1. Create a morning ritual
The way you start your day matters. “Choose an alarm that’s not too alarming, such as birdsong, that doesn’t jolt you out of sleep, or a piece of happy music,” suggest Kate and Toby Oliver, therapists and co-authors of Rise and Shine.
“Then carve out 10 minutes to do something you enjoy. It could be anything from reading to savouring a cup of tea in bed. Beginning your morning with something you love doing sets you up for a more joyful day ahead.”
2. Give yourself what you give out
“If you’re a parent, know that the more you give to your kids, the more you need to give to yourself,” says psychotherapist Anna Mathur, who is also the author of forthcoming The Little Book of Calm for New Mums.
“You can’t give what you don’t have. So, if you find yourself low on patience, ask yourself how you might offer yourself some patience. If you find it hard to feel energised, how might you prioritise doing something that energises you?”
3. Keep a ‘what’s gone well’ diary
Executive transformational coach Ani Naqvi recommends keeping a “what’s gone well” diary. “Even on our seemingly worst days, it is amazing that you can always find five things that went well to jot down,” she says. “Doing this over time actually changes the way your brain operates, and we start to notice more joy.”
4. Feel calm with a quick breathing technique
“One of my favourite relaxation methods is Dr Andrew Hubermans’ ‘physiological sigh’,” says Chloe Brotheridge, anxiety expert and author.
“Breathe in deeply through your nose, then take another quick breath in through the nose before breathing out slowly through the mouth. Do this one to three times to feel calmer quickly.”
5. Give yourself a sensory prescription
Our five senses have a big impact on our mood. “For a boost of happiness, set yourself a quick sensory prescription,” says Russell Jones, author of Sense. “The most effective soundscapes are lapping waves, a breeze through trees or birdsong.
“Pair this with a fresh aroma; something zesty such as a lemon scent, which has been proven to make us smile more. Meanwhile, the colours yellow, orange and green all have positive effects on wellbeing, and blue is shown to destress and lower anxiety. You can bring colour in through objects around you or the clothes you wear.”
6. Create a positivity file
Create a folder in your email inbox where you save any positive feedback you receive personally and professionally.
“Dipping into the folder now and then is a wonderful way to put a pep back in your step, especially on those flat days,” says career coach Arit Eminue.
7. Try a simple trick to shift your mindset
“A top happiness-boosting tip for me is to switch ‘I’ve got to’ to ‘I get to’ – ‘I’ve got to do the washing’ turns into ‘I get to do the washing’” says Mathur.
“This draws our attention to the many privileges involved in a mundane act – I have access to electricity and water, I have a family who I love, whose clothes lie in the ever-building washing pile – therefore boosting feelings of gratitude.”
8. Train happily
Exercise is well known for its endorphins – but if it feels like a chore, then it is worth reframing it altogether. “I often remind people how much fun children have when they’re moving, because so often it is playful,” says Tally Rye, personal trainer and author of Train Happy.
“So, find out what it is that can help you reconnect with that. Ask yourself: do I prefer moving indoors or outdoors? How long do I want to move for? What time of day feels good to move? Do I like moving in a group or on my own?’ It doesn’t have to be a grueling workout. The best exercise is the one you enjoy.”
9. Cut corners
“I always say to my clients – and myself – that cutting corners is a great way to preserve energy and avoid burn-out,” says Mathur.
“That could mean ordering a takeaway meal every now and again, or sending a birthday gift straight from an online shop. Fight your inner perfectionist, and shun any guilt that arises, and soon you’ll see that ‘done’ is good enough.”
10. Shake it off
You’ve probably seen a dog shake its body after a fright – there is a reason for this, and we can benefit from it too.
“Animals shake their bodies to discharge stress and tension,” explains Brotheridge. “So, when you’re in need of it, stand up and shake your body, bouncing from your knees and shaking up through your shoulders and arms. Even just a few seconds helps to burn off extra adrenaline and release stress from the body.”
11. Give yourself a daily micro treat
“People come to therapy saying they want to be happy, but you often realise very quickly that they don’t feel that they’re allowed to be happy,” says Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of the forthcoming What We Want.
“Even with downtime, it can be like: I’ll let myself relax once I’ve slogged through my to-do list – which incidentally never ends. So give yourself some sort of micro treat every day.
“It might be half a spoon of sugar in your tea or buying yourself a small gift. It is about letting yourself be desire-led however briefly, rather than constantly duty-bound. But do it in small doses so that you can integrate it into the life you’re already living, rather than thinking you have to redesign your life.”
12. Take bite-sized steps to finding work fulfilment
“Ask yourself the question: if I were to wake-up tomorrow with a career I enjoyed, what would that look and feel like? advises Eminue. “Write down what comes to mind freely, without objection.”
Next, read over it. “If where you are is not aligning with where you want to be, then ask yourself what one bite-sized step you can take today that will lead you closer.”
13. Try free writing
“Keep a notebook in which you freely write down any mind chatter, to-do lists, recurring thoughts or worries every day,” says Sarah Negus, an executive coach who describes herself as a modern day shaman. “This daily ‘brain dump’ is one of the best ways to offload everything running around in your mind.”
14. Have a go at laughter yoga
“When we laugh, a whole cocktail of happy hormones are triggered, including endorphins and serotonin,” says laughter yoga teacher Lotte Mikkelsen.
“This is the case whether the laughter is real or forced – so having a go at laughter yoga can be as simple as looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Ha ha ha ha’.”
15. ‘The’ way to sleep better
A good night’s sleep is one of the pillars of wellbeing, but it is not always easy to nod off. “A simple but remarkably effective technique to stop those nagging thoughts at night is repeating the word ‘the’ inside your head about every two seconds,” says Dr Lindsay Browning, neuroscientist and author of Navigating Sleeplessness.
