Cloud 9 isn't as far out of out of reach as you might think. We asked the experts for simple strategies to wake up with a smile each and every day.
Sure, life is filled with ups and downs. Who doesn't feel sad, anxious or a little bit lost every now and then? But these feelings don't define us—and they don't define our year, our week or even our day. The ability to change our thoughts, moods and, in effect, lives lies in the power of positive thinking, so we consulted the pros about what we can do from day to day to turn that proverbial frown upside down and discover greater happiness within.
1. Take frequent breaks.
Though easy access to smartphones and computers means we can solve most conundrums with the touch of a button, many apps are highly addictive and take time away from the things that really matter, such as family, friends and complex problem-solving that leads to personal growth. "These days, tech is in charge of us; we're not in charge of it," says leadership coach Ellen Petry Leanse, author of The Happiness Hack. To break the cycle, take a tech timeout at the start of every day and during social interactions.
2. Interrupt adverse thought patterns.
"Negative thinking creates negative feelings," says California-based corporate-culture consultant Larry Senn, author of The Mood Elevator. "And grateful thinking creates grateful feelings. If you can change your thoughts, you can change your life." One easy tactic for transforming your mindset is to interrupt it. If you notice you're bombarded by stressful thoughts, go for a walk, help someone with a problem or play with your pet and see if you feel your mood shift.
3. Stay curious.
When someone cuts you off during rush hour or a coworker argues with you during a presentation, it can suddenly seem like the world is out to get you. But feeling affronted and judgmental is a choice—and you can pick a different attitude. "Everybody is doing what makes sense to them based on their own thinking," says Senn. "We don't have to agree with it, but we can decide not to take it personally." Instead, choose to be curious about the thought processes and circumstances that lead to a person's actions, and while you're at it, consider the underlying reasons for your reactions.
4. Build deeper in-person connections.
"The majority of the people I interact with in my work as a teacher and a coach say that the thing they want most is a sense of deeper connection," says Leanse, who's an instructor at California's Stanford University. "They say things like, ‘I want to find my tribe' or ‘I want to be with people I understand and who understand me.' " Building those connections is easier than you think. "It can be as simple as trying to engage with others by being curious about them and asking questions to understand more." Try to follow this simple rule: Listen more than you talk.
5. Take care of your body.
It's tough to have a positive mindset if you're running on little sleep, no exercise and a steady diet of burgers and chocolate bars. "We know that when people get run down physically, they catch colds more easily," says Senn. "When you get run down physically, you also catch moods more easily." By ensuring that you maintain a healthy diet, engage in vigorous exercise and get adequate sleep, you'll build resilience to life's hardships—and you'll probably feel better about yourself overall, which is another key component of positive thinking.
6. Make time for meditation.
Spending quiet time focusing on breathing or completing guided meditations is one way to train your reactive mentality—the one that jumps to conclusions and is quick to react—to pause before acting and can promote greater emotional intelligence and a profound sense of calm. "It's like weight lifting for the mind," says Leanse. But if setting aside a specific chunk of time seems impossible right now, simply try to be more mindful in your day-to-day life. "Find moments to be reflective and pay attention to the ‘now' as you navigate everyday tasks," says Leanse. For instance, when you wash the dishes, focus on the temperature of the water, the smell of the soap and the feel of each item in your hands.
7. Practice gratitude.
According to Senn—and a whole host of researchers—cultivating a perspective of gratitude is one of the best ways to tap into a happier life. To do so, keep a gratitude journal, take a few minutes each day to think of three things you're grateful for or compliment other people to show appreciation. "If you want to be happier, forget the myth that achievements or acquisitions bring happiness," says Senn. "Instead, focus on activities that will nourish gratitude for the blessings you've already been granted."
8. Challenge yourself.
Guilty pleasures like watching TV or checking social media reward our brains with quick spikes of dopamine, but they don't offer a lasting sense of satisfaction in the same way that "completing projects, being creative, learning, working on long-term goals or doing routine tasks like weeding the garden will," says Leanse. That's not to say we should never enjoy a mindless distraction, but completing "deep work"—the things that actually matter to us as individuals—will provide far more happiness in the long run.
9. Delay reactions.
You will have hard days. That's a given in life. But the occasional bad day or mood can't hurt you if you press pause on rash actions (think yelling at a loved one or sending a snooty email). "Your thinking is unreliable in the lower mood states," says Senn, meaning that you may not be able to think clearly if you're anxious, angry, impatient or sad. "Don't trust your feelings during lower mood states. Instead of acting on unreliable thinking, delay important conversations and decisions."