You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.
Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed multiple happiness researchers, read books written by several of them, and even implemented many of their suggestions into my life. What’s become quite apparent from my conversations and reading is that happiness, like most things, is a skill. It’s something that you actively have to work at—unless you’re one of those people who constantly walks around on Cloud Nine.
Want to know the secret to harnessing this skill on a daily basis? Here are five things that contribute to a healthy and happy individual, according to experts.
1. Practice Gratitude
A daily gratitude practice can have a profound impact on your life. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to be grateful for the massive raise you got, the round of funding your company just received, or the book that sold a million copies. If that’s all you’re ever grateful for, you’ll be continually dissatisfied. It can be as simple as being grateful for the shorter line at Starbucks this morning.
As Shawn Anchor states in his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, “…studies have shown that consistently grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely.. When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.”
(And if you need more insight into this, watch this animated short with Tim Ferriss on what makes someone truly wealthy.)
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
After a year-long battle with depression that was largely exacerbated by sleep deprivation, sleep is not a luxury to me, but an absolute necessity. When I don’t sleep well, my productivity, creativity, and overall level of performance don’t just suffer the next day, but for multiple days after. A good night’s sleep might be the most underrated life hack at our disposal—or so says Arianna Huffington—so cherish it.
3. Prioritize Exercise
In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Fitness, John Raty cites exercise as one of the major cures for nearly every mental health ailment we face. If you’ve ever gone to the gym when you’ve felt crappy, you’ve probably noticed that you come home feeling a bit better—or at least a little more relaxed.
Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make us happier, simple as that. It’s not a coincidence that many of the world’s most successful and content people are extremely physically active.
4. Practice Meditation
Quite frequently our anxiety and unhappiness are a result of dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. That’s where meditation comes in. It teaches us to be present, even if it’s just for a brief window of time each day. What you’ll notice, however, is that as you meditate more, you’ll be able to stay present and focused for longer periods of time.
“Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy,” says Shawn Achor. “But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend years in sequestered, celibate silence to experience a boost. Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out.”
5. Do Deep Work
“A workday drive by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless and fun,” says Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
A while back I wrote a piece about the many reasons deep work is so fulfilling. All you have to do is compare a day spent mindlessly binging on social media to a day deeply immersed in something you care about, and it becomes clear why deep work makes us more positive people. When you do deep work, you spend more time in flow, which in turn will make you much happier.
In my experience, these things don’t just make you happier. They make you more productive, creative, and successful. So give them your attention for a week (or two, or three) and see what happens—it could change your life.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of happy person courtesy of JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images.