7 Happiness Boosters To Try Right Now

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Daily happiness doesn't have to be elusive. The trick: Seeking out easy ways to boost your satisfaction in every moment. While conducting research for her book, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, Ariel Gore found that by tending to our happiness, we can boost it. "What we focus on grows, so if you water your happiness, you will search for and notice your happiness more, and therefore it goes up," she says. Here, we give you seven simple ways to help your happiness bloom.

Plan a Trip
You don't even have to take the vacation — the most happiness lies in the planning. Researchers in the Netherlands measured the happiness levels of 1,530 Dutch adults over about 10 months. Of the 1,500 people, 974 took a vacation. These vacation-goers were happier before they left for their trip than those who stayed at home — but once they'd been back for more than two weeks, they were not noticeably happier than the homebodies. For Gore, the study rings true. "We're pretty bad at knowing what's going to make us happy, so in the planning stage, it's a dream and really exciting," says Gore. "But when you get home, the house sitter killed all the plants." Moreover, vacations can have their own stresses -- especially with air travel and the widespread use of wireless devices, which allows your boss to reach you on holiday. Still, the joy of anticipation may be well worth any travel snags.

Show Gratitude
Giving thanks for the little things that your partner does can have major positive results. "There's a lot of research that supports this connection between gratitude and happiness," says Gore. In fact, a study out of the University of North Carolina shows that feeling gratitude for your significant other's small, loving gestures allows a relationship to flourish. Satisfied pairs didn't necessarily lavish each other with diamonds and shiny new cars -- rather, they helped in modest ways, taking the kids to the zoo so their partner could have some alone time, bringing home a cup of their partner's favorite coffee and planning a special meal to celebrate a promotion. But the key to contentment did not lie in these small kindnesses but rather in the recipients' reactions. In happy couples, recipients responded with gratitude, rather than indifference or resentment. As the subjects reacted positively to each other, their relationships were strengthened. Gore believes that expressing gratitude in any way ups your happiness. "If you keep a gratitude journal and get over the fact that you think it's hokey, that will boost your mood," she says. "It's one of those things that is almost universally effective."

Talk It Out
Studies show that a bit of talk therapy makes people feel better than a wad of cash. In fact, British researchers studied thousands of people who answered questions about their mental health and their level of satisfaction. The research team found that $1,300 worth of therapy (that's about a dozen sessions) makes people as happy as $41,000 in cash. "In part, this is about taking time to focus on yourself," says Gore. "Many of us don't spend that time focusing on ourselves." The researchers hypothesize that the societal focus on accumulating material goods has overshadowed the importance of stress reduction. They posit that lowering psychological distress and daily stress — through therapy and perhaps other means — is integral to personal happiness.

Spend on an Experience
"An experience is better than a bigger TV or a new item, even though the thing will last longer," says Gore. A 2009 study supported the idea that experiences make us happier than material items. Participants in the study answered questions about recent purchases. Those who had used their money for an experience, like a concert or a baseball game, were generally more satisfied than those who had bought an item, like a TV or a new outfit. Researchers believe that experiences, which are often shared, help people grow closer with friends and family. The researchers also think that experiences energize people, making them "feel alive" — both in the moment and upon reflection. The sense of happiness derived from an experience is also not as quick to fade: Those who bought a new item lost a total sense of excitement about the purchase within months. But those who had set out a family picnic, for example, were pleased for longer. The picnic may have been imperfect, Gore notes, but "you forget the mosquitoes later."

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Surround Yourself with Positive People
Happiness is infectious — literally. A research team followed more than 4,700 people for more than two decades and found that one person's happiness can spread like a virus, affecting the moods of spouses, siblings, friends and neighbors for up to a year. The researchers found that if a person became happy, the chances that a person in her network would also become happy were raised by 9 percent. The effects were not geographically far ranging: They occurred only when the subjects lived within a mile of each other. And unhappiness was contagious, too, but less so: An unhappy connection increased the possibility of creating other unhappy people by 7 percent. "Grumpy people have logic on their side, because the world is a mess," says Gore. "But there's a lightness about happiness that is able to float above reason, and I think that is why it's contagious." Gore cautions to make sure you're hanging out with people who are truly happy. "There are lots of fake happy people around because it's part of the culture to pretend to be happy," says Gore. "But happiness based on denial can really make you depressed."

Give a Gift
Generosity can stop gloom in its tracks, according to a study out of Canada — but few people realize it. Researchers asked 109 university students if they would be happier spending money on themselves and others. The vast majority of students believed spending on themselves would make them happier. But the researchers knew better. They had already given 46 other students small amount of money, instructing some to spend it on rent, bills and personal gifts, and others to buy someone else a gift or donate it. The givers emerged as far happier than those who had used the money for themselves. The team also surveyed 632 Americans, asking each subject to rate his or her general happiness. The team then compiled information on the subjects' incomes and spending habits. The findings: Those who spent more on others — whether it was in the form of gifts to their loved ones or charitable donations — were happier than those who spent it on themselves. This was true for people of all income levels. "The rule here is that you have to mean it," says Gore. "If you do something and think, 'I give and give,' you can become a really grumpy martyr. But genuine generosity is beautiful and powerful."

Embrace Your Identity
Kids who embrace their ethnic identity are happier and more resistant to stress than those who do not. Researchers from Wake Forest University learned the importance of ethnic pride when they studied 415 ninth graders of Mexican or Chinese heritage. The adolescents first answered questions about their relationship with their ethnic identity. They then spent two weeks detailing their daily stresses and emotional states on worksheets. Those who were proud of their ethnicity were happier and more emotionally resilient than those who were not. Gore believes ethnic pride is an important part of self-esteem, which makes people happy. "Basic self-esteem is almost a foundation," she says. "It won't guarantee that you're happy, but without it, you're sunk." In part, self esteem allows people to feel that they deserve happiness. "We can't change our immediate financial circumstances, and there are a lot of things in our lives that we don't have control over, but we can work on our self esteem," says Gore.