1. Choose happiness-boosting activities that work for you
Some of us love getting up at 6 a.m. to get our sweat on. For others that might be torture. And that’s okay. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Selecting activities comes down to your personality, strengths, and preferences.
Psychologists term this “person-activity fit”. It’s really just about knowing what works for you. And this is important because the science says we’re more likely to stick to activities we have a strong preference for.
2. For maximum joy, change it up
The caveat: We adapt to intentional activities over time.
Imagine a big change like marrying the love of your life or scoring your dream job. At first, we’re flushed with happiness but, in time, the glow fades. The same thing has been shown to happen with intentional happiness-boosting activities. Psychologists call this hedonic adaptation. And it’s kind of a bummer.
The challenge: To become happier long term, according to Lyubomirsky, we have to beat hedonic adaptation.
The solution: We have to be strategic with our strategies. How? By introducing some variety into our activities. While making a happiness-booster a habit is good in theory, doing so gives us less reward over time. Instead, make the process of getting started on your happy action automatic, but switch up how you’re actually doing it.
Here’s an example: Getting sweaty works for you, so you set out to boost your happiness by running. The habitual part? Going for a run every other day. The keep-you-guessing-for-maximum-happiness part? Mix up the route, intensity, duration, and pace to keep it challenging and engaging. You’re running wind sprints one day and pulling a Forrest Gump on others. Hedonic adaptation = dodged.
3. Thank your way to happiness
You don’t have to keep a gratitude journal or even acknowledge the “g” word if you’re over it. But appreciating what you have, and taking time to think about it, is a research-backed way of becoming happier.
A gratitude practice is when you consciously focus on the things in your life that you’re thankful for. They could be anything: warm carbs, an ab-hurting laughter episode, the first sip of a cold beer on Friday night. No matter how small, appreciating the things that make your life good makes a difference.
That’s because gratitude is tied to other good feelings, according to research. When our levels of gratitude rise, our happiness, contentment, hope, and other positive emotions can rise too, the study found. Bonus points: Practicing gratitude can boost our optimism about the future and even reduce depressive symptoms. On-board yet? Because we are.
So how often should you practice gratitude? The research is a little mixed.
- In one study, subjects kept either a daily or weekly gratitude journal. Those who journaled daily had a greater improvement in mood over those who did it weekly—though there were benefits in positive feelings for both groups.
- In another study, positive improvements were seen only in weekly gratitude-reporters, while participants who journaled more than that (three times a week) didn’t see the same benefits. The reason? Boredom, speculated the authors. Hedonic adaptation strikes again.
So why the lack of consensus between studies? It could come down to differences in age groups, demographics, methodologies… Whatever the case, it just reinforces what we’ve said above: Things work differently for different people. So while gratitude, in general, has consistently shown some encouraging results, how frequently we think on thanks, and what method we use to do it, boils down to what works for us.