Try these simple tweaks to boost your mood.Experts attribute about 50 percent of a person’s happiness to genes and another 10 percent to circumstances—where we live, how much money we make, how healthy we are. That leaves 40 percent of our happiness in our control. Fortunately, science has much to say about how we can make the most of that 40 percent. Even small improvements in mood can have cascading effects. The trick is to pay attention to what strategies work best for you. Try these for starters.
In a culture obsessed with the power of information, the fact that most of us are a little unnerved by uncertainty is hardly surprising. Yet research suggests that a dash of mystery can make positive experiences last longer. In one study, University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson, Ph.D., and colleagues found that students who were given a $1 coin with little explanation reported feeling happier a few minutes later than those who were given either the same amount of money for a clear reason or no money at all. Next time you're nearing the end of an engrossing book, save the final pages for a few days later. Or shop from catalogs so you won't know exactly when your purchases will arrive—if you're lucky, when they do you may have forgotten what you've ordered.
Diversify your good deeds
Being kind and helpful makes most everyone feel good. But just as the novelty of a new car or electronic gadget inevitably wears off, so does the warm glow that comes from doing the same good deed over and over. People who performed various small acts of kindness every week for 10 weeks—shoveling a friend’s sidewalk, giving pets a special treat, sending a birthday card—grew happier with each passing week, and the benefit lasted for at least another month, found a study by University of California, Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., and colleagues.
Hope for small changes, not big ones
Research shows that even major life events, such as winning the lottery, hardly nudge people’s overall sense of satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your well-being. Recent research finds that the little things we do regularly, like exercising or attending religious services, can have a major impact on our happiness. In one study, Yale University psychologist Daniel Mochon, Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard and Duke universities discovered that people leaving religious services felt slightly happier than those going in—and the more regularly people attended religious services, the happier they felt overall.
Invest in experiences, not stuff
Doing things, not buying things, gives you the most bang for your buck. Why? For one thing, says University of Colorado at Boulder social psychologist Leaf Van Boven, Ph.D., it’s easier to reinterpret experiences than to retool material purchases. If your new smart phone disappoints, you have to either shell out for a better one or lower your expectations. But if it rains on a hiking trip, you can recast the drenching experience in your memory as a character-building challenge.
Shift your focus
From work to relationships to health, we have choices about where to concentrate our attention. When a snowstorm keeps you from getting to the office, do you choose to focus on how behind you’ll be by tomorrow or on the eight-hour gift of time you’ve just been given? The answer to such questions has a big influence on your well-being, writes Winifred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Studies show that focusing on positive emotions—curiosity instead of fear, compassion instead of anger—leads to broader, more flexible thinking, more playfulness and exploration, and richer social connections.