We all want to be happy. But there’s no doubt that some individuals seem to have been born happier than others. Why? No one knows. It can’t just be down to genes or environmental factors, or all siblings who live together and share the same parents would have identical levels of optimism and contentment - and this simply doesn’t happen.
But whatever our temperament, the great news is that it’s possible to improve our levels of happiness.
Until recently, scientists believed that once we grew to adulthood our brains were set in concrete and couldn’t change – except to deteriorate. But advances in neuroscience and scanning techniques have shown us otherwise. We now know that we can ‘rewire’ our brains throughout our lives as a result of what we do, and how we think.
For example, researchers have found that while scanning someone’s brain, if they ask this person to think of something wonderfully happy, they can observe an immediate burst of activity in the part of the brain which is responsible for registering happiness and wellbeing. As a consequence, many neuroscientists now believe that by deliberately thinking happy thoughts, we can build new connections in that crucial bit of the brain - and ‘exercise’ it, much as we might improve bodily fitness by running on a treadmill. In other words, by repeatedly focusing on positive feelings and events, we can ‘think ourselves happy’.
So, science says that we can change, which is very exciting. Here then are some tips to help you become a happier person in 2015:
1. Notice when you’re happy. Every day, write down five positive things that happen. This will help you to build a happiness habit and make you less inclined to dwell on stuff that goes wrong.
2. Eat healthily and exercise. Basically, anything that benefits your body is also good for the brain. Also, when you care for yourself by keeping active and eating well, you send yourself an important mental message, which is that ‘you’re worth it!’
3. Feed your soul. Basically, we all need to find ways to transport ourselves away from the humdrum so that we can gain perspective on our lives and our problems. Some people find this in religion, others in music, or by being in the countryside, or at the sea, or by visiting ancient buildings or art galleries. Find outwhat works for you. And do it regularly.
4. Volunteer. Various research studies have shown that altruistic people are happier than those who always put themselves first.
5. Never believe that someone else makes you happy. If you do, you’ll always feel anxious that you will be destroyed if the relationship goes wrong. Naturally, having a loving partner increases our contentment, but that’s not the same thing as believing that happiness is utterly dependent on him or her.
6. See your friends. A strong social network is one of the best ways to build happiness. And it’s good for your physical health too.
Let’s get happy together: Create your own Happiness Club
Read Ilona Boniwell on New start for a happy you on LifeLabs
Read 5 ways to feel more balanced, every day by Eminé Ali Rushton on LifeLabs
Photograph: Sasa Dobrovodska/moodboard/Corbis