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While it’s widely believed that stress can cause poor health, researchers at Harvard University are beginning to study whether the opposite might be true: whether happiness and positive thoughts might be linked to better health. Early studies are promising. So how can all of us start to feel happier, more of the time, when the stress of everyday life looms so large? (Besides eating a lot of cake, of course.)
Here are some simple ways to stabilize your mood, boost your energy and keep the good vibes flowing. Work these habits into your day, and you might just find yourself feeling happier overall.
Drink Plenty of Water
The human body is around 60 percent water, and it’s important to keep it that way. The negative effects of dehydration range from plain old bummers, like stress and difficulty concentrating, to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Drinking water regularly, on the other hand, helps keep the mind clear and the body energetic. If you have trouble remembering to sip throughout the day, try drinking full glasses on a schedule to keep your fluids in fighting form. (Believe it or not, some liquids actually dehydrate the body.)
Loading up on junk food may satisfy cravings, but the empty calories can deprive you of nutrients and leave you feeling cranky and sluggish. Work some healthy recipes into your diet, such as brain-boosting seafood, organic greens and antioxidant-rich sweet potatoes. A nutrient-rich diet will not only improve your mood, but it can also help normalize blood sugar levels, making your energy more balanced. (Here are superfoods that boost brain health.)
Get Some Exercise
Whether you go for a morning jog or pump serious iron at the gym, exercise can go a long way toward improving your mood. Along with boosting self-confidence and appreciation of your own body, physical activity causes the brain to release endorphins. These hormones ramp up feelings of happiness and relaxation, which helps to brush away feelings of stress and anxiety. (Here are the seven habits of people with speedy metabolisms.)
Follow a Morning Routine
The feeling of a groggy, chaotic morning can linger well into the afternoon, but with a solid routine, you can take control of your attitude throughout the day. In addition to the usual hygienic rituals, try spending a few minutes each morning planning out your day, setting goals and meditating. These mindful tasks can help center your mind and give you confidence to tackle the day head-on. (Speed up your morning routine with these tips.)
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Big goals take a long time to accomplish, so it’s easy to feel dismayed when the results aren’t immediate. Don’t be afraid to reward yourself once in a while. Break up the monotony of long-term planning by treating yourself to the occasional decadent treat, or take a day off and head to the beach-you’ve earned it. If you accidentally drop off your diet or forget to exercise, just get started again-and don’t waste energy berating yourself.
Get Enough Sleep
Along with giving most of us some much-needed downtime, the sweet slumber of a full night’s rest keeps our brains working at maximum capacity. Lack of sleep not only makes the workday harder by hindering concentration and focus, it also sours moods by causing irritability and grumpiness. If you find yourself bleary-eyed in the morning, try to hit the hay earlier at night or sneak a nap during the daytime. (Need an energy boost? Reach for a healthier source of caffeine.)
Write a thank-you note to someone who did you a favor, keep a gratitude journal with things you’re thankful for or just take some time each day to meditate on positive aspects of your life. However you go about it, expressing gratitude can keep you cheery and positive. By taking some time to give thanks for what you have, you won’t worry so much about what you lack.
Focus on Experiences
Money can’t buy happiness, but it might be able to buy happy memories. Instead of spending on new gadgets or clothes, take a day trip, go to a concert or try something new entirely. The feeling of retail therapy is short-lived, but experiences work their way into your memory to encourage happy thoughts for years to come. (Try pulling the kids away from their phones with these real-world alternatives to popular apps.)
Turn That Frown Upside Down
If you’re feeling blue, try to think of a pleasant memory and flash your pearly whites. This simple act can give a short-term boost to your happiness and help ward off negative feelings.
Look at the Bright Side
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Finding the silver lining of an unpleasant situation can help reduce stress and depression. Instead of focusing on the worst-case scenario, break down a challenge into steps or visualize what success will look like.
Take these tips into consideration the next time you’re feeling glum. With a little perseverance, they can help shine some light on even the dreariest of days.