Research shows that being kind to other people makes us feel happier, too. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

When was the last time you had a really good laugh? If you're struggling to remember, it could be time for a mood makeover. The good news is there are easy, practical steps you can take to improve your outlook. Experts believe that it's not what happens to you that counts but how you deal with it. In other words, you choose the quality of your experiences.

"The first step to getting happy is to identify what's making you unhappy, because it's not always immediately obvious,'' says UK-based psychologist and relationship expert Dr Rina Bajaj. "Try keeping a diary for a week and note down your ‘unhappy' triggers.'' This will also give you an indication of what you need to change. Is it your job? Your weight? Your bank balance? Try to see the triggers as small hurdles you need to overcome - make an achievable plan to tackle each one. 

Focus on yourself

"It's important to focus on your own life and goals rather than comparing yourself to others,'' says Dr Bajaj. "There's always someone who is financially/physically/socially different to you. You have to address your own needs.''

If you struggle to get any ‘me time' and feel you have to put everyone else's needs before your own, this could have an impact on your happiness. "You might feel that you have to put everyone else first, or get to the bottom of your to-do list before you treat yourself to five minutes of ‘me time', but actually everyone will be happier if you are too,'' says happiness expert Lynda Field (www.lyndafield.com). "You need time to recharge and relax if you want to feel good.'' Set aside time every day to do something that gives you pleasure - whether it's reading, having a pedicure, or just sitting in the sun with an iced tea. 

Don't skimp on relationships or downtime

According to American scientists, people who spend time having deep conversations with friends or family are more likely to be happy. So make sure you get together with your nearest and dearest for a proper catch up as often as possible.

Burning the candle at both ends will have a negative effect on your mood, so it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and also to get plenty of sleep. In fact, according to the British Mental Health Foundation, people who have trouble sleeping are more likely to have relationship problems, and feel lethargic, unmotivated and grumpy. So make sure you create sleep-friendly conditions. Switch off the TV, computer and your mobile, take a warm, relaxing bath, and get to bed 30 minutes earlier. Having a regular bedtime every night, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, avoiding caffeine after 3pm as well as rich foods before bedtime could all help you get a better night's sleep. And never read or work in bed. 

Care for body and mind

Meditation is an excellent mood booster - in fact Canadian scientists have found it can be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a low mood. Simply sit in a quiet space, relax, and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing - as you breathe in say ‘breathing in' and the reverse. It can take a while to get the hang of it, but try it for 10 minutes every day this week. The more you practise, the more relaxed you'll feel.

Regular exercise plays a key role in being happy. "When you exercise at moderate to high intensity for over an hour, endorphins are released into the brain and dopamine levels increase,'' explains personal trainer Dan Roberts (www.danrobertstraining.com).

"Essentially these are happy chemicals. They improve mood and give a sense of well-being. This is why exercise is prescribed and recommended to those suffering from anxiety or depression.

Longer term, exercise can also help with your self-esteem - particularly if you're suffering from poor body image. "Do exercises that are fun- sports, dancing, new classes, new workout routines, give yourself fitness challenges - it doesn't matter what.''

Finally, don't forget that you get back what you put out. Research shows that being kind to other people makes us feel happier, too. "Try speaking to the checkout person at the supermarket, starting a conversation with someone new, or helping a neighbour carry in their shopping,'' says Lynda Field.

Life is so much better now'

Rima Shah, 38, admits she used to be a ‘glass-half-empty' person, until she discovered the power of positive thinking.

"After graduating from university in 1994 I struggled to get my career off the ground - I had a succession of jobs but I felt as though I was always several steps behind my friends who had all gone on to start building successful careers.

This had quite a negative impact on my self-esteem and I started to fixate a little on the "glass half empty" side of things. Then I lost both my sister and three grandparents, who I loved dearly, within the space of two years, which was incredibly hard to cope with.

But after hitting rock bottom I realised that the only way was back up - facing up to what was wrong with my life and making changes.

From that moment I decided to change into a ‘glass half full' girl. I got out of a bad relationship that was going nowhere, I started to do yoga and spend more time on me and the people I care about.

I also started my own business as a complementary therapist. The changes I made would not have been possible if I had remained in my negative mindset, and I really do believe that it is my positive thinking which has driven me to do most of what I have achieved over the last seven years.

My business is now doing well, I have an amazing family and group of friends, and overall I know how lucky I am. Rather rather than fixate on negatives I have chosen to see the silver lining or the positive slant.

I still deeply feel the loss of the people who have gone, but now I smile when thinking of them.

I look at my professional life and sometimes can't quite believe how much I've achieved by myself in such a short amount of time and that I am actually quite good at what I do! My work does involve me having to "help" other people and that would be impossible to do if I was always negative myself.

Overall, I am far less stressed, I'm more sociable, outgoing and confident. My friends and family all say that I look much better and I also feel better.

Life is great and I'm happy and positive about the present - and the future.''

Top tips for instant happiness 

1. Make a ‘positives list'. Write a list of all the things in your life that are positive and make sure that it is available for you in the places that you tend to be more stressed, such as work. Looking at this list should help you to feel happier and more relaxed.

2. Identify your negativity triggers. Explore what makes you feel stressed or down. For example, is it in certain situations or around certain people? Writing a diary where you note down events and your feelings in relation to them may be a good first step to trying to identify if there are any changes that you could make in your life that would make you happier.

3. Take a breather (or two). If you're feeling stressed take a moment to stop and breathe. Sometimes, when we are stressed our breathing is out of sync, so focusing on controlled breathing (breathing in through your nose for a few seconds and out through your mouth for a few seconds) can help to restore a good breathing pattern and make you feel calmer and more relaxed.

4. Fake it to make it. Research has shown that smiling can have positive effects on your body and mood whether it is a real or fake smile - your body doesn't know the difference. And just as fake smiling may make you feel happier, fake laughing also has the same effects as real laughter.

5. Surround yourself with happier people. If you have toxic friends who constantly put you down, it could be time to edit your address book. Surround yourself with happier and more positive people and this will likely affect your mindset which could make you a happier person in the long run.

Info courtesy: Dr Rina Bajaj