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Scientist-approved 'happiness hacks' to improve mental health

Forming habits to help maintain overall wellbeing is important for our mental health. (Getty Images)
Forming habits to help maintain overall wellbeing is important for our mental health. (Getty Images)

Taking care of our mental health is of utmost importance, and we learn more everyday about how mental health impacts all facets of our lives, from our personal lives to work.

But we are often bombarded with mixed messages and advice about just how we should go about looking after our mental health. It can get confusing and difficult to know what tips and methods actually work to improve happiness.

A new study has found that the key to maintaining better mental health is to find a method that works for you and stick with it. Consistency is key when it comes to sustaining the benefits of happiness.

The study, based on the University of Bristol’s "Science of Happiness" course, suggested that mood-boosting methods like meditation and journaling - dubbed ‘happiness hacks’ - can lead to a significant uptick in wellbeing, but only if people continue to practice them over time.

Researchers collected data from students who took part in the course and recorded their responses in a long-term follow-up survey that was conducted between 12 to 29 months after the course had ended.

Hair in the wind, she takes advantage of beams of the sunÂ
'Happiness hacks' could help improve mental health if we continue to practice them over time. (Getty Images)

Students who took the course reported significant improvement in their general wellbeing, which shows that the course is effective in improving mental health in the short term.

But, in the months after the course had ended, the researchers learned that only the students who actively continued to practice their ‘happiness hacks’ were able to maintain improved levels of wellbeing over the long-term, whilst the enhanced wellbeing experienced by other students who did not continue their methods waned.

Professor Bruce Hood, senior author of the study and professor of developmental psychology in society at the University of Bristol, explained: "This study shows that just doing a course – be that at the gym, a meditation retreat or on an evidence-based happiness course like ours – is just the start: you must commit to using what you learn on a regular basis.

"Much of what we teach revolves around positive psychology interventions that divert your attention away from yourself, by helping others, being with friends, gratitude or meditating.

"This is the opposite of the current ‘self-care’ doctrine, but countless studies have shown that getting out of our own heads helps get us away from negative ruminations which can be the basis of so many mental health problems."

7 ‘happiness hacks’ to turn into habits

Meditate

Meditation is a popular wellbeing exercise that can help focus and calm both mind and body, resulting in enhanced emotional awareness and the ability to find joy in difficult situations.

Show gratitude

Expressing gratitude is “one of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing”, Professor Hood said. He recommended writing a letter of gratitude to someone you’ve never properly thanked, as this can be a “very emotional experience and both the recipient and you will feel much better for it”.

Thank you written on the top of a piece of paper.
Writing a letter of gratitude to someone you've never thanked before can be a great way to make both you and the recipient happier. (Getty Images)

Be kind

Being kind to others, and performing random acts of kindness, can do wonders for your wellbeing.

Connect with others

Professor Hood said that people often forget that we are social animals, and the modern world encourages us to lead individual lives. “But if you really want to find true happiness, seek out others and make those deep connections.”

Exercise

There have been a number of studies showing that exercise isn’t just good for you physically, but it can also have a significantly positive effect on mental wellbeing.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is important to give our minds and bodies time to rest and rejuvenate, leading to better mental health.

Savour the little moments

“It’s really important to take time to sniff the roses, to smell the world around you, to savour it,” Professor Hood said. “It can be a meal, it can be a conversation - it doesn’t really matter what it is, just spend extra time paying attention to what pleases you.”

Read more about mental health