1. Be in contact with nature
There is a great deal of research showing how beneficial it is to have contact with nature. Just a short walk in nature – or even just spending some time in the garden - every day can have a measurable positive effect. Swimming outdoors (although it may be too cold for that now!) has also been shown to have a positive effect. There is no clear explanation why, but contact with nature makes us feel happier. Perhaps the quietness of nature relaxes us, stops us ruminating about worries, and makes us feel to connected to something larger than ourselves.
2. Remind yourself of reasons to be grateful
Research in positive psychology has shown that single most important aspect of human well-being is a sense of gratitude – that is, feeling a sense of appreciation for the things in your life, such as your friends, family, health, freedom, nature, simple pleasures and for life itself. “Gratitude is perhaps the quintessential positive psychological trait, as it involves a life orientation toward the positive in the world.” (Wood et al., 2008). Or in the words of the psychologist Robert Emmons, “Those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity and have a stronger immune system.”
Conversely, in the words of the psychologist Abraham Maslow, “getting used to our blessings is one of the most important non-evil generators of human evil, tragedy and suffering.”
There are some simple steps we can take to cultivate a sense of appreciation. One simple exercise that positive psychologists recommend is ‘three good things.’ It is explained in the video below:
3. Be kind and nice to others
Research in positive psychology has also found that being kind and nice (or being altruistic) to other people has a positive on our well-being. A survey of 630 Americans by psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that spending money on other people or on charity cause a bigger increase in happiness than spending money on yourself. In another experiment, researchers gave college students a $5 or $20 bill, asking them to spend the money by that evening. Half the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves, and the remaining students to spend on others. Participants who spent the windfall on others — which included toys for siblings and meals eaten with friends — reported feeling happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves.
Altruism may make us happier because it makes us less self-centred, and less focused on our own worries and concerns. It also increases social bonds and increases positive emotions. Perhaps it also brings a feeling of connection that transcends any sense of loneliness or separateness.
Acts of kindness also have a profound effect on people who receive them. In a study of 148 people who were asked to describe one unexpected act of kindness in their lives. 93% said the altruistic act made them feel more optimistic; 93% felt a strong sense of gratitude; 91% said it made them feel more appreciative of life; 91% said it made them feel motivated to help others. (Hoffman et al., 2017)
So being kind or nice has a two way effect, bringing wellbeing in both directions, to both parties.