Your 20s are an exciting but often stressful period. As rates of depression and mental illness rise for young adults, it's more important than ever to start practicing patterns and habits for a happy life today.
Between piles of student debt, a slowly recovering economy and the looming pressure of expectations from family and society at large, navigating the tumultuous waters of your 20s can be overwhelming and downright depressing. With so much of your future riding on the choices you make during this decade of life, it's no surprise that many 20-somethings are struggling to feel happy.
Luckily, people have a lot more control over their present happiness than they might think.
Here are five "happiness hacks" that will get you on track in your pursuit of happiness today.
People smile when they're happy, but did you know that it can work the other way around too? Studies show that consciously smiling can increase our levels of happiness and reduce stress.
The interesting thing is that positive results were not limited to genuine smiles. Even forced or fake smiles signal to your brain that you are happier, in turn, making you feel genuinely happy.
So next time you're stuck in traffic, stressed about paying your rent or just feeling sad, try smiling.
Keep a gratitude journal
One of the best ways to practice happiness is to focus on what is currently good in your life.
By focusing on the positive, you literally start to rewire your brain. Our brains are naturally programmed to focus more heavily on the negative stimuli in our lives. Scientists call this the negativity bias. It is the result of our natural flight or fight response, making negative experiences leave stronger impressions on us.
Luckily, though, people can rewire these natural negative thought patterns into positive ones with simple exercises like gratitude journals.
Keep a daily journal and write down the things you're grateful for. Research by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough showed that people who wrote down just five things they were grateful for each day were 25 percent happier than those who did not.
Surround yourself with happy people
While people have a lot of control over their perceived reality, cultivating a positive and happy environment goes a long way to nurture happiness. According to a study conducted by Harvard University and the University of California, happiness is actually contagious. This means your close associations can have a significant impact on your emotional well-being, including how happy you feel.
So be sure to surround yourself with happy people.
Nurture happy relationships with your neighbors, spouse, co-workers and friends. If there are toxic or negative relationships in your life, work to improve those connections or, if necessary, leave those negative influences behind you and move on.
Ask yourself if the people you spend time with at home, at work, or at school encourage you to focus on happy things or if they are caught in negative thought patterns. Serial complaining can be just as contagious as happiness, so keep those interactions to a minimum.
The more time you spend around happy people, the happier you will be too.
Identify your purpose
Many 20-somethings struggle to find their fundamental purpose and their life's raison d'etre. Instead, they may wander from job to job or relationship to relationship without a clear path or vision. Unfortunately, this can land you in a career you don't value and relationships that are unfulfilling.
What do you love doing? (It doesn't have to be career-focused)
When was the last time you were really happy? What were the circumstances?
What do you want your legacy to be?
What do people compliment you on the most?
Do you have special talents or gifts?
What do you value most in life? (Family, adventure, health, justice, etc.)
Once you start answering these questions, you can begin to outline a clearer picture of your goals and purpose in life. And with that purpose, you can start living more authentically and align every part of your life with those values.
As your life aligns more clearly with your purpose, you will be happier and find more meaning and fulfillment in your work and relationships.
Today's 20-somethings are part of the mobile generation. For many of us, disconnecting from our phones or devices feels akin to losing a limb. But there may be more serious consequences to our 24/7 reliance on technology.
Studies show that heavy use of computers and mobile devices can lead to sleep disorders, stress, and mental health issues in young adults. And there is a clear connection between lack of sleep and higher rates of depression in people of all ages.
One simple solution is to consciously disconnect regularly from your devices, especially right before bed. Experts recommend turning off your screens at least an hour before bedtime. This allows your brain to decompress and switch naturally into sleep mode.
Not only will unplugging improve your sleep patterns, it will also give you the opportunity to be present and mindful of your surroundings. Use this time to meditate, spend time in nature and connect in person with other people. All of these things will help you feel happier and more genuinely connected to the world around you.
Too often people subscribe to the belief that happiness is a state to be achieved or a prize to be won. While it is a good thing to strive to improve and progress, people do themselves a disservice to put off being happy until they reach some arbitrary benchmark.
Instead of prescribing to the mindset of "I will be happy if..." or "I will be happy when..." give yourself permission to be happy now.