by Robin Hilmantel
Bring more joy into your life by applying these four happiness secrets to your life now
If you're like most people, you're certain you'll be happier once you land that new job, attract a date or buy a new house. The only problem? Research shows that we overestimate the amount of joy we'll get from these big life changes, says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness.
The findings aren't nearly as much of a buzz-kill as they might seem, though: While the momentous event you're waiting for might not bring a lasting smile, there are little things you can do to make everyday life more blissful -- no life-altering changes necessary.
So we tapped a few happiness experts who've mastered the art of contentedness for their best tips on how to lead a more pleasure-packed life today.
Happiness Secret No. 1
Start writing thank-you letters to people you're grateful for -- even if you never send them.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness
Why it works:
It's human nature to dwell on what's going wrong in your life, but thinking about the things that are going well can help you tune out some of that negativity. "It doesn't mean you deny the negative," Lyubomirksy says, "but when you practice expressing gratitude, it redirects your attention on what you might be thankful for." Since relationships are so key to happiness, focusing on what you appreciate about the special people in your life is particularly helpful. Try to express your gratitude about once a week for best results.
Happiness Secret No. 2
Do something new each day, whether it's listening to a new song or sampling a new dish at your favorite restaurant.
Lisa Cypers Kamen, a positive psychology coach and author of Harvesting Happiness.
Why it works
The excitement that we derive from new things fades over time. No matter how wonderful your new man is, for instance, you can't stay on cloud nine forever. Eventually, we all return to our baseline level of happiness. Novelty and variety, however, can help counteract this effect. New experiences -- no matter how small -- re-introduce some childlike playfulness into your routine. And just as children seem to experience more delight and wonder than adults, you'll start to experience more of that natural high in your life too. "Tapping into this kind of play creates more simple pleasure and joy," Kamen says.
Happiness Secret No. 3
When you're stressed about something that might go wrong, try to envision the worst-case scenario -- in great detail.
Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking.
Why it works
Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers called this technique "the premeditation of evils," and it's Burkeman's favorite trick. "Asking yourself how badly things could go, when you do it calmly and soberly, has the wonderful effect of alleviating worry," he says. Although it seems counterintuitive, it's effective because we almost always blow our anxieties about future events out of proportion -- and this becomes obvious when you sit down to list what your worries actually are. Even if your worst-case scenario were to somehow come true, thinking about it will make you feel better. "Rather than persuading yourself that everything's going to work out well, it's far more powerful to know you could cope if things didn't," Burkeman says.
Happiness Secret No. 4
Why it works
There's scientific research to back the "fake it till you make it" approach. "Facial expressions don't merely reflect emotions, they also influence emotions," Rubin says. "Studies show the mere act of smiling makes people happier." This trick can help even if you're just grinning to yourself while you're at your desk -- but remembering to do it regularly can be difficult. That's why Rubin's recommends smiling whenever you see a traffic light -- or anything else that you encounter often.