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How to be happy

Happiness.

To some, it’s little more than a myth. To others it’s a constant goal. But for those who believe in the power of the self, happiness is a state of mind.

Globally speaking, New Zealand is doing pretty well. So well in fact, that according to the latest World Happiness Report released by the United Nations, New Zealand is the eighth happiest nation on the planet. Of course, there’s only so much that stunning natural beauty, a laid back lifestyle and the best Merino sheep in the world can do…

So how can you live a happier life? Whether you’re struggling with mental illness or simply want to re-energise your outlook on life, here’s some tried and tested tips on how to get happy, and stay happy.

More than a myth, cognitive scientists have proven that smiling has powerful therapeutic effects. It can lower stress hormone levels, release endorphins that enhance the mood and even bring down blood pressure. If anyone knows the power of a big ol’ cheesy grin, it’s Ron Gutman. He has some pretty incredible thoughts on the power of a smile, and his TED Talk is definitely worth a watch.

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Start simple – sleep and eat better

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the complexities of what will and won’t make you happy. But ultimately, the secret is to keep things simple. Start with the absolute basics, like getting enough sleep and nourishing your body with healthy foods. Science has proven time and time again that there’s a direct relationship between happiness and sleep, as well as happiness and healthy eating.

Work up a sweat – Endorphins and exercise

It’s the most obvious tip in the book, but there’s no arguing with the fact that exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Sure, these little peptides aren’t necessarily the key to genuine long-term happiness, but they definitely help lift your spirits, and put you in a positive mindset.

Master a mantra

Nope, mantras aren’t just for yoga class. Chant your way to happiness by creating your own personal mantra that switches you into default optimism mode. Positive thinking is an incredibly powerful tool, and daily affirmations can be used to unlock your innermost potential. Stuck for inspiration? Check out these mantras and use them to create a daily happiness hymn all of your own.

Be grateful

When it comes to happiness, gratitude is an all-important element. The simple act of active appreciation shifts your focus from negativity about what your life lack, to positivity about what’s already present. Even if you feel like you have absolutely nothing to be grateful for, force yourself to hone in on things that make you happy. If Harvard Medical School believes that giving thanks can make you happy, so do we.

Choose to be happy

“Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit. … Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement, effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part.”

These are words taken from The Conquest of Happiness, a book published by legendary philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1930. While they may be a little outdated, modern psychologists couldn’t agree more. Happiness is a choice, with experts like Rick Foster and Greg Hicks asserting that the intention to be happy is the first step towards happiness.

“Intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy,” they write in best-selling book The 9 Choices of Happy People. “It’s the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviours that lead to happiness over unhappiness.”

Give back

Often, happiness can be heightened by focussing less on what you need, and more on what you can offer other people. Helping others can be hugely enriching, which goes hand in hand with a greater sense of happiness. Time Magazine’s on-board, with contributor Jenny Santi offering some insightful tips on how helping others helps to unlock meaning, purpose and happiness.

Happiness isn’t something that can be bought, but it is something that can be created. No, you can’t simply flick a switch. But you can make an active effort to change your outlook, and work your way towards a happier life. Whether it’s smiling for no reason as you walk down the street, putting yourself to bed at 11pm, finding time to hit the gym, chanting mantras to yourself or volunteering at your local animal shelter, happiness is closer than you think.