Act like a kid
Sometimes being a grown-up is, well, boring. Yes, you should pay your bills, make your deadlines, and clean your apartment, but make sure to leave time to be a little silly and have fun. “Even jumping on your bike for an afternoon ride with friends will make you feel more carefree,” says Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Add More -Ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness
Whether you meditate or just take some quiet time to yourself, being still may help you embrace the moment and appreciate your life. “Being still reminds you that life isn’t about racing as fast as you can to get to the end of your to-do list,” says James Baraz, a meditation instructor and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre, Calif.
Find your inner optimist
Even die-hard glass-half-empty people can have a sunnier lookout if they work at it. Don’t obsess over bad news or your finances; instead, shine your attention on areas of your life for which you are profoundly grateful.
Get some lovin’
Regular romps are more than just fun and games. Sex is great for your health. It can satisfy all sorts of emotional and physical intimacy needs and helps partners stay close, says Anita H. Clayton, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia and author of Satisfaction: Women, Sex, and the Quest for Intimacy.
Take a hike
Literally. There’s nothing better than a hike to remind yourself that there’s more to life than an annoying commute and pesky coworkers. It’s a win-win. You can be blown away by the awesome power and beauty of nature, while giving your quads a workout.
Work your muscles
Not only does working out do wonders for your body, but physical activity also improves your overall well-being and health. “Exercise, yoga, or any kind of regular movement helps get you out of your head,” says James Baraz, a meditation instructor and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre, Calif. “In addition to being a healthy activity, it triggers endorphins that have a profound effect on lifting your spirits. It makes you come alive.”
Get over a grudge
Don’t waste precious time or energy nursing a grudge. Everyone gets mad now and then, but staying mad is more likely to harm you than the one who triggered your ire. “In life, you get a choice between being right and being happy,” says Philip H. Friedman, PhD, author of The Forgiveness Solution.
Make time for your pooch
Simple activities, like hugging you dog or cat, can put you in a good mood. Petting a dog for just 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol, a University of Missouri—Columbia study suggests.
Indulge in food you love
You’ve heard it before: Healthy eating is all about moderation, so that means you don’t have to deny yourself the foods you love. Just indulge in a smart way. “Depriving a sweet tooth is a recipe for disaster,” says celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels. “Don’t cut things out so you binge later. Instead, try allotting up to a fifth of your daily calorie allowance to the sweet of your choice.”
Sing out strong
Whether you’re in the shower, in your car, or on a public stage, belt out a tune. You’re a terrible singer, you say? Irrelevant. (A million karaoke lovers never let that hold them back.) Research suggests that an organ in the inner ear is connected to a part of the brain that registers pleasure. So singing may make you happier, even if you’re no Beyonce.
Find fresh air
Make time to go outside during the day, rain or shine. Just 30 minutes in the sun can boost your mood, according to a University of Michigan study. But even on wintery days, a breath of fresh air is, well, refreshing.
Catch some z’s
Don’t feel guilty about catching a few extra hours of shut-eye. Sleep boosts your mood, improves your memory, sharpens your focus, and can help you maintain a healthy weight. The health benefits of a good night’s sleep improve your quality of life.
Read a book
Take the time to sit and read, a practice that previous generations recognized as a necessity, not a luxury. You can aim to get in touch with what’s really important in life (Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is good for that), learn something new, or just go for pure escapism with the latest frothy romance or beach-read paperback.
Have you always wanted to paint, but don’t know where to start? Visit your local art store and get going. Participants in a Boston College study became happier when they distracted themselves by creating artwork that expressed their negative feelings. Writing in a journal has been shown to have a similar effect.
Share your goals
If you want to make things happen, spread the word! Tell your family and friends about your goals. Your loved ones can hold you accountable and help you stick to your guns. Sonja Lyubomirksy, PhD, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, believes this ups your chances of success.
Get out of town
Plan your getaway for a week or just a weekend. A 2009 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that engaging in enjoyable leisure-time activities can lower stress hormones and blood pressure. Plus, it’s fun.
Unplug and go tech free
Put away the cell phone, turn off the television, and shut down the computer. Constant exposure to technology can overwhelm your nervous system, says Alan Keck, PsyD, of the Center for Positive Psychology, in Orlando, Fla. Take a few days, or even just a day, to live life without these distractions. You might be surprised at how nice it is to relax without the noise and interruption.
Help yourself by helping others. People feel good when they do good, “but research now shows that giving is good for you emotionally and physically,” says Margaret Clark, PhD, a social psychologist and professor of psychology at Yale University, in New Haven, Conn.
Find a hobby
Although hobbies seem almost quaint in our purpose-driven world, spending time on an activity you enjoy—just because—is a great idea. “A good hobby makes you lose all sense of time and self, liberating you from the every day,” says Andrea Pennington, an integrative medicine physician and wellness coach.
Sit down and eat
The Italians have practically made this an art form. They know that preparing and eating meals together can help you bond with others, and just all around enjoy life more. If your crazy schedule seems to never leave room for a sit-down meal, opt for easy prep meals and fit them in on weekends.
Schedule fun every day
You can enjoy life without taking an extravagant vacation. Each morning, think, “What can I do today that will make it an amazing day?” suggests life coach Victoria Moran, author of Living a Charmed Life. Create your own personal list of simple pleasures, and work them into your day.
Wake up with yoga
Shake up your morning routine with a natural energy booster: yoga! Several poses allow you to take in more oxygen and stimulate your muscles and adrenal glands, raising your energy levels. Yoga also increases your flexibility and strength, relieves stress, and improves your mood.
Pick a perfect snack
Snacking between meals can curb hunger and satisfy your cravings. So when your stomach starts to rumble, go for it! Whether you’re in the mood for salty or sweet, healthy snacking is a great way to sneak extra nutrients into your day.
Soothe yourself with sound
Need to chill out? Try listening to some tunes. In a 2010 study, researchers found that soft, soothing music reduces anxiety as well as a massage does. Plus, hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, which is good for your heart.
Prioritize time together with friends. Whether you go out or stay in, it’s important to let your hair down and blow off steam every once in a while with your pals.
Make negativity a no-no
Turn your to-do list into an adventure, without letting negativity get in your way. Push all doubts to the side and write down your thoughts and feelings. “You’ll boost your self-esteem and happiness by gaining control of your situation,” says Richard Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. This will pave the way for you to get excited about doing everything you have to do.