100 Small Things That Can Bring You Joy
We all want to be happy. It's a desire as universal as our want for water, food, and fresh air.
But happiness is a difficult thing to measure. It's a spectrum — not an absolute. There's a whole science behind our happiness levels, why they fluctuate, and what we can do to boost them.
Ironically, too much time and thought spent in the pursuit of happiness has been found to actually decrease a person's overall happiness. So it's fortuitous that scientists have identified a countless number of small, conscious steps a person can take to elevate their mood with minimal effort. (See also: 29 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier This Year)
So what have you got to lose? Check out our list of 100 small things you can do to bring more joy into your life. The sooner you get started, the better you'll feel.
1. Talk to a Stranger
Smile, or better yet, strike up a conversation with a stranger in line at Starbucks or during your morning commute. Behavioral scientists say initiating positive interactions with people whose gazes we might otherwise avoid evokes higher happiness levels in both parties. It's a guaranteed win-win.
2. Send Snail Mail to a Friend
What's better than opening the mailbox to find an unexpected hand-written note from a friend, just because? This small act of love and friendship pays off two-fold, for you, too, get to experience a burst of joy knowing you've brightened the day of your letter's recipient. A simple envelope-sealed note will suffice, but feel free to let your imagination run wild with small gifts, puzzle cards, and other personal ideas.
3. Watch the Sun Rise
It happens 365 days a year. But how often do you make a point of seeing it? Watching the sun rise is actually an ancient method of healing. And there are numerous other benefits, like enjoying a beautiful show of color and light, and having quiet moments of stillness and reflection.
4. Go to the Theater
Behind sex and exercise, people are happiest at the theater. That's the takeaway of a British study on activities that bring people the most glee. Time to scout out tickets for Shakespeare in the park or your favorite Broadway musical.
In helping others, you also help yourself. That's because altruism is proven to boost happiness. So spend some time volunteering for a community, charity, or religious organization. The more often you give back, the more self-satisfaction you'll receive. Volunteering will also help you live longer, according to some studies.
A shot of endorphins to the brain will make you feel oh-so-good. And one of the best ways of getting this boost is with exercise. So pick your poison — running, soccer, ice skating, a long walk in the woods. Get moving and get instant satisfaction.
7. Power Down Your Gadgets
Sure, technology has its benefits, but it's also making us sick. Literally. Stress, depression, and vision impairment are just a few of the negative consequences of spending too much time on our phones, tablets, and computers. Luckily, there's a simple fix: power down. Unplug. After work, on weekends — whenever you can. By disconnecting from email, text messaging, and social media, you can actually increase your connectivity to the people around you. And you'll feel a heck of a lot better while you're at it.
8. Go Shopping
Retail therapy isn't just a buzz phrase invented to help women feel better about over-spending on shoes. There's real science behind it. A study published in 2011 found that treating yourself to a shopping trip is an effective way to elevate your mood. It doesn't have to be a big-time shopping spree, either. Allowing yourself to indulge in even the smallest of purchases can have just as strong of a mood enhancing effect.
9. Try Something New
People who participate in bold, new activities and collect unique experiences are more likely to retain more positive memories than negative ones. The more positive memories we keep, the lighter we become. So go ahead and sign up for those guitar lessons. Book that trip to Antigua. Do it in the name of happiness.
10. Have More Sex Than Your Friends
Sex makes us happy. And studies show that having more sex than our friends makes us even happier. So cue up the Marvin Gaye, and don't be bashful about letting your pals know just how often you're getting it.
11. Spend Time With Your Favorite Canine
Spending time with man's best friend is a fool-proof happiness booster. Not only do dogs improve our happiness, they have also been found to alleviate loneliness and improve our overall health. Dog owners have been known to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, too.
12. Practice Forgiveness
By offering someone our forgiveness — no matter how grave the offense — we let go of the hurt and anger that person stirred in us, thereby creating more space for happier emotions. On our journey to collect joy from our everyday surroundings, we must also dispose of any residual negativity. Saying, "I forgive you," is a great start.
13. Create Something Artistic
Creativity breeds happiness. Painting, sculpting, jewelry making, and music writing are all examples of activities we can engage in to work our creative muscle, thereby inviting into our lives more happiness.
14. Keep a Journal
Believe it or not, you can write your way to happiness. Penning your feelings helps your brain process and expunge the negatives ones, leaving you more joyful.
