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How to be happier

It only sounds like an overpromise: These are 5 easy ways to feel more joy.

If exercise, an appetite for foods that nourish, and a commitment to wellbeing are all proven ways to boost your mood, it only makes sense that the healthiest among us are, too, the happiest.

But a cheery disposition isn’t just a happy consequence of being health-conscious—the opposite is true, too: “Happier people arehealthier,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at UC Riverside who researches joy. They have stronger immune systems; they bounce back from illness faster; they suffer from colds less frequently.

The best news: Even if you prioritize movement over mood, there are small ways to infuse happiness into a high-performance life. Here are five of them.

problem-solve.

It’s not that happy people never get upset (they do), it’s just that they don’t let an upsetting feeling linger, says Lyubomirsky. “Happy people are problem solvers,” she says. While the unhappy tend to think in circles—ruminating without resolution—the happy address negative situations (a bad run: it happened), seek a solution (try it again tomorrow), and move on.

spend wisely.

“We tend to think people with money are much happier, but in reality, they are only a little bit happier,” says Lyubomirsky. So what sets the smiling affluent apart from the miserable? How you spend. Happy people tend to invest across three general categories: personal growth (one-on-one time with a trainer), experiences (a half-marathon), and other people (your niece’s favorite treats). Why? Working toward something is linked with an elevated mood. Experience—more so than material goods—can further our goals.

make sweat social.

Take two similar workouts: a long solo run and a group run. “The one that involves other people will likely be associated with greater happiness,” says Lyubomirsky. That’s not to say the former should be eliminated from your routine, but anything that puts you in contact with other people is also linked with a boost in mood, she adds. Most research suggest the good friends provide the most joy, but even weak social ties and strangers can bring you well-being.

use all five senses.

The act of savoring involves extracting the maximum enjoyment out of your life or your daily experiences, says Lyubomirsky. There are plenty of activities we rush through: commutes, errands, work, even fitness. “To get the most contentment, you want to savor these experiences; and the best way to savor is to use your five senses,” she says. Start small: The more you stop to feel the sun on your shoulders or take in the aroma of your coffee, the more happiness you’ll extract, she says.

track your tracking.

Self-evaluation is a double-edged sword: Research suggests you need to track your progress to meet your goals, but also that, in excess, being a number-cruncher can backfire, says Lyubomirsky, becoming unhealthy or ineffective. Your best bet may be a blended approach—listening to both your body and a device. One study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that measuring your heart rate or speed on any given run—and comparing it to past attempts—is an accurate way to quantify progress; alternate data-collecting with simply going for a run and evaluating how your body feels.