How To Make Yourself Happier

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?” – Naval Ravikant

We tend to believe that happiness is something we achieve by reaching other goals:

“If I have X, I’ll be happy.”

“If I just had time to do Y, I’d be happy.”

“If people just treated me fairly, I’d be happy.”

But the achievement of a goal, or acquiring wealth, or having free time can’t make you happy. Other people can’t make you happy. Only you can do it – and it doesn’t just happen to you.

Happiness is a choice. It’s also an exercise. After years of practicing happiness, I’m mostly happy most of the time. I’m still working on it. But here are the ten easy things I do every single day to make myself happier:

1. Clear the scoreboard. The fastest route to unhappiness, in all its forms, is simple: scorekeeping. This means getting mad at what other people do (“That asshole just ran a stop sign!”); trying to control what other people do (“Why doesn’t he just do what I would do?”); holding grudges, being jealous, comparing your effort to theirs…or even just running other people down. This is a deep one. It takes time. But the first path is to notice how often you think negative thoughts – because that’s all you can control anyway.

2. Get cathartic. Call it prayer or meditation. Just get the junk out of your head. I do it by writing (I’m doing it now.) You can do it by recording voice notes in your phone, by keeping a diary, or by turning it all over to your Higher Power in prayer. I start my day with this, and it aligns my thoughts and gets me focused.

3. Breathe in a Box. Breathe in through your nose, as deeply as possible, for a 4-count. Hold your breath for a 4-count. Breathe out through your mouth for a four-count, completely emptying your lungs. Hold for a four count. Repeat ten times. You don’t have to be in a complicated or special pose to do it (I do it while walking my dog.) You can close your eyes if you want to, but you don’t have to.

4. Count your blessings. Take three minutes at the end of each day and just think about what went right for you: the people who said hello, the cashier who smiled, the meal you enjoyed. Over time, you’ll get better at this and go deeper.

5. Go outside. The process of breaking down Vitamin D also enhances your mood as a side effect. You onboard vitamin D by going outside, and you metabolize it best while moving. As my wife says anytime one of us feels down: “eat a banana and go outside for a half hour.” Which leads me to the next one:

6. Fix your blood sugar. Most people live on an emotional rollercoaster, and the tracks are their food. They eat something high-carb, and feel good. Then insulin pushes those carbs out of their bloodstream, and they feel tired, cranky, impatient and hungry again. Long-term, this causes obesity and diabetes. Short-term, you get ‘hangry’. Get your nutrition on track.

7. Smile. The act of smiling activates facial muscles that trigger endorphin release. Smiling actually makes you happy. If you’re unhappy, force yourself to go have a conversation with someone and act pleasant. You’ll feel better. Worst case, put a pencil between your teeth for two minutes. I’m not kidding – it works.

8. Move. Most people are most active in their head. They ruminate on things while they’re sitting still. Moving your body helps your brain shut off for a few minutes and reset itself. Nothing crazy – just go for a little walk.

9. Get busy. Sitting still puts your mind into overdrive. Find something to do. That creates a short-term sense of purpose, one of the prerequisites of happiness. Busy people are generally happy. Distract yourself from rumination. Start with the dishes.

10. Phone a friend. Don’t text them – pick up the phone and interact with a human. Our brains are wired to be part of a community.

I’m sure you’ve heard all of these before. They might even seem a bit cliche, which is why most people ignore them. We all ‘know’ that we “should” meditate, for example, but we don’t really know what that means, and so we assume we don’t have time. Or maybe we don’t really believe meditation will work, but still feel guilty that we don’t do it. Here’s a bonus tactic:

11. Stop “Shoulding”. “Should” is a bad habit that doesn’t make you happy, and doesn’t help you get anything done. Saying “should” can undermine happiness by setting unrealistic expectations and fostering guilt. When you say “Should” to people, you are evoking judgment and guilt. And guess what? You do it to yourself more than anyone else. Stop “shoulding” all over yourself (and others).

There’s no secret to happiness- just practice. You’re not going to be good at any of them at first, so don’t think you ‘should’ do all of them, or ‘should’ do perfectly. The real art is in noticing your mood as if watching from outside yourself, and then attempting to improve it. You should try one!
(See? I’ve already broken rule 11 – now I’ll laugh at myself and do some box breathing.) 🙂