20 Happiness Tips Therapists Want You to Know

Updated 10/01/19

We take self-care pretty seriously around here, researching what that word means around the world, how celebs create realistic wellness routines, and even ways you can harness the moon in your favor. We make mental health checklists, brainstorm small but effective ways to take better care of ourselves, and even try to better understand how "self-care" has become a status symbol or affects our relationships. But, you see, that's our job. 

When it's not part of your chosen profession, it can be really difficult to know where to start—how to feel happier, ways to ward off insecurity, frustration, and anxiety. So we did it for you. We reached out to professionals in the field, therapists, wellness experts, and read through published studies on the subject. We came up with 20 suggestions to get the ball rolling. Not all of it will apply to you, but some of it will. And it's helpful and simple—all you have to do is scroll and choose a few to try this week. You're probably feeling better already.

Sign Up for a Seminar or Workshop

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Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, suggests you keep learning. "Self-care is more than massages and manicures. What are you learning? Where do you want to grow in your life, and who do you need to get around to achieve this? With all the online courses and seminars available, there's every opportunity to keep motivated and educated."

Set Healthy Boundaries

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"Set healthy boundaries and eliminate negative people from your life," says Hafeez. "This one is a tough one because some of the people closest to you can be the most negative. But take this opportunity to evaluate your life and the people in it—determine what kind of access they get. Say, for example, your mother is hypercritical or you have a controlling friend involved in your every decision. Suggest you communicate just twice weekly to connect and share your big wins. Old friends who aren't committed to growth will hold you back. Self-care means making decisions that serve you best."

Find Something That Interests You

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"Find something that interests you and become an expert in it," recommends Hafeez. "Maybe you're the go-to person for travel or the most in-the-know person when it comes to great restaurants. When you make yourself an expert in anything that you are genuinely interested in and others come to you, your confidence booms."

Learn to Say "No" Without Explanation

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"You can thank people for thinking of you or simply say 'No thank you.' The end," says Hafeez. "You are not obligated to do things you don't enjoy or feel comfortable taking part in, no explanation necessary. Handling people and establishing boundaries builds confidence in a big way."

Practice Making Swift Decisions

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"When you go to a restaurant, does it take you a long time to figure out what you want? When you go shopping, do you find it impossible to choose what you want? When dating or in your relationship, are you going along with what the other person wants to absolve yourself from making any decisions? Overcome this by getting into the habit of allowing yourself 10 seconds to decide," suggests Hafeez. "You will begin to see that a reluctance to make decisions is connected to a fear of failure or perfectionism which keeps us small and disempowered."

Take Full Responsibility

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"You can't control others. You can control yourself. If you release your need for external conditions to dictate your happiness, you will control less and feel happier," says Hafeez.

Appreciate 3 Things About Your Life Currently

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"It's helpful to find time to appreciate three things about your life, as it is currently, every single day," notes Hafeez. "If you are able to wake up, breathe, and feel the sun on your face, there are three things right there. Appreciation is the fuel for happiness."

Self-care is more than massages and manicures.

Get a Pet

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"Unconditional love from an animal is uplifting, and studies show those with pets are less depressed, lead healthier lives, and enjoy a boost in immune function. It's proven that those with pets are often able to cope with life's challenges better than those without."

Travel

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"Even if it's a road trip, exposing yourself to new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences increases happiness," says Hafeez. This phenomenon is particularly helpful if you can get out of the city. Francine Shore, who founded the first "laughter yoga club" in New York City, says: "Nature has the ability to heal and awaken our senses, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhance creativity and productivity." According to Shore, nature reminds us that there is "something larger out there in the universe," and this helps us reign in our egos.

Take Pleasure in Doing Absolutely Nothing

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"We live in a society where we chase money, love, and approval," notes Hafeez. "Take yourself off the grid and relax with a good book or soothing music with zero guilt."

