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SALT LAKE CITY — Though the pursuit of happiness is a lifelong quest, there is also plenty of instant gratification to be had along the way — the kind that doesn't leave you feeling guilty, but instead re-energized to face the world with a little more spring in your step and joy in your heart.
There are countless ways to bring a little sunshine into your day. Here are five things you can do right now to be happier.
- Get moving. Research out of Duke University shows that depression may be just as easily treated by exercise as medication — for free and without all those side effects. "Other research shows that in addition to health benefits, regular exercise offers a sense of accomplishment and opportunity for social interaction, releases feel-good endorphins and boosts self-esteem," writes Jen Angel for Yes magazine. If you're short on time, even just 10 minutes a day of moderate, sustained movement will be enough to get your endorphins going.
- Have a laugh. According to healthy-living guru Dr. Andrew Weil, laughter really is the best medicine. He says that laughing "constitutes a powerful collection of internal and external feedback loops of positive emotion," so read the comics, watch a funny YouTube video or, for an extra boost, share a joke with some friends. "When we see or hear people laugh, we tend to laugh ourselves, which makes them laugh more, and so on," Weil says. "If you want to be happy, put yourself in such situations as often as you can."
- Do something nice for others. "Researcher Stephen Post says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a 'helper’s high,' and you get more health benefits than you would from exercise or quitting smoking," Angel writes. She suggests making "altruism and giving part of your life, and be purposeful about it." Real Simple magazine's Gretchen Rubin says whatever you do, make your relationships with others the most important aspect of your efforts. "Having close bonds with other people is one of the most important keys to happiness. When you act in a friendly way, not only will others feel more friendly toward you, but you'll also strengthen your feelings of friendliness for other people."
- Forgive someone. It's been said that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It's this behavior that may be holding us back from joy in all other areas of life. "Many of us have erroneously incarcerated ourselves to a life choked with grudges, hostility against family members, co-workers and frenemies, zapping our precious spiritual and mental energies," writes T.D. Jakes for the Washington Post. Forgiveness is difficult to master, but allowing yourself to be free of grudges and bad blood could be the key to emotional freedom as well. "We must ask ourselves, 'What could we attain if we cast off the weight of yesterday and embrace the galling winds of a changed mind and an open heart?'"
- Act happy.
Even if you don't feel happy, going through the motions and physically acting happy will get you to the real thing much quicker. "Research shows that even an artificially induced smile boosts your mood," Rubin says. It's all about activating those feedback loops, according to Weil: "It's similar to the way that sound coming from a speaker can be picked up by a microphone and sent back through the speaker as amplified feedback. This has huge significance for those who aim to improve their emotional well-being, because it suggests that we can consciously control our emotional lives much more than we might have suspected."