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What does it mean to be happy, really? It’s an age-old question—and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Happiness is deeply personal, and everyone’s journey is different— it’s really all about figuring out what you need to find your bliss. And, to be clear upfront, getting that dream job, finding love, or winning the lottery aren’t the answer to happiness. While those things might bring temporary happiness, evidence suggests that finding joy is deeper than just getting what you want in a given moment. Happiness comes from within, not from what happens to us.
“There are many factors that contribute to happiness,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness. “Happiness really is more internal than external, so it’s how you feel about yourself, other people, and the world around you. It’s how you think, how you behave on a daily basis that influences happiness the most.”
Here’s where we come in. Happiness is something you need to cultivate daily—and there are a number of actions you can take, big and small, backed by science and experts, to find your happy. Try our two-week challenge to a happier you! You can follow the guide day-by-day for fourteen days to see what works best for you, or you can browse through each day and pick your favorites to try at your leisure if that seems more approachable. If you’re a GH+ member, you can also find additional challenges and guides in our portal to help you on your happiness journey.
A sneak peek at what’s ahead:
✔️ Focusing on your relationship with yourself and others
✔️ Creating happy-making routines
✔️ Building boundaries for a healthier lifestyle
Ready to reach for joy? Get started today, and take your happiness to new levels in just two weeks!
Day 1: Practice self care
Self-care is a broad term, and sometimes people confuse self-care with self-indulgence, or an act of selfishness. But self-care really is about nourishing bodies and minds so that we can be the best version of ourselves in all areas of life: “When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more likely to feel fatigued and get physical symptoms, like stress-related headaches or pain,” says Helen L. Coons, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist specializing in women’s behavioral health and wellness at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “The biggest thing is being intentional of how we take care of ourselves. When we’re not last on the task list, we have more energy to do what’s important to us.”
To start on a path toward better self-care and create a self-care routine, try looking at the things that make you feel revitalized and add more of those things to your weekly schedule. Everybody has a different version of self-care, but we can all agree that neglecting yourself can detract from happiness, Lyubomirsky explains. Acts of self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy, healthy, and rejuvenated. Try these ideas ideas that might work for you:
✔️ Rest and relaxation: engage in some “me time” with a luxurious bath complete with scented candles and epsom salt. Go the extra mile with a do-it-yourself manicure and pedicure, hair mask, or face mask (or all three, we’re not judging).
✔️ Get moving: try an impromptu, stress-busting dance party to revive your body and mind. Add in your favorite tunes and let loose whenever and wherever the mood strikes you.
✔️ Be kind: a random act of kindness can put things in perspective and help you see goodness and positivity in the world. “Helping others actually helps people feel happier,” Lyubomirsky says. So try offering up compliments, or holding doors for others, for a true mood-boosting activity.
Day 2: Find serenity in solitude
Connecting with yourself is a key way to find your version of happiness. Privacy away from the external world to be alone with your thoughts and find a sense of calm is a great way to disconnect from distractions and look inward.
We’re wired for connecting with others, so finding solitude might seem difficult at first. But it is absolutely necessary—a study by the University of California, Santa Cruz revealed that solitude is a “biological need; that solitude supports identity development as well as intimacy with others; and that solitude promotes happiness.” Try looking at solitude as a way to recharge your mind and reconnect with your values to allow better connection with others.
Try to develop a daily practice by spending some time alone every day, noticing your thoughts, and directing them toward “the greatest ideal of yourself,” says Joe Dispenza, a personal- transformation teacher featured in the movie What the BLEEP Do We Know!?
Day 3: Build better boundaries
Healthy boundaries are rooted in self-love and have a significant impact on our overall happiness. If you feel exhausted, over-extended, or as if you’re doing too much for others at the expense of yourself, it might be time to reconsider your habits.“Boundaries establish healthy relationships and a sense of identity,” says Brian Wind, Ph.D., chief clinical officer at JourneyPure addiction centers. “They boost your self-esteem and reduce resentment and anger.”
“The first step is identifying that you’re doing too much,” explains Daniel Bristow, M.D., FAPA, board-certified psychiatrist and Physician Editor for Behavioral Health for MCG Health. Simply realize that you might be doing a lot for others, but not enough for yourself to feel healthy and happy. You can then look at the individual factors of your life that might be contributing to those feelings.