15. Get a Houseplant
You can elevate your mood simply by surrounding yourself with nature — even the potted kind. Plants will also improve indoor air quality. The more time you spend around leafy, green things, the better you're apt to feel.
16. Give Thanks
Grateful people are more likely to be happy and optimistic. So don't save it all for Thanksgiving. Make a habit of showing gratitude for the circumstances and people around you.
17. Breathe Deeply
Taking deep, slow breaths on a regular basis can help you relax. Breathing deeply also prevents disease, slows the aging process, and increases happiness.
The ancient practice of meditation is proven to make you happier, more focused, and more even-keeled. Researchers say it can even make you nicer.
Dancing on a regular basis can improve your mood and boost your overall mental health and well-being. It can also relieve back and neck pain, stress, and anxiety. Plus, it's fun! So go on — shake your groove thing!
20. Do Some Spring Cleaning
Ornamenting our homes with art we love and objects of meaning can create a happiness-inducing space. But the extra clutter we accumulate over the years can be counterproductive, leaving us feeling disorganized and claustrophobic. It'll serve you well to clear out those unwanted belongings as they accumulate.
21. Take a 30-Minute Walk
A brisk walk is one of the best exercises for you. And it only takes 20 minutes for your brain to start releasing endorphins and dopamine — those feel-good hormones that make you happy.
22. Go Outside
People are happiest in nature. No shopping mall, amusement park, or museum can compete with the positive effect the rugged wilderness has on our mood. It doesn't need to be a world-class beach or awe-inspiring canyon, either. The neighborhood park is natural enough to do the trick.
23. Join a Team
Participating in a team sport or activity, or even a group project at work, gives us a deepened sense of self-worth, purpose, and meaning.
25. Do a Good Deed
The reward is two-fold: Random acts of kindness make us feel good as well as the recipients of our good deed. Pay for the next order before you drive away from the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru. Tape a scratch-off lottery ticket to the gas pump. Get creative and reap the rewards.
26. Get a Good Night's Rest
Getting 8 hours of quality shut-eye is linked to increased happiness. A good night's slumber also sharpens our focus during the day. If you want to boost your productivity, don't skimp on your sleep.
27. Make a Gigantic To-Do List
Making a big, long to-do list might seem daunting. All those unfinished tasks staring you in the face. But research has found that we get a buzz of accomplishment and satisfaction each time we cross an item off the list — no matter how big or small the task.
28. Stop and Smell the Roses
Good smells such as floral scents can actually make you happier. So poke your nose down and smell the tulips blooming. Or, if it's the dead of winter, spend some time around a floral scented candle.
29. Read a Novel
Letting your mind escape into a fantasy realm for awhile can actually boost your happiness. So open up a good book and don't be afraid to let your imagination run away with it.
30. Light a Candle
Candlelight can have a calming effect and help reduce stress. It can also increase self-awareness. Spending a few minutes in solitude with even a single flickering flame can be a soothing experience. Candles scented in lavender or ylang-ylang further enhance the stress-reducing effects of quiet time spent in candlelight.
31. Go to the Museum
Museums are places where stories are told, traditions are challenged, minds expand, and beauty is everywhere to behold. And, according to many schools of thought, all those things are good for our well-being.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and in many ways it's true. Studies show that a dose of hearty laughter can boost your immune system as well as your heart rate, giving you a natural high similar to the one you feel after a great workout.
33. Sing Your Heart Out
Singing, particularly in a choir, gives the body a shot of endorphins and dopamine — the same hormones that produce the "runner's high" people feel after pounding out a few miles on the pavement. But a singer's high comes with all sorts of added benefits — stress reduction, pain alleviation, and an overall feeling of contentment.
34. Organize Your Bedroom
Rid your world of clutter and breathe a sigh of relief. A tidy living space boosts happiness, promotes productivity, and enhances peace of mind.
35. Get Some Fresh Air
Time spent in nature recharges and invigorates us. It reminds us to dream bigger. Live louder. The more time we spend in forests and on mountain peaks, the happier we become. Not only does Mother Nature bring us joy, she also gives us energy.
Smile like you mean it. Even if you don't, studies show that the act of turning the corners of your mouth up will make you feel better. That's because a smile — even a forced one — decreases stress.
37. Take a Yoga Class
Studies show that yogis score high on the happiness index. So go get your downward dog on and find your bliss.
