There are six months left to enjoy the rest of the year, and you’re probably thinking of ways to get a jump on the year ahead. Hitting the gym, getting organized, tossing all the clothes you never wear...they’re all great goals (if a little, yawn, boring). But, why not think bigger? Scientists across the country recently uncovered some truly incredible secrets about what causes our happiness and success levels to skyrocket.
The best thing about these breakthrough strategies is that, unlike hopping on the treadmill at six a.m. or weeding through your closet for hours, they’re actually fun to put into action. From getting in touch with your inner bitch to wearing lingerie so risqué that Paris Hilton would gasp, these four changes will have a ripple effect on your life that’ll be nothing short of awesome.
1. Be bad more often.
We’ll gladly take any advice that gives us the green light to naughty it up in the boudoir or let our bitchy side out of its cage. Luckily, researchers have discovered how good for you being bad is. “Breaking the rules is empowering,” says John Portmann, PhD, author of Bad For Us. “It shows you that you have freedom to do what you want and are in charge of your life.”
Remember how thrilling it felt in high school to sneak out or take late-night phone calls long after you were told to go to bed? Going against authority reinforces your independence, which leads to greater fulfillment. Don’t get us wrong—we’re not suggesting you rob a bank or get your boyfriend’s face
tattooed on your back. It’s more about trying things that make you slightly uncomfortable. “You need to push out of your comfort zone in order to grow,” Portmann says. “Thrusting yourself into new situations will teach you about yourself and what you’re capable of.” Plus, you can feel an added rush just from getting a rise out of people. Misbehave as much or as little as you want, but make sure you don’t go so far out of bounds that you lose control of the situation or hurt others.
To jump-start your inner badass, speak up about things you might normally keep to yourself. Approach a bigwig at work and share your brilliant idea, call out a rude salesperson, or voice your opinion in a meeting if you disagree with a coworker. “Not only will this increase your self-confidence, but you’ll also
gain respect from people,” Portmann affirms. Another tactic is to tell a white lie along the lines of flirting with a hottie if you have a BF or calling in sick when you feel like a million bucks.
Being a rebel pays off big. “Those who risk the most win the most,” Portmann says. “Once you conquer your fear of doing things that aren’t ‘allowed,’ you’ll think more expansively and see angles that others overlook.” Since you’ll have fewer boundaries, you’ll be open to possibilities, from pursuing an unusual
career path to seeing the potential in a guy who’s not your type.
2. Add to your crew.
You know your friends influence things, like how you dress and your going-out habits. But a series of groundbreaking studies from James Fowler, PhD, and Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, co-authors of Connected, discovered that your social circle plays a key role in determining way more than that.
It turns out that factors like health and happiness are contagious. If a friend loses weight, you’re likely to slim down as well. If she’s in a good place in her life, her newfound cheerfulness will rub off on you. In fact, people within three degrees of us (that includes friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends) have a major influence on how we feel and act. “We subconsciously pick up on cues from those around us about what normal, accepted behavior is,” Fowler explains. So, how do you use this info to make your life amazing? First, beef up your network with positive people. “Our research shows that the more connections you have and the stronger those relationships are, the happier you’ll be,” Fowler says. Join a weekend marathon, go to a swanky wine tasting, take Italian lessons, throw a party and ask every guest to bring a new person with them—anything that’ll bring fun people into your life.
Then, make one single tweak to boost your own health and satisfaction. It can be something small, like eating more veggies or dancing like a maniac for five minutes every morning to psych yourself up. “Even just a slight change in your behavior gets fed forward to everyone you know,” Fowler says. Like, “I lost five pounds and have made an effort to be in a good mood when I come home from work, because I know that will impact the well-being of my family and friends.”
When you become happier, your friends will become happier. And, you’re benefiting, too, thanks to the bounce-back effect. Their high spirits may reflect back on you, improving your state of mind even more. According to Fowler, each additional cheerful friend you have increases your own satisfaction by nine percent. It’s karma, baby!
3. Unleash your alter ego in the sack.
Recently, relationship experts have been telling us that in response to the stressful economy, people are more likely to keep their relationships mellow and steady—think low-key dates and predictable sex that’s more comforting than carnal. But, studies have found that routine is chemistry kryptonite; couples who
keep it fresh have the highest rates of satisfaction.
In a study conducted by State University of New York at Stony Brook, participants who engaged in a novel activity for just seven minutes felt more in love and happier in their relationship than those in a control group did. “When you try something new with your partner, the same area of your brain lights up as when you first fell for the person,” says Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, author of The Better Sex Guide To Extraordinary Lovemaking. “Experimenting lets you recapture that feeling of being new lovers—the giggles, the excitement, the thrill of getting to know each other.”It’s time to shake things up, and we suggest starting between the sheets. During sex, act in a way that you normally never would. For example, if you’ve been having mostly soft, slow intercourse, go animal on your guy: Pounce on him, tease him, dominate him. On the other hand, if you’re usually the initiator, be passive for a change, like by having him tie you up. “You’ll probably learn surprising things about your partner’s sexual likes and dislikes,” Fulbright says.
“And even if you’re not crazy about a certain technique, the challenge of tackling something different will still give you both a libido-boosting thrill.” Either way, you’ll end up with a smile on your
face...and hopefully, an extra-big orgasm under your belt.
4. Take time to think about zip, zilch, and nada.
When was the last time you set aside an hour to ponder, um, nothing? Daydreaming probably isn’t too high on your to-do list, but it should be. According to Jerome L. Singer, PhD, author of Imagery In Psychotherapy, who studies daydreaming, this seemingly mundane activity prepares you for daunting future encounters, enhances creativity, and relaxes you. Very cool.
The most common daydreams have to do with upcoming work, social, or romantic situations, like a job review or a first date. “These serve as test runs for the real event, similar to rehearsing for a play,” Singer says. “You can play out how you’d react in various scenarios. As a result, you’ll feel more prepared and confident.”
Your brain can practice the tactic you’ll use to ask for a raise, what you’ll say when you approach your crush, or how to have sex in a slippery bathtub. So when the actual moment happens, you won’t be as flustered as you might otherwise be.
And, it’s a good way to let off steam, too. “Say you’re angry at a friend. Imagining yourself having it out with her will calm you down, so you’ll be able to talk things out in person in a more rational way,” Singer says.
Letting your mind roam also gets you thinking outside the box. “Many of the most creative people—great writers, ingenious scientists—engage in a tremendous amount of fantasizing,” Singer says. “Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while daydreaming.”
Because it’s all make-believe, you don’t have to worry about screwing up, so you can totally let your mind go—it’s like mental recess. And when your brain has free rein, your chances of stumbling upon a brilliant idea are way higher.