Mind

Gemma McCaw's top tips on how to be happy

By starting with the small things, you can make a big difference to how you feel.

What makes you happy? Most of us express the desire to be joyful without pausing to contemplate what truly brings us contentment.

At times, we search for happiness in all the wrong places, overlooking the true sources of pleasure in our lives. It's easy to think a bigger salary or fancy holiday will make life better, but in reality, happiness depends upon ourselves.

It was researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky who pioneered the theory of the happiness pie. She found that the three determinants of variance in our happiness levels were genetic set point (50%), life circumstance (10%) and our intentional activity (40%).

While we can't influence our genetic make-up or at times change our life circumstances, we always have the power to influence our intentional activity – how we choose to think and act.

We can't sit and wait for things to change – we have to do it ourselves. By starting with the small things, you can make a big difference to how you feel.

Look on the bright side

Start noticing what is right, rather than what is wrong. When you shift your thinking, you create the habit to change your lens and look for positives.

It's not just about celebrating the past and present, but looking forward to a bright and optimistic future too. When things don't turn out the way you would have hoped, ask yourself, "What can I learn from this situation?"

Count your blessings

Practise an attitude of gratitude every day. Studies show happier people are comfortable expressing gratitude for all that they have.

You can start this by writing a small list: "This week I'm grateful for these five things …"

Practice makes perfect

Being happy is a bit like getting fit. It takes work and effort every single day. What's more, when you are fit, you have to keep working at it – and it's exactly the same with happiness.

Avoid social comparisons

Sometimes you can't help but notice friends, family, colleagues and those on social media sharing their highlights reel, but instead of comparing yourself to others, use your own internal standards to judge.

While drawing inspiration for your goals or providing comfort to others in a similar situation is helpful, constant comparison can affect your self-esteem. The grass isn't always greener on the other side – it is greener where you water it.

Move your body

Happy people make exercise a habit! In a US study, one group of people were prescribed moderate exercise three times a week while another group was prescribed an antidepressant. The results? Both
found their depression lifted. But those who recovered were less likely to relapse if they were in the exercise group.

It's not only about feeling good – exercise lets us take time out from a stressful day and provides the chance to connect with others. Try your best to move your body every day.

Acts of kindness

Kindness is as good for the giver as it is the recipient. It reduces stress for others, while shifting your thinking from you to someone else. And kindness is contagious. If someone is good to you, it's more likely you'll be nicer to others. Try five acts of kindness today and see how good it feels.