Summer means more sun, an uptick in vacations, and more great excuses to spend time in nature. But are those environmental changes really going to make a difference in your mood? Well, it turns out, they probably will if you let them. According to a 2012 study of identical and fraternal twins, only about one-third of our happiness level is genetic. The rest is up to us.
So, if you spend summer soaking up vitamin D, giving forest bathing a try, and using your days off as a chance to disconnect from your virtual reality, you are setting yourself up to be much, much happier. If not, well, then summer's probably just as much of a bummer as every other season.
Ready to live your life to the fullest this summer? Let this bucket list inspire a few of your activities:
1. Grab a good read.
As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” Plus, reading can make you more empathetic. Getting lost in a good read can make it easier for you to relate to others. Literary fiction and self-discovery memoirs like Eat, Pray, Love; Wild; or Adventures for Your Soul have the power to help readers be more sensitive to what others are thinking and feeling by introducing them to the inner monologue of the narrator.
Check out this summer book list for a few great suggestions.
2. Ditch the digital.
Using Facebook is correlated to a weaker sense of well-being and stronger feelings of envy. These effects can be reversed by prioritizing in-person quality time. Other countries are even making regulations surrounding the use of technology. A new French law bans employees from checking work emails after 6 p.m. in an effort to reclaim happiness. Set a firm limit on your daily screen time to make the most of the summer sun.
3. Hit the beach (or lake or pool).
Views of the ocean and other blue spaces make us happier than other landscapes. Wallace J. Nichols, a scientist and author of Blue Mind, a book about how water improves our health and mood, points to the feelings of awe and wonder we have when we gaze at oceans, lakes, or rivers.
4. Hug your furry friends (or someone else's).
Pet owners have greater self-esteem and tend to be less fearful. Adopt a furry friend and give it lots of love. Having a pet makes us healthier and happier.
5. Celebrate your unique, beautiful self.
Do you deflect compliments or feel insecure when you look in the mirror? You aren't alone. More than 90 percent of women want to change themselves or dislike a certain aspect of themselves. Research suggests that the media negatively affects how we judge both ourselves and others. That's yet another reason to take a break from screens. Start to celebrate your unique self. For some motivation, check out Embrace, a documentary about size and shape by Taryn Brumfitt.
6. Do something you've never done before.
It doesn't matter what it is. Pick something you've always wanted to do—whether it's getting a tattoo, going sky diving, or taking a dance class, and just stop putting it off. Going outside your comfort zone is one of the best ways to grow, to learn about yourself, to feel more engaged in and excited about life, and to meet new, like-minded people.
7. Be honest with the people you love.
Sharing your true feelings with loved ones is key to happiness. Being able to express yourself and be heard, as well as listen to others with understanding, will help you feel more loved and cared for. What difficult conversation have you been putting off? Talk it out today.
8. Do nothing but watch the sunset.
One of the most relaxing ways to appreciate life’s gifts is to watch the sunset. To take that time away from stimulus, distraction, and stress to just be is a beautiful way to reconnect with yourself and the world around you.
9. Wake up for the sunrise (at least once).
Spending more time awake during daylight hours can increase your levels of vitamin D, which the body synthesizes when skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is one of those happy-making elements we all need, and starting the day with the sun is an incredibly motivational, inspiring practice.
10. Eat more happy meals. (Not the McDonald's kind.)
What you eat can have a huge impact on your neurotransmitters, which are directly connected to your mood. Instead of reaching for packaged foods, eat slow, organic foods. Reach for healthy fats, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most abundant fatty acid in the brain and an important moderator of mood and mental health.
11. Smile at strangers.
If you’re feeling stressed or negative, you can dig yourself out of that hole by putting a smile on your face. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which are natural pain relievers. Best of all, smiling forces your brain out of a negative state and gives positivity a chance to get in there. The more you smile, the more positive thought patterns you'll have.
12. Forgive yourself and others.
Everyone has been hurt by someone else's actions at some point. Whether you're mad at yourself for hurting someone, or at someone else for hurting you, forgiveness is crucial to both emotional and physical health.
Forgiveness can help you focus on the future and the good in your life right now. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy, and compassion for the one who hurt you. And it's not even something you have to do for the other person. It's something you do for yourself.
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