13 Fool-Proof Ways to Get Happier

You can learn to be happy—even in the worst of times—with these research-based strategies.

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5. Recognize your strengths. In tough times, we get to test our mettle and see what we're made of, says Kashdan. The bestselling book Man's Search for Meaning, written by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl more than 50 years ago, has seen a recent spike in sales as people search for ways to draw on their inner strength after losing their jobs, homes, and health insurance. As Frankl writes, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

[See: 11 Health Habits That Will Help You Live to 100]

6. Count your blessings. We all hate to hear, "Well, at least you have your health," when times are tough—especially if those words come from those who are financially secure. Being grateful, though, has been shown to improve happiness, says Lyubomirsky. The key to conjuring those feelings may lie in spending time with others who are less fortunate. Visit a cancer ward at a local hospital, or volunteer at a soup kitchen for an afternoon. Stop for a moment to chat with the homeless fellow you pass every day on the sidewalk.

7. Keep an optimism journal. It may sound corny, but evidence suggests this can actually improve your outlook on life. In one study, Lyubomirsky asked volunteers to spend 10 minutes a week writing about their dreams for the future and how to achieve them. She then measured an increase in their optimism levels two months later. When she checked in with them again after six months, she found that they were still happier, even if they had given up their journaling. "Of course, I would encourage you to journal a little every day," Lyubomirsky says. "It's like diet and exercise; you get out of it the effort that you put into it." You can start simple. "Every time something bad happens, think of one positive side to it," she suggests. "It's really hard at first, but then it gets easier."

8. Seek advice from your neighbor. It may be more informative than your own best predictions about what will make you happy. That's according to 2009 research published in the journal Science, which found that women made more accurate forecasts about how much they would enjoy a five-minute speed date when they read about another woman's experience with the man rather than seeing his photo and reading his profile. So if you're trying to determine the restaurant where you're going to spend that $20, rely on a friend's or food critic's recommendation rather than the menu you see posted in the window, says study author Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

9. Get out and sweat. When you're feeling down in the dumps, there's no better pick-me-up than exercise. Studies indicate that burning off 350 calories three times a week in sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants. That's most likely because exercise increases the production of "feel good" brain chemicals like endorphins and proteins that improve connections between brain nerve cells.

[See: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise]

10. Do unto others. Practicing acts of kindness has been shown to enhance well-being. When Lyubomirsky and her colleagues conducted an experiment in which individuals were asked to perform five considerate acts on a particular weekday—like donating blood or feeding a friend's pet—the study participants reported higher levels of pleasure than members of a control group who did no such acts. "These little acts give you a sense of purpose beyond money that you've earned," says Kashdan. And generosity doesn't have to be a one-way street: Neighbors can find ways to connect by trading favors. A psychologist, for example, can offer some counseling in exchange for handyman work around the house. "These acts of kindness are occurring all the time and remind us that we live in a benevolent society," Kashdan adds. "We saw it happen after 9/11, and we're seeing it again with the economic crisis."