“Learning to say no is a valuable key in boundary setting,” says Dr. Bristow. “It doesn’t have to be confrontational, it can be as simple as admitting you’re having a hard time with something, or you’re not available.” Say no to the things you can’t commit to, and notice how it makes you feel. With practice, the people in your life will understand and you will become a better friend, family member, or employee by protecting your energy.
Day 4: Nourish your connections
While taking time to be with yourself is important to well-being, happy people find a balance between self-connection and connecting with others. There’s a reason why we feel so good while grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, or after chatting on the phone with a family member. Our social connections often feel like necessary components to our lives—because they are: In fact, a qualitative study on happiness at the end of life revealed that patients receiving palliative care held a common message for younger people, which was to prioritize “social connection and engagement with the natural world.”
The relationships we have with others have an extreme impact on our emotional health and happiness, as well as our physical health, explains Brigham Young psychology and neuroscience professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D. “We need to take our social relationships as seriously as we take our diet, exercise, nutrition, and everything else that we know affects our health,” she says.
There are so many ways we can combat loneliness and nourish our social connections. Try reaching out to friends or family members, old and new. Video and phone calls are great alternatives to a lunch or date if distance is an issue with you and your loved ones. Making new connections is something we can all benefit from, too. Try volunteering at an animal shelter or food pantry, or taking classes and joining clubs where you’ll be likely to find people with similar interests by visiting local event listings or sites like Meetup, an online tool for finding events and clubs or communities.
Day 5: Find joy in everything
It might seem like happier people are simply more grateful by nature, but it turns out experts say that gratitude actually increases happiness. “Gratitude basically is the antidote to negative emotions and taking things for granted,” says Lyubomirsky. This is because expressing gratitude to others makes you feel more positive about life in general. Practicing gratitude affirms the goodness in life, ourselves, and others which then paves the road for a happier mindset overall.
“It’s important for us not to keep our thanks silent,” says Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. “Gratitude requires action.” So how can you start being more grateful? There are so many ways to look for the love, kindness, and joy around us, but here are a few tips to get you started:
✔️ Gratitude letters: writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has shown you kindness or made a positive impact somehow is sure to boost both your happiness and the recipient’s. This activity will allow you to realize the power certain connections have in providing joy and make the people in your life feel appreciated.
✔️ Fall asleep happy: try focusing on three things you feel grateful for before going to sleep each night. These things can include people in your life who are important to you, something good that happened that day, or something you have to look forward to. Write them down, speak them out loud, or tell them to a family member or friend.
✔️ Focus on little things: sometimes it really is the little things in life that make us the happiest. We tend to get caught up in the major are as of life like work and relationships, but expressing thanks for sunshine after a rainy day or a kind person at the grocery store can easily restore a strong sense of gratitude.
Day 6: Quit complaining
Do you ever wonder if you complain too much? We all complain to some extent, whether about traffic on the way to work or a sink full of dishes. But did you know that if you quit complaining, you’ll likely find yourself happier? Complaining might feel good, and instinctual even, but it keeps the focus on the negative.
“Sometimes complaining is valid,” Dr. Bristow explains. “It can be a way of saying something is wrong. Understanding if a complaint is valid, and if it is, further exploring and addressing the issue is necessary.” If you are complaining to communicate an issue try shifting the focus toward problem solving rather than toward the negative emotions associated with the problem.
However, “we have such a tendency to get caught up in a cycle of complaining and catastrophizing,” says Robin Kowalski, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Clemson University and author of Complaining, Teasing, and Other Annoying Behaviors. “Ask yourself, Does the evidence really support that things are as bad as I think?” If you are complaining, well just to complain, try taking a step back to look at the why in the situation.
Practice questioning yourself and those negative thoughts to form a better perspective. Kowalski advises to write down the things that are bothersome instead, or to simply pause for a moment. Gratitude exercises, like we practiced yesterday, can be helpful in countering the negative emotions associated with complaining too, Dr. Bristow adds. To end a habit of complaining, invite yourself to be more mindful and intentional with your thoughts and feelings. Make a commitment to linger in the positive to find a path toward less complaints, more gratitude, and more happiness.
