and seeds. Chop the chiles into small pieces

 

2. Toast

In a dry skillet, toast the chiles over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes per side.

 

3. Grind

Blend in a spice grinder to a powder. Store in a jar in a cool, dark place for up to six months.