38. Surround Yourself With the Color Blue
Just being in the presence of the color of water and sky can boost confidence, reduce stress, and bolster happiness.
39. Soak Up the Sun
Sunshine gives us a natural boost of serotonin, the hormone that makes us happy. A healthy dose of UV rays can also boost fertility and help prevent multiple sclerosis, diabetes, seasonal affective disorder, and cavities.
Do it not once, but three, four, five times in a row. Force out a few big, long ones even if you're feeling fully energized and alert. Yawning can improve your memory and lower stress, neuroscientists say. Think of it as wiping away the clutter in your brain and giving yourself a clean slate.
41. Take a Power Nap
Boost your happiness with a daily 30-minute power nap. Not only will you wake up in a lighter mood, you'll also help kick-start your metabolism and rev up your sex drive.
42. Eat Breakfast
No, a cup of on-the-go joe doesn't count. Do yourself a favor and cook up some eggs with a side of toast and fruit. People who eat breakfast tend to be leaner, more energized, and all-around healthier than those who don't.
43. Reflect on Your Daily Accomplishments
Celebrate your daily victories no matter how small. Maybe it's following through on that three-mile morning run. Or standing up for yourself in a difficult workplace situation. Or remembering to call your mother. Reflect on all you've accomplished at the end of each day and bask in that well-earned sense of satisfaction.
44. Take Pride in Your Appearance
When you look good, you feel good. So take the time each morning to make yourself look — and feel — presentable. It's not about an buying an expensive new dress shirt or covering up those frown lines with makeup. It's about doing what you need to do to feel fresh-faced and confident.
45. Log Off Facebook
Perhaps the wisest of all Theodore Roosevelt's sayings was this: "Comparison is the thief of joy." In this modern world saturated with social media outlets, the former president's words ring truer than ever. The more time you spend reading so-and-so's relationship status updates or clicking through photo albums of somebody else's trip around the world, the more time you're spending zeroed in on the things other people have, or appear to have, that you don't.
46. Let Your Imagination Run Wild
If you want a happier existence, imagine it and it will be. Scientists have found that if we visualize ourselves in a happy state we can actualize happiness.
47. Sit Up Straight
A commitment to good posture will keep you energized and create more room in your diaphragm for deeper breathing. It can also make you feel better. People with good posture give off an air of ease and confidence that actually bolsters their own self-perception.
48. Practice Positive Affirmations
Start each day with a chant of your choosing — "I can," "I eat healthy and exercise regularly," "I am successful." People who embrace the power of positive thinking are more apt to achieve their goals. And — added bonus — they actually have stronger muscles.
49. Give Back to Your Community
Plant flowers in a public park. Pick up litter on the beach. However you choose to give back, the rewards are ten-fold. Volunteering in your local community has been proven to boost self-esteem, fend off depression, and enhance health and fitness.
50. Savor Good Memories
Our brains tend to latch on to negative memories and let go of the good ones. Scientists say the more positive memories we have, the more positive our outlook on life and the world around us. We can help our brains collect and keep more good memories by taking time to savor the positive experiences and emotions from each day before we go to bed each night.
51. Be an Optimist
A positive outlook on life is an important predictor of resilience. People who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier, and more successful in the workplace.
52. Touch Your Toes
Touching your toes can relieve stress by increasing blood flow to the brain. It also enhances memory and improves circulation. Some health and fitness experts say toe touches can also treat and prevent back pain.
53. Give More Hugs
A warm embrace is good for the soul. Experts say hugging can enhance our mood, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress.
54. Work With Your Hands
Plant a garden. Cook dinner. Play the guitar. Knit a scarf. Manual labor is scientifically proven to boost happiness levels.
55. Don't Worry About What Others Think of You
Filling your mind with worries about what other people think of you can drain your energy. So don't. Be your own judge of approval.
56. Shower Yourself With Self-Love
Self-criticism is self-defeating. But if you're compassionate toward yourself, you can actually make yourself more productive, stronger, and more relaxed. Next time you think negatively about yourself, write down that negative thought. By seeing how hurtful those words appear on paper, you'll begin to train yourself to stop saying them in your head.
57. Live in the Moment
When you tune out your thoughts and worries about the future and the past, life becomes a lot more manageable. Deadlines, debts, and the items on your to-do list will no longer hang over your head. In fact, people who are mindful about living in the now tend to complete difficult tasks such as a project at work or fitness routine with more ease.
