If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! Even as children, we’re taught to recognize and celebrate feelings of happiness—and it’s no wonder. Not only is happiness one of the most positive emotions we can experience, but being happy is also the key to a fulfilled, healthy life. Plus, cheeriness is linked to living longer, how hard we work, physical function as we age, and an improved immune system, among other health benefits.
While it’s hard to define (especially since it varies from person to person), some experts describe happiness as “a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions,” while others view it as consisting of three parts: feeling good, living a “good life,” and feeling part of a larger purpose. There’s also a distinct difference between short- and long-term happiness: The former is a fleeting feeling, while the latter applies to how we describe our own lives.
While some factors that affect happiness might be outside of our control (such as genetics or certain life circumstances), there are always actions we can take to amp up our own good feelings. To smile wider, be more satisfied with life, and feel altogetherbetter—both in the present and the future—try introducing any (or all!) of these practices into your life.
1. Spend time outside.
Enjoying time al fresco is a great way to put some pep back in your step. Living near green spaces is associated with better mental health, and even just looking at imagesof nature scenes can stimulate the parts of your brain associated with happiness, positivity, and emotional stability. Plus, spending time in the great outdoors exposes us to sunlight, which can help our bodies produce vitamin D . Since low levels of the nutrient have been linked to depression, soaking up a little bit of sun (we’re talking just 15 minutes per day) may lift your spirits both in the present and over the long term. Just make sure to slather on some sunscreen!
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2. Sweat it out.
We’re obviously big fans of exercise in general, but making time for a regular fitness session does more than just sculpt a strong physique. While getting your sweat on may not cause happiness, it can certainly contribute to it. Physical activity helps our bodies produce disease-fighting proteins—called antibodies—and our brains release endorphins. While antibodies boost happiness by keeping illness at bay, endorphins are feel-good chemicals that improve your mood while promoting feelings of euphoria. To top it all off, research suggests that regular activity may lead to lasting happiness . So it’s safe to say your pricey gym membership pays off—physically and mentally—in the long run.
3. Sleep more.
Catnaps, power naps, a full night’s sleep… no matter the method, a quality snooze session is vital for overall well-being and happiness. In fact, research shows that not sleeping enough (four hours per night) may lead to lower levels of optimism. And skimping on sleep can cause us to choose larger portion sizes and hurt on-the-job performance  . Your best bet: Load up on your vitamin Zzz’s for a healthier, happier life.
Though meditating can sometimes be daunting (quieting your mental chit-chat istough work!), there are tons of health benefits associated with the practice. Research shows that eight weeks of daily meditation can lead to greater happiness. Looking to get started? Try incorporating any of these 10 meditation strategies into your day.
5. Get a new hobby.
Not only is it mentally stimulating (not to mention fun), but challenging yourself to learn a new skill can lead to greater happiness. That’s thanks to the feelings of accomplishment and self-confidence that often come along with gaining new expertise. Consider this your cue to sign up for those French lessons you’ve always wanted to take, or pick up the ukulele—choose something that genuinely interests you, and run with it!
6. Turn up the tunes.
Just try to frown while listening to upbeat songs (like any of the ones on our Ultimate Happy Playlist)—we dare you! Jamming out can help reduce stress—which leads to greater happiness in general. Plus, listening to music with the goal and desire to become happier may actually lead to greater happiness than simply listening for the sake of listening. So the next time you pump up the volume, keep that positive intention in mind—you may just find yourself smiling a little wider.
7. Write it down.
Negative thoughts are nasty, powerful, and all too easy to dwell upon—and it goes without saying that doing so can make us feel pretty bummed. One way to relieve your mind: Jot it all down. Try writing down your negative thoughts on a piece of paper, and then throwing the piece of paper away. Research suggests that physically tossing your worries can lessen their hold over you. On the flipside, if you document positive experiences that you feel grateful for, you’re likely to feel happier and more satisfied with life. And if you really want to boost your mood, phone a friend and share some of your happy journal entries—doing so may triple your positive feelings.
8. Twist the sheets.
It’s no secret that stress can get you down. Luckily there’s a pretty sweet solution: some between-the-sheets action—and that totally includes solo sessions. Those mind-blowing romps can not only boost your mood, but also slash stress and beat anxiety . Can’t argue with that, right? And in case you need an excuse to get it on more often, consider this: Research suggests that the more sex people have, the happier they tend to be. One study even suggests that having sex once a week may make you feel as stoked as scoring an additional $50,000 in income. Getting lucky even more frequently—four or more times per week—has been linked to making more money—and while extra dough certainly can’t buy happiness, it definitely plays a part in it.
9. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Our parents were onto something when they reminded us to always say your “thank-yous”—doing so can make you healthier and happier. What’s more, being grateful may lead to other positive emotions (including a boost in energy and optimism) and well-being . Besides simply thanking people, try keeping a gratitude journal, and write down what you’re thankful for every day. Experts maintain that jotting down even one sentence of gratitude a day can boost feelings of happiness.
10. Be a friend.
A few wise men once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends”—and they couldn’t be more spot-on. Except we don’t just get by thanks to our friendships—positive friendships help us feel more confident, less stressed, and happier. To make new friends—and keep the ones you have—use these 16 tips.
11. Spread joy.
Much like yawning and a case of the giggles, happiness really is contagious. Onestudy found that happiness has a waterfall effect among pals (and their pals… and their pals’ pals). When one person’s happy, it spreads to his or her friends and entire social network over the long term. Pretty much the most awesome way to influence other people, right?
12. Learn to let go.
Adopting a hakuna matata outlook can boost overall happiness. Easier said than done, to be sure, but making a point to detach yourself from mistakes, worries, and regrets may lead to more lighthearted times. In fact, holding onto resentment and hurt feelings can tie you to the past and also marks a decision to continue suffering. Make the choice to be happy by forgiving people who hurt you and moving away from situations from your past that brought you down.
For all 25 science-backed ways to feel happier, go o Greatist.com.