A psychologist has shared her four tips to give you the best chance of becoming happy.
Staying active, prioritising family and friends, practising gratitude and cuddling a pet are all key to feeling content.
That is, at least, according to Lowri Dowthwaite-Walsh, a lecturer in psychological interventions at the University of Central Lancashire.
Writing for The Conversation, she claimed that happy people tend to have better relationships and physical health.
She has ‘experimented’ with a number of happiness and wellbeing ‘interventions’ over the past few years to learn how to help herself — and others. Now Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh has shared what she ‘learnt along the way’.
Moving your body, prioritising connections, practising gratitude and spending time with pets are key to a fulfilment, according to expert Lowri Dowthwaite-Walsh
Move your body
Runners have long boasted of their ‘high’ after jogs, reporting feelings of euphoria and less anxiety.
And research has backed up their claims, confirming that regular exercise will boost mood, reduce stress and lower the risk of depression.
Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh said: ‘Sitting for long periods of time does not make my body or mind happy.
‘At the very least I will walk briskly for an hour every day. I also like to swim, dance and do yoga.’
The NHS claims just ten minutes of brisk walking each day can build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier. A brisk walk is three miles (4.8km) per hour.
And a 2016 study found that just one sweat-inducing workout is enough to feel mood-boosting effects.
Researchers at New York University’s Center for Neural Science looked at numerous studies that examined how exercise impacts mental health to reach this conclusion.
They found that after one workout the brain was activated in multiple areas and showing chemical releases of dopamine and serotonin.
Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh added that moderate and high-intensity workouts, which increase the heart rate, reap more mood-boosting benefits.
The state of your relationships with romantic partners, friends and family can really impact your mood.
And in The Conversation, Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh writes that the most recent happiness research proves this to be the case.
‘Our social connections are important in terms of overall wellbeing and life satisfaction,’ she said.
‘Indeed, making time to talk, listen, share and have fun with friends and family is a habit I try to prioritise.’
In 2016, researchers from Nottingham Trent University found that the more people feel connected to a group and connect with others, the more satisfied they are with their lives.
Researchers focused on how connected people felt to certain groups, measuring the impact this had on their happiness.
They looked at almost 4,000 people, and focused on how much they identified with their family and local community. Additionally, participants added a group of their choice, such as a sports team, or a hobby group.
The findings showed that identifying as part of a group may give people a stronger sense of purpose and security, as well as providing support when times are tough.
But Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh said a 2019 study found people engage more with their friends and family when unhappy and less so when they are happy.
She said: ‘This may be because we naturally seek out comfort and support to feel happier and pursue other activities when our happiness is stable.’
It is often said that appreciating what you’ve got can help you feel more content.
And Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh said considering what she is thankful for is helpful for her.
‘Practising daily gratitude, such as counting my blessings or listing things throughout the day I am grateful for, helps me think more positively and feel happier,’ she said.
‘You can do this in a number of ways, for example, a daily gratitude journal, which can be handwritten or kept on your phone.’
Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh suggested using apps to prompt you and keep track of your gratitude, or creating vision boards and positive affirmations.
And showing others you are grateful by giving thanks can have big benefits too, according to a 2018 study by scientists from the University of California, Riverside.
They discovered that simply writing a thank you letter appears to have such a strong impact on psychological wellbeing, it can even combat depression.
This is referred to as ‘gratitude therapy’ — deliberately expressing thanks, for instance to parents, teachers or friends for their support.
Harvard Medical School echoed the claim that giving thanks can make you happier.
In 2021, it published a research review, concluding that ‘with gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.’
Spend time with pets
Pets are a huge source of joy for many people.
And spending time with your pets has been proven to boost serotonin and dopamine levels.
Dr Jane Manno, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic, said walking, petting or even just sitting with dogs helps boost levels of happy hormones in the brain — lifting someone’s mood.
She said: ‘Just physically being around animals releases some positive neurotransmitters in the brain.’
Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh shared these opinions, calling her pets ‘part and parcel’ of her family routine and credited them for supporting her in her daily happiness.
Scientists from the University of Liverpool also found both dog and humans have a shared pleasurable experience that boosts their happiness.
They studied 12 dog-owning households, mainly in the UK, and found owners felt happiness when their dogs exhibited happiness themselves.
Ms Dowthwaite-Walsh added that studies have found family pets provide companionship as well as reducing incidents of depression and anxiety.
‘The main ingredients for happiness and what the research boils down to are social connections and activity – of both the mind and body,’ she added.