Why it works: Practicing gratitude has a profound effect both on the people who practice it and those who receive it. Gratitude can refocus your brain to start looking for what’s good in life, overcoming your natural negativity bias and making you feel more content about what’s going well in your life.
How to practice it: Start keeping a gratitude journal; each day, write down three things you’re grateful for and soon your brain will find more to appreciate.
Why it works: Compassion is the act of feeling the pain of others—which causes you to feel empathy—and then taking action to help. Practicing compassion takes you out of the space of focusing on your own needs. It slows breathing and releases the “bonding hormone” known as oxytocin and lights up areas of your brain related to pleasure.
How to practice it: Perform acts of kindness for others and consciously notice—and try to help alleviate—their suffering. You both will benefit.
Why it works: Noticing what is good and pleasurable around you allows you to be in the moment. Basking in the positive emotions you’re feeling, like awe, hope and love, increases your appreciation for the moment.
How to practice it: When you’re experiencing something good, take a mental picture or “emotional snapshot.” This encourages you to explore more deeply what is happening so you can remember it later, which also heightens the appreciation you’re having at that moment.
Why it works: Looking at the bright side has an upside: Optimists statistically not only live longer, but they live better, with a much lower risk of dying from diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke. Being optimistic lowers your stress response, which leads to better health (and happiness) overall.
How to practice it: Start each day by writing down what you’re most looking forward to that day; just as with gratitude, you’ll soon automatically start looking for things to be excited about.
Why it works: Much of our anxiety comes from worrying about the future; often depression is linked to regrets about the past. Mindfulness reminds us to stay in the moment and focus on what is happening to us right now; the more we practice it, the more we learn to live in the moment.
How to practice it: There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but it all comes back to being in the moment. Whether this means noticing your breath, walking with mindful intention or eating with awareness, it’s all about slowing down and embracing the present.
Why it works: Multiple studies show that giving back makes us happier. Whether that means giving money to a stranger in need, volunteering with a favorite charity or doing something for a friend or family member, it gives us what’s known as a “helper’s high”—and makes us want to do more good.