58. Be on Time
By being on time for events, you relieve all that stress you would have felt if you had been running late. Good time management skills also help you more quickly accomplish your goals, thereby creating more free time for your family, friends, and hobbies.
59. Stop Saying "I'm Sorry"
Science tells us that those of us who avoid apologies are happier than those who own up to their blunders. Refusing to apologize actually gives us a sense of power and entitlement, research shows.
60. Hug Yourself
Self-love and acceptance are among the most important keys to happiness. If you're not happy with yourself, you're never going to be happy. Forgive yourself. Allow yourself those mistakes you've made. Accept yourself for who you are — the good, the bad and all that needs improvement.
61. Drink More Water
Hydrating your body and skin will keep you looking younger longer. It can also help you lose weight, boost your mood, and increase your brain power.
62. Take a Warm Bath
A long, warm soak in the tub can alleviate stress and bolster relaxation. Add essential oils to the water for added skin hydration.
63. Listen to Running Water
The sound of running water — be it from a rolling brook, waterfall, or faucet — is proven to lower stress, boost happiness, and evoke a feeling of calm.
A long, deep sigh can make all the difference. It's the physical act of letting go — grief, anxiety, sleepiness. Whatever burden you're holding on to. Take a deep breath, sigh, and enjoy a sense of relief.
65. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
We feel good when we eat good. It's as simple as that. Magnesium (found in spinach), calcium (found in kale) and chromium (found in broccoli) are all proven to enhance not only our health but our overall mood.
Visualize your future. Or just let your mind wander. Whatever your brain decides to settle on, close your eyes, open your mind, and just let go. When you daydream, you strengthen your creativity and well-being.
67. Listen to Music
Music is scientifically proven to ease pain, reduce stress, elevate mood — and a slew of other wonderful things that are great for our physical and emotional betterment. Listening to fast music can actually motivate and increase endurance, while slow music can help a person relax as well as prevent overeating.
68. Appreciate a Work of Art
Cultured people are happier. That's because they spend more of their moments taking in images of beauty — be it a watercolor by Van Gogh or a finger painting by your five-year-old daughter. So feast your eyes. Feast them often.
69. Let Go of Anger
Contrary to popular belief, the act of venting when we're angry either by throwing a few jabs at a punching bag or talking it out with a friend serves only to make us feel worse. Researchers have found that doing nothing when we're angry — essentially ignoring the emotion — more quickly leads us back to a state happiness.
70. Spend Time With Friends and Family
Nurture your relationships. Losing touch with friends and family is one of the top 5 regrets people have on their deathbed.
71. Buy Now, Enjoy Later
Studies show that for many people the best part of a vacation is looking forward to it. This applies to everyday life in all sorts of ways. Book your massage for a few weeks out rather than today. Plan your movie date a week in advance. Savor the anticipation.
72. Don't Let Credit Card Bills Hang Over Your Head
When we spend significant amounts of money, our brain reacts similarly to how it does when we experience physical pain. So don't prolong the effect. Pay off your credit card bills upfront or pay for big-ticket items in cash instead.
73. Don't Worry About Coming in First
An analysis of the facial expressions of Olympic athletes shows that bronze medal winners are typically happier than those who win the gold. Whether it's a game of chess or a project in the workplace, focus on doing well rather than being the best.
74. Earn Your Indulgences
We appreciate rewards more when we've earned them. So next time you treat yourself to an ice cream cone, make yourself work for it. For example, tell yourself you can indulge in the ice cream only if you've first eaten three balanced, healthy meals — and hold yourself to it.
75. Take Risks
It feels good to live on the edge. That's why skydiving and surfing are so popular. You can reap the rewards of this life in the fast lane sensation but taking small risks in ordinary activities. If you're a surfer, try to catch a slightly bigger wave that you might have otherwise passed up. Experiencing a little risk will increase your enjoyment of whatever activity you're engaged in.
76. Don't Over-Indulge
Studies show that people who are given an entire bag of chocolate candy enjoy those morsels less than people who are given just one piece of candy to taste. So if you want to increase your happiness, indulge in small portions.
77. Pop in a Sappy Movie
Films that make us cry actually boost our joy. Researchers have found that movies about a difficult breakup, for example, leave us feeling great because our minds begin to hyper-focus on the positive elements of our own romantic relationships.
