Hack your happiness with these 10 proven techniques
Ever wondered what happiness really is? To clinical psychologist Dr Bec Jackson, it looks a lot like emotional resilience. She’s not talking about happiness in the ‘OMG, I need more of this chocolate in my life’ sense, but rather about true, lasting happiness.
If you’re not sure what emotional resilience is, it’s something that all of us have. You’ve shown it if you’ve ever:
- started a new job
- gone on a first date
- started a conversation with a stranger
- moved house, city or country
- carried on despite not getting enough sleep
- pushed yourself out of your comfort zone
Emotional resilience has even been described as a superpower, and it’s been linked with positive emotions like being happy in life. And just like you can strengthen your muscles, you can also strengthen emotional resilience.
Psychologists describe emotional resilience as ‘your ability to adapt in stressful circumstances’. Being resilient doesn’t mean you’ll never face another stressful challenge again. Instead, it means you can look past life’s messiness, and simply take it as it comes.
What it means to be truly happy
“A lot of people associate happiness with their body’s pleasure response,” says Dr Bec. “They feel pleasure and call that happiness. Pleasure is your body’s reward system. It’s the result of dopamine (a feel-good brain chemical) flooding your brain. My approach to happiness is more in line with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).”
So when Dr Bec defines happiness, she’s talking about living a rich, full, meaningful life. She sees it as being far more holistic than just a transient emotional response to pleasure.
Give yourself permission to feel
Adopting Dr Bec’s broader definition of happiness doesn’t mean you’ll never feel sad, angry or anxious again. It actually encourages you to ‘feel all the feels’ – as scary as that might sound.
She comments that, “Happiness […] also encompasses feeling lots of different emotions, which can all happen at the same time. It’s really important to recognise that happiness can coexist with other emotions.
How to feel happy… and angry, and sad and anxious
Dr Bec says that all emotions have value, not just happiness. “Every emotion has a benefit, and they all have a place. You don’t have to be scared of being sad. The feeling is actually important, because it tells you that something’s meaningful and helps you to connect with other people.
Dr Bec explains that “being angry is also a good motivator. If you feel anger, it's usually because something’s going on that might violate a value or go against a belief you have. Or perhaps you might be acting in a way that’s incongruent with your values.”
Regardless, when you feel anger or anxiety, Dr Bec recommends viewing it as a warning signal to pay attention to something in your environment. In short, listen to those emotions: they exist to protect you!
Can you hack your brain to be happy?
Dr Bec doesn’t think it’s possible to hack happiness. Instead, she says, “It’s more about hacking the human experience and accepting that life is really messy.”
To boost your true happiness (AKA your quality of life), try Dr Bec’s ‘Top 10 tips’ for living a rich, full, meaningful life:
1. Practice gratitude daily
Try writing a list of three things you’re grateful for in your journal. Or, alternatively, say them out loud or tell someone else.
2. Find people to connect with
We humans are social beings, so positive, meaningful relationships make us happy. These relationships can be in-person or online, old friends or new ones. Regardless, being around people with similar interests, values and outlooks will boost your mood.
3. Be kind to someone else
Performing an act of kindness gives us a boost of dopamine: one of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). As a bonus, it does the same thing for the other person too.
4. Practise mindfulness
Take just a few moments to breathe and look around you. Notice everything that you can see, hear, smell and touch right now in this moment.
5. Go outside
The benefits of being outdoors and in nature are well documented. Being able to see water, greenery, the sky, clouds, plants, birds and animals decreases your stress hormones and boosts your mood.
6. Get at least 20 mins of sunlight per day
Exposure to sunlight tells your brain to produce melatonin – the neurotransmitter that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. Sunlight also improves mood and prompts your body to produce vitamin D - so enjoy it (but don’t forget the SPF!)
7. Do something that brings you joy right now
Hug a pet, tickle your kids or sing in the car. Eat sustainable food, dance to loud music or have a long hot bath. Only you know what brings you joy – so make a list, pick something and then do it!
8. Practise savouring
Think of a magic moment from today or recently – a moment that instantly brings a smile to your face. Recall all the little details of that moment, and let yourself savour each one.
Yes, we know it sounds out there, but it’s worth trying! Bouncing on a trampoline, rebounder or fit ball, or even just jumping on the spot can boost the neurotransmitters responsible for pleasure and feeling relaxed and happy.
10. Get back to basics
Above all? Enjoy this beautiful, messy life
While there’s no real way to hack happiness, there are plenty of ways to live a rich, meaningful life. This broader approach to happiness may not look Insta-perfect – but let’s face it: most Instagrammers only post ‘highlight reels’ of their best moments. You never get to see the reality in between.
Meanwhile, choosing to feel all your emotions, using the power of emotional resilience, and using Dr Bec’s tips can help you experience true happiness. Added bonus! You’ll also likely be more productive while living a rich, beautiful life in all its messy gloriousness.
- How to become more resilient – it’s the superpower you need
- What causes stress and how do you deal with it?
- How can I help my kids to be more resilient?
Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021