How to be happy: 9 ways to put a smile on your dial

Happier equals healthier – so how do you get more cheer into your life? ‘Happiness expert’ Dr Darren Morton dishes out his top tips.

Happier equals healthier, according to an ever-growing body of research. Studies have shown links between happiness and a healthier heart, a stronger immune system, less pain and even a longer life, among other benefits.

So if laughter really is the best medicine, what can you do to boost your happiness?

We asked Australian ‘happiness expert’ Dr Darren Morton for his tips on living healthy and happy.

1. Meet your limbo

Get to know the emotional part of your brain. The limbic system – which Dr Morton dubs the “limbo” – can help us understand why we sometimes react the way we do.

“When you know how you’re wired to work, you understand how to make yourself work best,” Dr Morton says.

2. Watch your words

What you say – to yourself or to others – heavily influences how you feel: “The take-home message is we need to be speaking positively. Your limbo is listening.”

Dr Morton suggests feeding your limbo positivity by paying other people compliments or memorising inspirational literature. “I call it ingrained inspiration. Make a habit of memorising inspirational quotes and sayings.”

Exercise makes us happy

3. Move it – even a little bit

The impact of physical activity on our happiness is undisputed.

“Science shows physical activity is probably one of the most underused anti-depressants. It takes less than 10 minutes of moving to lift people’s mood,” says Dr Morton.

4. Happy on the outside

Dr Morton recommends aiming for 30 minutes of outdoor time a day.

“The science from every angle and many disciplines tells us in terms of promotion of mental health, immersing yourself in natural environment is the pick,” he says.

Friends help us be happy

5. Together we’re better

There’s nothing like human-to-human connections for boosting our “feel-good” endorphins.

“When researchers look at the top 10 per cent of happy people, one of the things that always emerges is they have good social connectedness,” Dr Morton says.

But having 400 friends on social media doesn’t cut it. “The people you are most connected to are those you feel for and with. That only happens in a face-to-face space,” he says.

6. Positively happy

Thinking positively, choosing positive acts, and focusing on the positive areas of your life can have an enormous impact on happiness levels.

“Your limbo is wired to the front portion of your brain, I call it the leader. The leader is what we focus on. When that front part of your brain is thinking about positive things, those messages feed back to your emotional brain,” Dr Morton says.

He suggests expressing gratitude or writing down three things to be thankful for each day to direct your focus on positive things.

Healthy eating makes us happy

7. Feed yourself happy

If your belly’s not happy, your brain’s not happy.

“Your gut bacteria needs to be really happy, because it will make your brain happy too. The best way to do that is to feed it fibre. Studies show people who increase consumption of high fibre wholefoods report increases in their happiness the day after,” Dr Morton says.

8. Recharge

“Rest to feel your best” by sleeping and reducing stress. Dr Morton recommends prioritising your sleep. “Avoid things that keep you up. Minimise night light pollution, and avoid caffeine late in the day.”

He also suggests taking time out for mindfulness to give your brain a break, such as taking a Digital Sabbath. “I go offline one day a week, and prioritise the truly important things in life – that’s relationships, your physical health.”

9. Be kind

Research indicates showing a kindness produces the single most reliable improvement in people’s health and happiness, says Dr Morton. “Having an attitude of contributing to the world and those around you is incredibly powerful for increasing your own wellbeing.”

Live More Happy by Dr Darren Morton

Live More Happy by Dr Darren Morton, published by Signs Publishing, RRP: $24.95.