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5 Daily 20-Minute Habits That'll Make You a Happier Person (Science Says So!)

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Happiness. Such a simple word. Such an important word. Happiness matters for everyone, even if what it means varies from person to person. Despite the differences in what defines happiness for each person, there is consistency in actions you can take to increase your happiness. In the guest post below from my friend and colleague Neil Pasricha, he shares five simple but powerful actions you can take to get started right now.

Pasricha is the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Awesome, and what follows is a sampling from his exciting new book, The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything. Not only does he incorporate scientific research in an easy to read manner, he began this inspirational journey based on his own process of self-discovery (see more in his powerful TED talk that has been viewed nearly three million times). Enjoy!

As I travel around the US on tour for my new book The Happiness Equation, I can’t help but notice how happiness is really lacking right now.

When I studied the US Declaration of Independence back in high school I remember being really struck by the phrase:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I remember thinking that it was interesting the rights being promised weren’t life, liberty, and happiness. They were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was the pursuit itself, not necessarily the achievement, that was being held up as worth protecting at all costs.

But how do we get there?

Well, research by positive psychology leaders such as Sonja Lyubomirsky show that happiness really is a choice. Our intentional activities have four times the effect on our happiness as what happens to us. Put another way? If your candidate doesn’t win the election, a great percentage of your happiness can still come from within.

But if you’re staying put, then let me leave you with five simple exercises that can help you be happier. They’re all scientifically proven, and any of these can be done in less than 20 minutes a day. Do it for a few weeks and you’ll quickly develop a new happiness habit:

1. Take Three Walks a Week

Researchers found that the more physically active people are, the greater their general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. Just a half an hour of brisk walking three times a week improves happiness. Another recent study showed how three 30-minute brisk walks or jogs can even improve recovery from clinical depression. Yes, clinical depression. Results were stronger than studies using medication or studies using exercise and medication combined.

2. Try The 20-Minute Replay

Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience dramatically improves happiness. Why? Because you actually relive the experience as you’re writing it and then relive it every time you read it. Your brain sends you back. In a University of Texas study called “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words,” researchers had one member of a couple write about their relationship for 20 minutes, three times a day. Compared to the test group, the couple was more likely to engage in intimate dialogue afterward, and the relationship was more likely to last.

3. Complete Five Random Acts of Kindness

Carrying out five random acts of kindness a week dramatically improves your happiness. We don’t naturally think about paying for someone’s coffee, mowing our neighbor’s lawn, or writing a thank you note to our apartment building security guard at Christmas. But Sonja Lyubomirsky did a study asking Stanford students to perform five random acts of kindness over a week. Not surprisingly, they reported much higher happiness levels than the test group. Why? They felt good about themselves! People appreciated them. In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Professor Martin Seligman says that “we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”

4. Do Two-Minute Meditations

A research team looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation and published the results in Psychiatry Research. What happened? After the course, parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grew while parts associated with stress shrank. Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness.

5. Express Five Gratitudes

If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy. Find a book or a journal, or even start a website, and write down three to five things you’re grateful for from the past week. I wrote five a week on my blog Some people write in a notebook by their bedside. Back in 2003, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked groups of students to write down five gratitudes, five hassles, or five events that happened over the past week for 10 straight weeks. Guess what happened? The students who wrote five gratitudes were happier and physically healthier. Charles Dickens puts this well: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

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