Day 7: Live in laughter
It turns out that laughter really is the best medicine. In fact, laughter is proven to increase happiness and self-esteem, as well as reduce anxiety, one study shows. “When we experience stress, our brain releases cortisol and adrenaline, which causes our blood pressure and heart rate to go up, muscles to tense, and the immune system to take a hit,” says Karyn Buxman, R.N., author ofLead With Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders.
“When we laugh, the brain releases happy hormones that lower inflammation in the body, boost cardiovascular health, relax your muscles, and enable you to concentrate and connect with others,” Buxman explains. Laughter, then, is truly an antidote to the negative effects of stress, and instrumental in promoting happiness as well as a general sense of well-being.
So where can you find the prescription for laughter? Almost anywhere, really! Make a habit out of looking for laughter: You can take time to find videos of things you find funny, watch a favorite sitcom, or even keep a list on your phone of things you find funny throughout the day to share with someone later on. “When you force yourself to look for funny things, you start to see humor in everything,” says Buxman.
Day 8: Let healthy food inspire happiness
Did you know that it’s possible to eat your way to happiness? Healthy foods that nourish your brain and body can have a true impact on mood and there are specific foods you can look to for boosting happiness and well-being. So what exactly is healthy eating anyway? Healthy eating can be understood as having a diet “balanced in all food groups, focusing on nutrient-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy,” explains Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., a culinary nutrition and communications dietitian based in Westchester, New York. “A healthy diet also leaves room for some foods that may not be as nutrient-rich, but are enjoyed on occasion.”
Levinson explains that eating healthy foods helps keep blood sugar levels stable, which helps maintain energy and focus throughout the day. “Certain foods also have an effect on neurotransmitters in the brain, which affect mood,” Levinson notes. For example, a study in the journal Nutrients discusses the effect oranges, bananas, and tomatoes have on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that's involved in the coordination of body movements, motivation, and reward.
Care to try a healthy, mood-boosting recipe? Discover Levinson’s Mediterranean Sheet Pan Salmon With Zucchini, Corn, and Tomatoes—a delicious, well-rounded meal that’s quick and easy to make.
Day 9: Add a few minutes of movement
You may have heard of the term “runner’s high,” and you probably know that exercise is extremely good for you. But did you know that exercise really can make you happier? Studies show a positive relationship between physical activity and happiness, noting that as little as ten minutes of exercise per week can result in greater happiness.
If running or hitting the gym isn’t quite your thing, don’t worry, any type of exercise will do. Try moving more in any way that speaks to you: stretching, walking, a simple yoga session, or even a dance party around your bedroom. These are all simple and fun activities that will be beneficial for your health and happiness, too.
“With yoga, you can calm your mind and find joy by moving your body and controlling your breath,” says Nicole Glor, fitness instructor and creator of NikkiFitness. There are so many yoga poses that are beginner-friendly to get you started. Dancing also has mood-boosting benefits! Even if you don’t quite have the rhythm, you can still reap the rewards by dancing around your bedroom while you get ready for your day, or grab a friend and join a dancing class. And if yoga and dance don’t quite pique your interest either, an activity as simple as walking can bring you joy and reduce stress.
Day 10: Search for meaning
Sometimes it can feel like you are just going through the motions; doing what’s necessary for the day-to-day and not truly savoring your life. Realizing what provides meaning to you personally is a necessary component to feeding your happiness. “Meaning and purpose are critical to happiness, and what gives a person meaning is going to differ by the individual,” Lyubomirsky explains. Finding the most authentic version of yourself who learns, grows, and reaches for joy will ultimately provide a life that feels worth living.
So how can you find this sense of meaning or purpose? Dr. Bristow recommends reflecting on times in your life that were especially happy, and considering the things that contributed to that sense of happiness. Think: “What was I doing, who was I around, what was I thinking, what might have changed and led me to a sort of stalemate?” Trying out new hobbies can be useful in finding meaning and happiness, too. The possibilities are endless and entirely up to you, but these ideas can help get you started:
✔️ Find your inner chef: Cooking can be a fun and useful hobby. As you learn your way around the kitchen you’ll discover a power to try new flavors and techniques, and enjoy the fruits of your labor, too. Look toward healthy cookbooks for inspiration or try some of our favorite nutritious dinner recipes.
