Eight steps toward a more satisfying life

Want to lift your level of happiness? Here are some practical suggestions from University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, based on research findings by her and others. Satisfaction (at least a temporary boost) is guaranteed.

1. Count your blessings. One way to do this is with a “gratitude journal” in which you write down three things for which you are thankful – from the mundane (your peonies are in bloom) to the magnificent (a child’s first steps). Do it once a week, say, on Sunday night. Keep it fresh by varying your entities as much as possible.
2. Practice acts of kindness. These should be both random and systematic. Being kind to others, whether friends or strangers, triggers a cascade of positive effects – it makes you feel generous and capable, gives you a greater sense of connection with others and wins you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness – all happiness boosters.
3. Savour life’s joys. Pay close attention to momentary pleasures and wonders. Focus on the sweetness of a ripe strawberry or the warmth of the sun when you step out from the shade. Some psychologists suggest taking “mental photographs” of pleasurable moments to review in less happy times.
4. Thank a mentor. If there’s someone whom you owe a debt of gratitude for guiding you at one of life’s crossroads, don’t wait to express your appreciation – in detail and, if possible, in person.
5. Learn to forgive. Let go of anger and resentment by writing a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you. Inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination on revenge, while forgiving bolsters positive feelings about your past and gives you peace of mind.
6. Invest time and energy in friends and family. Where you live, how much money you make, your job title and even your health have surprisingly small effects on your satisfaction with life. The biggest factor appears to be strong personal relationships.
7. Take care of your body. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, stretching, smiling and laughing can all enhance your mood in the short term. Practiced regularly, they can help you make your daily life more satisfying.
8. Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships. There is no avoiding hard times. Religious faith has been shown to help people cope, but so do the secular beliefs enshrined in anxious like “This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill me make me stronger.” The trick is that you have to believe them.