Play with your happy friends. The feel-good boost you get from being with others actually enhances your brain’s cognitive ability and overall sense of well-being. If your social circle is wide and also happens to consist of mostly happy people, then you’re two steps ahead of the pack. Studies show that hanging around with happy people makes us happy. (But we didn’t really need a study to tell us that, did we?)
Don’t wait until your life is in order before reaching out to help others. Someone who’s just lost a job might think he’s got nothing to give at the moment. But in fact, volunteering or helping out a friend — especially when we’re feeling distressed — is an amazing way to enhance our overall mood. “Helping others gives you meaning and purpose beyond your own life. It also distracts you from your own woes,” says Dr. Peterson. “It’s a standard therapy technique. Depressed? Go work in a soup kitchen and you’ll understand what problems really are.
Engage in activities that bring you joy. Something as simple as creating a scrapbook, knitting, baking, playing the piano or guitar — in which the mind and the hands are engaged — can provide a great source of contentment and satisfaction. But the benefits go beyond the ones that come with engagement. “One of the biggest predictors of happiness is how much time a person devotes to leisure activities,” says Dr. Peterson. “These things give us meaning and purpose and identity.” He says that roughly 80 percent of us say that our jobs don’t provide this satisfaction, so it’s critical to find this sense of well-being and satisfaction by spending time with friends and family, and doing things like coaching a little league team, singing in the church choir, and the like.
Don’t rely on others to validate your physical beauty. The rush that we get from seemingly positive comments like “Your hair looks great!” or “Wow, you lost a few pounds!” is fleeting, points out Catherine Baker-Pitts, PhD, a New York City–based psychologist specializing in cosmetic surgery and body image issues. She says that when the aura fades, some of us get depressed and start seeking out this validation again. Her advice:
• Gravitate toward people, activities and interests that feel nourishing, not punishing.
• Look at yourself with rose-colored glasses, and emphasize your own competencies rather than dwelling on critical observations.
• Connect with how you feel in your body and what your body can do for you, rather than treating it as a mannequin to be looked at in a shop window.
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