✔️ Start snapping: Photography is often thought of as a skill for the professionals, but thanks to smartphones, most of us have almost constant access to great cameras. Taking photos can expose you to new interests too, like bird-watching, nature walks, or working with others.
Day 11: Be one with nature
Making time for being outdoors can boost your happiness big time, and it’s a really simple strategy to implement every day. “The vast majority of evidence points in one direction: We can be happier, healthier, and smarter if we weave more nature into our lives,” says leading naturalist Richard Louv, the author of The Nature Principle. Many studies support this theory, reporting that when people connect with nature, they tend to have a greater sense of well-being, happiness and even higher levels of personal growth.
So how can you spend more time outdoors?
- Take your lunch break outside
- Walk in the park or find a nearby trail
- Visit a botanical garden if trails and parks are inaccessible
- Join a community garden
- Try walking barefoot to really connect with nature
Day 12: Start a morning routine
Waking up in the morning is usually difficult for most people, but waking up on the right side of the bed really is key to having a day full of happiness and positivity. One way to get a leg up on the day, every day, is by starting a morning routine. Whether or not you consider yourself a morning person, crafting a morning routine offers so many benefits for the mood.
“Routines in general are very calming for the brain as our brains thrive on patterns,” says Judy Ho, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist in Manhattan Beach, CA. Creating a morning routine helps create a sense of stability, calmness, clarity, and confidence which sets a positive tone for the rest of the day. Some great tips for your morning routine could include: waking up earlier, indulging in a skincare routine, setting intentions, meditation, spending time outdoors, and more. Simply being mindful and present in your usual activities can help you feel grounded and positive throughout the day.
Day 13: Dive into meditation
Meditation is often endorsed as a happiness tool, and for good reason. The idea of sitting still and clearing your mind might not make you jump for joy, but research shows that mindfulness activities such as meditation can improve your mood and health, and “doing so as a regular activity helps people feel less reactive to stress and helps them feel more in tune with emotions,” says Dr. Bristow. One study reveals that people who have meditated long-term show changes in areas of the brain concerned with stress and anxiety, while another shows meditation to have positive effects on depression.
There are so many ways to start meditating, you might just have to find the style that suits you. Even just a few minutes of meditation can be powerful in boosting the mood. Mindfulness meditation is arguably the most common, and it involves quieting the mind, focusing on feelings, and stopping distractions. Loving kindness meditation is another useful way to meditate which asks you to breathe deeply and send loving thoughts out into the world or to specific people by reciting mantras like “may you receive happiness and good health,” or anything else that really speaks to you.
Day 14: Make your space happy
Our living spaces are great representations of who we are, and how we design those spaces affect our mood, productivity, and outlook on life. To truly make a happy home—and a happy you, consider things like colors and patterns to start.
While there might not be a specific color to bring happiness, there are some hues that seem to have specific advantages to us which we can use to boost the mood, explains Sally Augustin, Ph.D., environmental/design psychologist and the principal at Design With Science. For example: green has been linked to enhanced creative performance, while blue is linked to restfulness.
Brighter, or lighter colors also offer a sense of calm, while more saturated, or pure colors are energizing. “You will be happier if whatever color you’ve got aligns with the activity you have in mind,” Augustin adds. Patterns can have a similar effect. “In your home generally in order to be in a relaxed, positive state, you don’t want to be overloaded visually,” says Augustin. Try sticking to one or two patterns per room, and if the patterns share similar colors, even better.
Simple mood boosting tips for your home:
✔️ Let the light in: Open up your drapes so as much natural light as possible flows into your home. “Natural light is like magic for us in terms of boosting our mood,” Augustin says.
✔️ Add some greenery: green, leafy plants will boost your mood and help you refresh mentally. If you’re bad with plants, don’t worry. Fake plants will give the same sort of psychological boost as real plants.
✔️ Clear out the clutter: We can feel tense when there is too much happening visually. But you don’t have to feel like you have to get rid of the things you love; try storing things like photos and knick knacks and rotate them around your home periodically.
Shannen Zitz is an Assistant Editor at Prevention, where she covers all things lifestyle, wellness, beauty, and relationships. Previously the Editorial Assistant at Prevention, she graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland with a bachelor's degree in English. If she’s not reading or writing, you can probably find her frequenting the skincare and makeup forums on Reddit or hogging the squat rack at the gym.
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