Published at 8 November 2021

5 more ways to be happy in hard times

Psychiatrist Victor Frankl said it best: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” When the world gets tough, the tough get… happier?

It’s possible to find contentment even in the most difficult circumstances. How? Put happiness practices first. To do so, you can:

  • recognize thought patterns (e.g. positive and negative thinking) and
  • forge connections with others.
Here are 5 more ways to boost happiness.
1. Just breathe (slowly!)

What often happens when you’re worried, upset or anxious? Your heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly and blood rushes to your brain. That “fight or flight” response once helped us survive. If this stress becomes chronic, it can cause or exacerbate serious health conditions.

Thankfully, there is something within everyone’s reach to counter stress — just breathe.

Studies have shown that controlled breathing can help make you feel calm and alleviate depression. You may have experienced the calming effect of deep or controlled breathing through yoga or meditation practices.

You can practice deep breathing anywhere, anytime – yoga pants optional. Just 2 minutes, once or twice a day is a great place to start.

Here’s an easy way to start:

  1. Inhale for 5 seconds.
  2. Exhale for 5 seconds.

Slowly work towards making the exhales longer: inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8.

Longer exhales slow your heart rate and calm you more quickly.

  • Reduce stress with this 1 deep breathing exercise
2. Give back and help others

Having a narrow-minded view of our own situation can lead to depression. Using your time and talents to help others can lift your own spirits.

Studies overwhelmingly show that those who volunteer live longer and healthier lives. And through MRI imaging, we see how giving lights up the pleasure centres of our brains.

It’s important to take care of yourself. But helping others can brighten your own mood. So do the self-care, but also:

  • look after your elderly neighbours,
  • volunteer at the local food bank or community centre if you have free time, and
  • support your local businesses who may have struggled during lockdown.

So many important charities need your help. More and more people are now taking action to support causes like diversity and anti-racism. If you’re looking to start giving, here’s how you can start.

3. Become more grateful

In positive psychological research, there’s a strong link between gratitude and greater happiness. Practicing gratitude puts the spotlight on what you’re thankful for. This is especially important when bad news seems to be everywhere.

Gratitude focuses our attention on what we have, rather than what we don’t. Another bonus? It squeezes out the negative feelings that can be more present these days.

So what’s an easy way to practice gratitude? You can start by thanking someone every day. You can do that either in person, by email or just by offering mental thanks.

Another way is through writing down things you are grateful for in a journal, once per day.

  • The benefits of a gratitude journal and how to get started

If you meditate, you can use that time to focus on whatever it is that you’re grateful for. It might feel contrived at first. Be patient: it gets easier over time and with practice.

4. Take a social media break

Focusing on other people’s lives can make us feel inadequate. Seeing photos of other people’s ‘perfect’ lives on social media can make that feeling worse.

Research shows that we tend to compare ourselves to the most visible and accomplished people. By doing so, we’re unconsciously stealing our own joy. For example, you may compare your career to the most successful person in your line of work. Or, you might compare your fitness level to your friend who runs marathons.

Celebrate your own accomplishments instead of comparing yourself to others. And take a break from social media if it doesn’t bring you happiness.

5. Reconnect with old friends and make new ones

Connection is a cornerstone of happiness. Studies have even found that people who feel isolated tend to feel more depressed. This is especially true for adults aged 50 and up.

Fostering a sense of community can counter feelings of isolation. But how do you do it?

Start by spending more time with your closest friends and family. Connecting in person, by video chat or by phone all count! Coworkers can be a lifeline, too. Get to know them (even if only virtually) on a deeper level than day-to-day routine.

  • How to make and keep friends as an adult

You can widen your circle by connecting with the people in your community. Getting to know local shopkeepers and restaurateurs creates a sense of shared responsibility for your neighbourhood.

For better or for worse, happiness is a choice. Find the practices that work for you, and keep at them to spark joy and calm.