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.
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
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.
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.