4 Surprising Ways to Feel Happier

There's a proven technique to getting more pleasure out of life: staying in--and savoring--the moment. Sounds easy, but it takes a few mental tricks to accomplish.

Question: What were you doing right before reading this article? You may have been sipping a latte or listening to music, but chances are, your head was elsewhere—ruminating about something from the past or plotting about the future, like that guy you hope will call or that Southeast Asian country you plan to visit once you can finally take off time from work. It’s a perfectly common state of being. But by never experiencing the moment, we miss the chance to savor life’s many small pleasures, like that latte and chocolate-chip cookie. In fact, studies show that simply being aware of what’s happening this minute is linked to greater optimism, self-confidence, and happiness.

Of course, the question is, how do you stay mindful like that? Well, it takes some effort, honestly. There are distractions in every modern woman’s life that make just being in the present difficult. But once you see what the obstacles are, you can navigate around them to a more pleasurable existence. “And when you’re not distracted by all the things you’re juggling mentally, you see things with more clarity,” says psychologist Sylvia Boorstein, PhD, author of Happiness Is An Inside Job. “That helps you make better decisions and be more resilient when you hit hard times.” So, start here to free yourself from the stuff that holds you back from being happy right about now.

Goal 1: Savor The Mini Moments

Part of what makes your 20s and 30s so awesome are celebrations that spotlight how far you’ve come as an adult. But those graduations, engagements, and promotions aren’t finish lines. They’re just markers along the path. “Investing too much emotion in thinking about exactly how you’ll feel when something big happens—like ‘I will be so happy when I’m finally walking down the aisle’—may prevent you from enjoying what actually happens,” says Daniel Siegel, MD, author of The Developing Mind and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles. “The end result may not look quite the way you thought it would...or even appear at all.”

Tunnel vision also blinds you to joyful mini experiences you could be enjoying along the way. “We’re so anxious to get to that yearly vacation with friends that we can overlook fun, impromptu girls’ nights out or chats over coffee,” says life coach Valorie Burton, author of How Did I Get So Busy?

How To Pull It Off: Make a conscious effort to notice how ordinary events can swell into extraordinary pleasure. “Focus on the sensory power in your routines, like how great your guy smells when you cuddle or the first delicious bite of your lunch,” says Burton. Also, treat yourself to three little things each day that make you happy, whether it’s meeting a friend for mani-pedis or walking by your cute coworker’s office just to get a glimpse.[nextpage]

Goal 2: Do One Simple Thing At A Time

Your talent for doing about 83 tasks at once gives you superstar status at work. That instinct sneaks into life off the clock, too. You can’t just cook dinner—you have to do it with the TV on mute while chatting with Mom as music plays in the background. Hell of a downtime.

“For whatever reason, women often feel guilty if they’re not accomplishing several meaningful things simultaneously,” says Boorstein. But, teaming up on activities saps your ability to delight in individual experiences. “And the ironic part is, you can’t even remember doing half those important tasks because your brain allocates focal attention to only one thing at a time,” explains Dr. Siegel.  

How To Pull It Off: Once and for all, ditch the “Do something!” guilt complex and realize that not every moment has to be an exercise in superwomandom. “It is enough to just spend a few minutes laughing at a stupid YouTube video or lounging on the couch with your head on your boyfriend’s lap,” says Boorstein.

Goal 3: Take A Breather From Your Totally Wired World

In theory, posting up-to-the-nanosecond reflections on your mood on Facebook or Twitter is the epitome of staying in the moment. But, publicizing real-time emotions makes you like that chick at a party who can’t stop snapping photos. “You’re so busy documenting the present for other people or so you can reflect on it later that you don’t even register your own emotions,” says Dr. Siegel. “And, you end up feeling numb or scattered instead.”

Also, you wonder, What would my boss think? Or that guy who just friended me? By the time you’ve tweaked your update, you’ve censored what you really feel or forgotten your impulse to post it in the first place.

How To Pull It Off: Take a hiatus from posting status updates online. “Not having to process everything for an audience will help you home in on what’s happening now and enjoy moments as they come,” explains Burton. And if you get the urge to share, do it the old-fashioned way: Call a friend. Also, check email or Facebook three set times per day. “It gives you something to look forward to, but you won’t feel enslaved by it,” says Burton.[nextpage]

Goal 4: Liberate Yourself From The Past

As a smart chick, your inclination is to ponder your way out of a problem: “How could I have been so stupid as to date him?” or “Why do people act this way?” But, getting hung up on the whys can be just as damaging as the original event.

“Women ruminate over past mistakes or hurts, believing that if they just think about them hard enough, they’ll see a solution or sign of closure,” says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, author of Women Who Think Too Much. Here’s the reality: For many dilemmas, no amount of head-scratching will ever deliver an epiphany. Adds Nolen-Hoeksema: “You’ll be less likely to take action if you let yourself think about actors out of your control, such as what motivated someone to hurt you.”

How To Pull It Off: Rather than feel hamstrung by the mysterious behavior of others, free yourself to take action on your own terms. “Examine what you can do differently the next time, resolve to do that, then move on,” says Nolen-Hoeksema. And when obsessive thoughts launch their insidious attack, distract yourself. Take 30 seconds to breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on the in-and-out sensation.

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