1. Fake it ’til you make it
You may not feel like smiling right now, but do it anyway. Try a really broad smile using all your facial muscles, including those around your eyes.
Researchers from the University of Kansas asked study participants either to smile, to hold chopsticks in their mouths in a smile position, or have a neutral face. Then the participants were given various stress tests. Those who smiled – even the fakers – had lower heart rates afterwards, indicating that they didn’t get as stressed. And those who had the chopsticks in their mouths, thereby creating a broader fake smile, showed the least stress.
Related: 8 ways to get happy quick
2. Be more sociable
Is your social circle starting to shrink? Gee yourself up to ask a neighbour round for coffee, or ask at a library about joining a book club so you can meet people face-to-face. Take a cue from the riotous King’s Lynn ladies, who were part of the Red Hat Society, founded in the USA to promote fun, friendship, freedom, fulfilment and fitness for women.
Keeping up-to-date with friends and family with phones and computers is fun, but you’ll get more out of your relationships if you can actually see each other (even if it is via a webcam). According to the University of Chester communicating face-to-face makes people laugh half as much again, leading to higher happiness levels as a result.
Related: How to make new friends
3. Compare yourself with someone worse off than you
Comparing your life with those of other people is natural – we all do it. Researchers found couples who were least satisfied with their sex life thought they were having less sex than other couples they knew. On the other hand, couples who were satisfied with their sex lives felt they were having more sex than other couples. This was true regardless of how much sex the couples were actually having!
‘Rather than comparing yourself with the couples who tell you they’re “doing it” all the time, compare yourself with another couple who are not,’ says therapist Dr Ian Kerner. ‘It’ll make you feel better and less pressured.’ The same goes for material worth, or others’ seemingly glittering social lives.
Related: Five ways to feel happier
4. Try easy yoga
You don’t need to be able to bend yourself into a pretzel shape to get something out of yoga. Even if you’ve never done it, starting now may help you feel better.
A study from the Boston University School of Medicine found that people who did yoga for an hour three times a week boosted their levels of a special mood-lifting substance called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). This was comparable to other participants who walked for three hours.
Related: The mind and body benefits of yoga
5. Listen to some sad music
Feeling particularly low and in need of a boost? It might seem counter-intuitive, but some sad music could help. Researchers from the Tokyo University of the Arts have found that sadness experienced through art – whether by music, paintings or some other form – feels pleasant, possibly because it’s not real to you. It’s something the Greeks knew all about when they invented the concept of catharsis through theatrical tragedies.
A study found similar results when assessing viewers’ responses to sad films. So when you get home tonight, why not put on a weepie? There’s every chance you’ll feel better for it.
6. Indulge in some shameless materialistic thinking
Flick through a glossy holiday brochure or do some window-shopping. You might think that looking at beautiful objects or holidays that you can’t afford would make you more miserable, but the opposite is frequently the case.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who are materialistic in their approach to life – who focus on acquiring objects and wealth – actually gain more pleasure from desiring products than they do from owning them. Need inspiration? Set up an account on pinterest.com (an online ‘pinboard’) and search for ‘desirable objects’ or ‘luxury’.
Related: Read our guide to Pinterest
7. Focus on Thursday
Even if you’re no longer working Monday to Friday, that weekend feeling still affects you. But, surprisingly, it’s not in fact Friday that boosts people’s moods the most, but Thursdays.
Researchers from the London School of Economics followed the happiness levels of nearly 45,000 people by getting them to use an app called Mappiness on their smartphones and found that Thursday was consistently the day people reported being most happy. So make it the highlight of the week and still look forward to the weekend.
8. Grab the paper
Switch off the TV – it’s time to read the news instead of watching it. A study from the University of Maryland found that of 30,000 participants, those who read the newspaper – in print or online – were happier than those who watched it. The researchers aren’t sure why this is, but it could be down to the fact that when you read news yourself, you can avoid the type of stories that might make you feel unhappy.
9. Think in colours
‘The key colour to focus on when pursuing happiness is yellow,’ says colour therapist Lilian Verner-Bonds from the International Association of Colour (iac-colour.co.uk). ‘Yellow is connected to the mind: it controls the intellect, it beckons you to get your priorities right. Yellow reminds you, “as you think, so you become”. So eat yellow food, wear yellow and decorate with yellow.’
While there isn’t much hard science relating to how different colours affect our mood, one study has found a direct link between happy or sad music and colours, indicating that subconsciously we do connect certain colours with certain emotions.
Many practitioners suggest that we should imagine breathing in colours. ‘Visualise a huge cloud of your chosen colour and breathe in, breathing out black light,’ says Lilian Verner-Bonds. She suggests visualising red to promote zest, energy and drive; yellow for joy and confidence; green for balance and productivity; blue for patience and healing. And to clear negativity from your system, visualise breathing in pure, white sparkling light for four counts and then expel black breath for four counts.
10. Don’t undervalue yourself
If you’re working, it’s important to feel you’re getting the same financial rewards as your colleagues. Why? Because research from the University of Carlos III in Madrid has found that just as important as getting a good salary, is whether you feel you’re getting a good salary compared with your colleagues. If you think you’re underpaid and undervalued, step one is to decide to tackle it and talk to your boss.
‘The over-50s are set to become one of the most powerful sectors of our society,’ says life coach and stress management expert Trelawney Kerrigan. ‘Within ten years, those aged 50 to 64 will make up more than half the adult population. In short, your age makes you relevant.
‘A key issue for older employees, however, is confidence. Think for a moment about how Richard Branson (63), Deborah Meaden (54) or James Dyson (66) would treat the presumption that age is diminishing their worth. Take it upon yourself to keep learning, keep innovating and make it clear that you still very much mean business!’
Related: Are you your own worst critic? Find out how to stop undermining yourself
11. Deal with any health niggles
You might think that having a serious health complication is the most damaging thing to your happiness levels, but in fact research from George Mason University in the USA found that less serious problems such as urinary incontinence or constipation, for example, have a greater impact than diseases such as prostate cancer.
The issue, say the researchers, is how the health problem affects day-to-day activities. Certain types of cancer, such as prostate, may not cause a change in the patient’s daily life, while something less serious but extremely inconvenient – such as urinary incontinence – might.
If you have symptoms of what seem like minor health issues, get them treated right away and you’ll feel better all round.
Related: Why you should deal with that health niggle now
12. Build a community
Creating a sense of community – whether it’s via a jumble sale in your church hall, a sponsored walk, or a fundraising biggest vegetable contest at a nearby garden centre – is key to building happiness. A study from the University of British Columbia found that communities that are cohesive and do good for others not only cope better in crises, but also report feeling happier overall. Fundraising has never been easier, so if you have a goal in mind, go to thefundraisingdirectory.co.uk where you’ll find plenty of ideas on how to motivate people and raise the money you need to achieve your aim.
If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of a person, nothing can magically transform you into the type who sees a silver lining in every cloud. However, research from Erasmus University in Rotterdam found it is possible to increase happiness levels within your range. ‘The word “range” is an important one to focus on,’ says therapist Ian Kerner. ‘It means that for each person there’s an upper, middle and lower level of happiness. So if you score a five on a one-to-ten scale of happiness, you can still strive towards a six or a seven, or even an eight!’ That glass may not be overflowing by tomorrow, but it will look a little fuller.
Related: Ways to tackle loneliness
This article was first published in the November 2013 of Saga Magazine. For great articles like this, subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.
Did you know? Saga has a vibrant new village, set in the Wiltshire countryside, with luxury apartments, regular social events and first-class amenities including a restaurant, swimming pool, spa and bar for people aged 60 or over. For more information visit Wadswick Green