Cheap and Easy Ways to Get Happy

Who says the road to nirvana is lined with megabucks and designer handbags? Experts are now discovering it's the little (and often free!) things that lead to true happiness like these bliss boosters.

There's good news in the joy business these days: Recent research suggests it's not a fancy lifestyle that makes people happy. "Rather, any effortless pleasure or thing that strengthens social bonds or gives you a positive sense of control has measurable mental benefits," says Leaf Van Boven, associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. So we teased out the latest tips from positive-psychology pros. They’re all easy and potent ...and most don’t cost a dime.

Flower Power
A cheap sunflower stem for your desk gives a bunch of benefits in one. It has associations with the sun and an almost human-looking face, and the color of its petals has been shown to evoke positive emotions. Plus, people with plants in their offices actually feel happier about their jobs, according to a new study in HortScience.

Give a Pup a Massage
Just hanging around an animal has been shown to reduce stress and lower your blood pressure. But if Fido is high-strung, you can both benefit from rubbing him down, starting around his neck and moving down his spine in small circular movements. He’ll be relaxed and ready to unleash more of that unconditional love. Plus, you’ll get a boost from making another creature feel great.

Take the Long Way Home
Routines comfort humans, but ironically, switching them up and making them more novel also creates positive emotions. Once a week, throw a curve into your commute by swinging by a park on the way home or taking a river road to enjoy the scenery.

Gleeful Eating
Who doesn’t love to chow? Follow these tips to get an even bigger mood boost from your meals.
1. Choose a white plate. Its clean palette accentuates the positive emotions you get from looking at a variety of hues and focuses your senses, making food taste better.
2. Color code your meals. A rainbow of colors makes you happy, but red may trigger you to eat more, so add yellow corn, some peppers, purple eggplant, and a sprig of mint or parsley.
3. Order first at a restaurant. After the first person goes, others tend to choose differently and wind up less satisfied with their pick, says Dan Ariely, PhD, author of Predictably Irrational.

Love Notes
Firing one off to your man or even a great friend can bring you a feeling of contentment, says financial adviser Brent Kessel, author of It’s Not About the Money. So we brought in singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, whose romantic songs are iTunes best sellers, to help craft the perfect one.
1. Know your subject. If the object of your affection loves a certain food, color, quote, or animal, write about that. Be specific.
2. Avoid the words heart, soul, rose, forever, and die. All are grossly overused and make you seem unoriginal.
3. Don’t rhyme. Ever.
4. Illustrations are always cool.
5. Make him/her smile. Laughter is the best aphrodisiac.

Just Say No
The happiest people feel they have power over their time, says David G. Myers author of The Pursuit of Happiness. Say “Sorry, I’m already booked” to a distant cousin’s shower or a nonessential work lunch.

Light a Scented Candle for No Reason
Stop saving your pretty pillar for entertaining and hookups. (What, you alone aren’t worth it?) Burn that thing to wick’s end, especially in a scent like lavender or green apple, which have been proven to lift your mood.

Eat Nostalgic Snacks
You sorta recall loving Fruit Roll-Ups or s’mores as a kid, but chances are, it’s been a million years since you’ve had them. Let us reintroduce you to their selling points: (a) Yum, and (b) the taste flashback brings up the sweet memories linked to these treats.

Set an Absurdly Easy Goal
Even if it’s just Get to work on time, Clean out wallet, or Make homemade vinaigrette, “accomplishments, no matter how insignificant, strengthen your sense of control over your life, and happiness is a by-product of feeling in control,” says psychologist John Reich, PhD.

Let that mountain of laundry slide for a weekend, and instead, simply read a great book or take a walk in nature. If you can’t hang out at home without guilt, apartment-sit for a pal. “Most of us are wired to do things to make ourselves happy, but just being in the moment creates joy,” says Kessel.

Find Your Perfect Hue
Painting a wall at home can have a mood-boosting effect, says psychologist Nancy J. Stone, PhD, who studies the impact of color. It’s thought that blue is calming (ideal for bedrooms) and green creates a relaxed feeling (good for living rooms). Yellow is said to be cheery — a great kitchen hue.

Go for a Run
Scientists recently confirmed the existence of the endorphin-fueled runner’s high, so get out there and go till you hit your wall. Then ride the exercise buzz...and the sense of satisfaction, whether you made it 1 mile or 10.

Crack Open a Cold One Postsweat
After Ultimate Frisbee with pals, try drinking a beer. It can actually help you rehydrate and prevent muscle pain, says a University of Granada study.

Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.