78. Read the Newspaper
Time to renew that subscription to the local daily paper. Studies show that people who get their news from a broadsheet paper are happier than those who turn to television news to keep informed.
79. Be Spontaneous
Spontaneity brings growth and new experiences. It can also help you overcome shyness and build better relationships.
80. Take a Hot Shower
A short, piping hot shower brings many benefits, not least of all being that it makes you feel good. A hot shower can also improve circulation, relieve neck and shoulder pain, and decrease stress.
Go ahead and let it all out. People who allow themselves to a good cry when they're upset tend to feel better afterwards than those who bottle their sadness inside.
82. Eat More Steak
Research shows that people who consume less than the recommended amount of red meat in their diets are twice as likely to feel depressed.
Studies show that multitasking may actually make you feel better. But there's a trade-off. While trying to accomplish numerous things simultaneously will leave you feeling more emotionally satisfied about the work you're doing, it will also make you less productive.
84. Draw Your Favorite Junk Foods
There really is such a thing as an ice cream sundae that's truly good for you. Studies show that drawing pictures of junk foods like ice cream, cupcakes, and mashed potato pizza gives us the same sense of satisfaction as if we had eaten it — but without all those extra calories.
85. Play in the Dirt
A harmless bacteria commonly found in soil has been found to have a similar effect on humans as antidepressant drugs. It's a great excuse to play in the dirt.
86. Don't Eat Lunch at Your Desk
Studies show that workers who eat lunch outside the office — a park bench, a cafe, the beach — feel happier after the meal than those who eat at their desk.
87. Make the Bed
Making the bed in the morning is one quickest, simplest ways to infuse our lives with a sense of calm and order. When our lives are tidy and organized, we feel happier. Clutter in general tends to detract from our inner sense of peace.
88. Assert Your Power
Studies show that people who hold a position of power, whether in a personal relationship or in the workplace, lead happier lives than those with less authority.
89. Spend Time With Happy people
Happiness is truly contagious. Studies show that when you surround yourself with happy people, you become happier by association.
90. Seal Off Your Dissatisfactions
If you find yourself consumed with negative thoughts, write down what's troubling you. Then seal the piece of paper in an envelope as if you were going to mail it. Research shows that physically sealing off negative emotions actually helps you overcome them.
91. Write a List of Every Single Amazing Thing You've Seen and Done
Studies show that writing down your positive experiences can actually improve your health. Plus you'll get a jolt of excitement just thinking about that white water rafting trip.
92. Give More Compliments
Receiving a compliment has the same effect on our brains as receiving cash. And while we can't force others to compliment us, when we give compliments to others we also reap some reward. That's because we feel good when we make other people feel good. It's a win-win!
93. Practice Monogamy
Sex makes us happy. And as it turns out, having sex with one partner makes us even happier. Studies show that people who have one sexual partner at a time are more satisfied than people who juggle several lovers.
94. Write Down Your Aspirations
When we have goals to guide us, we are happier and more apt to achieve success. Writing down our dreams forces us to fashion our vague ideas about what we want into a concrete game plan. Instant motivation.
95. Make Time for Yourself
Take a few minutes each day to be in total solitude. Alone time recharges the mind, helps us unwind, and enhances the quality of our relationships with others.
96. Grow Your Own Vegetables
Planting your own vegetables can improve your health, save you money and boost your mood. Backyard gardening can also be a great stress reliever — a little "me" time at the start of each day.
97. Drink More Tea
Tea of all kinds, but especially green tea, has properties that help fight off disease. Green, white, black, and oolong tea can also boost exercise endurance and hydrate the body — despite all that caffeine. Can your cup of coffee do all that?
98. Stop Drinking Soda
Soda can cause heartburn. It's linked to osteoporosis. It increases your risk of kidney stones. It contains unhealthy artificial ingredients. It destroys your teeth. It makes you fat. Think about all that the next time you reach for a Coke.
99. Stop Procrastinating
We procrastinate because completing whatever given action we're putting off will cause us a certain amount of discomfort or pain. But when we procrastinate we increase the burden by prolonging the amount of time the anticipation of this discomfort or pain hangs over our head. When we instead confront unpleasant tasks head-on, we decrease the amount of negativity they bring into our lives.
100. Eat More Legumes
Peas, beans, and peanuts are full of magnesium, a mineral that keeps our bodies pumping with energy.
Whew! Any small wonderful things I've missed? Please do a small wonderful thing and share your in comments!