Limit Your Media Intake If You Find It Stresses You Out

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If you want to kick off self-care in a big way, subscribe to daily or weekly newsletters that offer a roundup of world news rather than keeping your push notifications on for every horrific occurrence. For some, it's helpful to stay informed. For others, it can really weigh on you. Turn off the news. You can limit your intake to just "key relevant points that will directly impact your life," says Hafeez.

Ground Yourself With Rituals

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"Going to bed around the same time daily and rising up at the same time helps to modulate our mood and ensure we are well-rested," explains Latham Thomas, a celebrity wellness expert. "Establishing a self-reflective practice like meditation—and creating a space in your home to practice—is important. Meditation helps to improve the mood and increase a sense of overall well-being. Take a hot aromatic bath and make time to journal to help ease the transition and help keep you feeling radiant into the fall.”

Nature has the ability to heal and awaken our senses, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhance creativity and productivity.

Try a Phone Fast

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Tune all the white noise out of your life for one day. Thomas adds, "Phone-fasting includes iPads, computers, video games, etc. Take that time to tune inward, be with yourself, with family, go for a run, spend time doing what you love with who you love, and take time to appreciate the precious moment that is the present."

Leave Your Blinds Open

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Research shows exposure to bright light in the early morning can be a powerful and effective treatment for patients with seasonal affective disorder. When your skin is exposed to sunshine, your body increases its production of serotonin, a chemical that regulates mood. Sleep with your blinds open to wake up to natural light. And since there's less sunlight in the winter, consider investing in a light therapy box that mimics the spectrum of light the sun produces. Turn it on for 30 minutes while you sip your morning coffee to start your morning off on a positive note.

Take Vitamin D

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Vitamin D is an important component in mood stabilization, but many women don't get enough of it. Talk to your doctor to find out if you're getting enough of the mood-boosting vitamin, and if you're not, your doctor can help you determine the amount you need.

Start Your Morning With Gratitude

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First thing every morning, before you check your email or wash your face, think of something you're grateful for. "Even if yesterday was the most challenging day or you're at a difficult juncture in your life, there are always positive things to be grateful for," says Shore. The practice of physically writing down these positives and seeing them in front of you is restorative, Shore says. It also guarantees that you approach your day from a place of contentment, not frustration.

Smile

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It sounds obvious, but Shore says the act of smiling can trick your mind into feeling happier. "Smiling looks good on anyone, and your body releases endorphins simply by smiling," she says. To make sure you reach your daily smile quota, Shore recommends finding a laughter yoga club in your city. "They are usually free or just a few dollars; it's cheap therapy," she says. "In this political climate, the need to smile is more urgent than ever before."

Wear Bright Colors

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"Color therapy" is real. "Color brightens your mood and has the ability to enhance somebody else's mood when they're with you," Shore says. It'll also "enhance creativity, productivity, and encourage positivity." If you're prone to feeling sad, try surrounding yourself with vibrant colors, like bright yellow. If you tend to feel anxious, choose something soothing, like muted green or lavender.

Eat

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Eat plenty of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates to combat any lingering sadness. Find B vitamins in cheese and shellfish, and omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish like tuna, sardines, salmon, and herring. Low levels of both have been associated with depression.

Additionally, cutting carbs can lead to a drop in serotonin levels—so eat up. You can fill up on whole grains and brightly colored vegetables. Or if chocolate is more your bag, researchers found eating the equivalent of one average-sized dark chocolate candy bar each day for two weeks reduced the stress hormone cortisol as well as catecholamines (our "fight-or-flight" hormone) in highly stressed people.

Drink Green Tea

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According to the Care/of scientific advisory team drinking green tea not only makes you feel nice and cozy, but it also has properties that give a calming effect. Care/of specializes in personalized vitamins and supplements curated for you based on your lifestyle. So they know a lot about ingredients and how they affect our bodies. "It contains the amino acid L-theanine, which stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin," the team says. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which allows for more dynamic functioning of the brain, and higher levels of dopamine have been linked to enhanced brain function, elevated mood and energy levels, and a more balanced nervous system. And releasing serotonin will help break the cycle of your anxious thoughts.

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