“The reason we use ‘the’ is because it is a neutral word without connotations. And because it is almost impossible to hold two thoughts in your head simultaneously, saying it disrupts the unwanted ones.”
16. Argue well for better relationships
“We all fall out with loved ones at times, and it is often those closest to us who can really push our buttons,” says Dr Maynard. “Often, we snap back during an argument with something we later regret. A great way to ‘argue well’ is to take a deep breath before responding when someone has said something aggravating to us.
“This gives us a better chance of responding from our ‘human brain’ rather than the primitive and emotional parts of our brain; the result is a comment that is more likely to help resolve, rather than escalate the disagreement.”
17. Cancel with kindness
“Cancel with honesty (but with sensitivity and kindness) one of the social events in your diary that you’ve been dreading,” recommends Maryam Meddin, founder of mental health centre The Soke.
“I’m not talking about an event where your absence will be genuinely hurtful, but the inconsequential stuff that you agreed to in a moment of weakness. The rationale behind cancelling ‘with honesty’ is that if you tell them the truth about not being up to it, then you don’t have to worry about keeping up pretences around an excuse you made up.”
18. Get in touch with nature
“Finding a spot in nature to regularly sit in and observe can help us to feel belonging,” says Beth Collier, a Nature Allied psychotherapist. “The natural world also impacts on our nervous systems; lowering our stress hormones and our heart rate, inducing a more meditative state, leaving us feeling more relaxed and contented.”
19. Do an energy audit
Fox Weber recommends regularly using the Eisenhower Matrix, a time management method used to sort out what is urgent, not urgent, important and not important. “It helps you identify where you’re investing your energy,” she says.
“Very often when you write it down, you will notice how much you’re spending time on things that are neither important nor urgent, and consequentially impoverishing you of the things that bring us joy.”
20. Be curious in long-term relationships
“Never be complacent in thinking that you know your partner, however long you’ve been with them,” says Matt Davies, relationship psychotherapist.
“Be curious. See them through the eyes of a stranger. Take them out for a surprise date to somewhere you haven’t been before. Wear something you haven’t worn before. Ask them some questions you might not have asked before. Treat them with admiration and curiosity as if you’re on a first date. You’ll be surprised by what you can learn.”
21. Use your imagination
An easy mindfulness technique for anyone who struggles with the idea of meditation is simply to use your imagination.
“During a spare five minutes – perhaps when you are sitting on the bus or in the bath – imagine your favourite place,” suggests our columnist, Dr Radha Modgil. “Picture what you would see, hear and feel. By using your imagination to savour those moments in your mind, you will start to get into the habit of doing this in your day-to-day life too.”
22. Turn down the volume
“When we are tired, stressed or overwhelmed, we often become more sensitive to noise,” says Mathur. “I use noise-reducing earplugs when I notice this happening. They simply soften the noise, therefore softening the stress response to it.”
23. Eat happy
There is evidence to show that nutrition affects our mood. “The neurotransmitters that play a role in mood regulation such as serotonin and dopamine are synthesised from nutrients such as iron and B vitamins, so ensuring a sufficient intake of these is a good idea,” says food psychologist Kimberley Wilson.
“Meanwhile, research suggests that a diet that is rich in fibre, plants, oily fish and polyphenols (found in brightly coloured foods like berries), and low in added sugar, saturated fats and processed foods, is best for brain health and mood.”
24. Let yourself be bad at something
“There is sometimes a pressure to always be learning new skills, to the point we are mini experts on everything,” says Fox Weber.
“I think this can be quite damaging and it is far better to try things and have hobbies that you’re actually not very good at it. This teaches you humility, and to let go of perfectionism, because you don’t have to prove anything.”
25. Set a worry window
“If you find yourself prone to worrying, set yourself a ‘worry window’ – a specific, short time allocated just for that purpose,” says Dr Modgil.
“During the day, when worries pop into your head, tell yourself that you will think about it then, not now. This helps to reduce unnecessary worries during the day, and allows you to notice recurrent thoughts. When it comes to your ‘worry period’, you will either have forgotten about most, or can productively use the time to find solutions instead.”
26. Carve out alone time
“It’s not that alone time in and of itself brings this contentment, but getting good at alone time is a vital jumping-off point that empowers you to do all sorts of things that bring happiness in life,” she says. “So practise your solitude skills by putting alone time in your schedule – even if it is just carving out 10 minutes at a time.”
27. Tap into your creativity
“Getting creative gives our ‘thinking brain’ a break by putting us in a state of flow,” says art therapist Sian Hutchinson. “Even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, try making your own colouring-in sheets by drawing around objects, overlapping the shapes and adding to the lines by doodling.” artb-at.com
28. Know your love languages
Finding out the “love language” of those around us can help us have happier relationships, whether that is with our partner, friends or family members.
“I recommend intentionally demonstrating the love language of those closest to us at least once a week,” says psychologist Dr Victoria Uwannah. “Making the effort to show love in the way they best receive it will foster a sense of satisfaction and appreciation.”
29. Embrace the negative
It is a common misconception that paying attention to our negative thoughts and emotions will bring our mood down.
“If we welcome negative emotions rather than resist them, it helps us let go of them,” says Dr Sarah Maynard, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist. “This means we don’t carry around a build-up of tension from difficult thoughts and feelings, or get stuck ruminating on them.”
30. Let go of expectations – and throw everything at the wall
“When it comes to happiness, you shouldn’t think ‘It can only look this way’ or ‘It must follow this format’,” says Fox Weber. “That is just too narrow. Instead, let go of expectations and just cast the net wide, throwing lots at the wall and seeing what sticks.”