While numerous studies have tried to determine whether money can buy you happiness, even those that say “yes” can’t quite agree on the threshold amount.
As we enter the final push toward a release from lockdown, you might find you need an emotional boost. Thankfully, psychologists and social scientists have identified many things you can do to improve your happiness for free.
Here are five ways to make yourself happier without breaking the bank.
1. Be curious
In 2007, Todd Kashdan and Michael Steger of George Mason University and Colorado State University surveyed 97 undergraduates. Through personality questionnaires and three-week diaries, they found that those participants who scored highly on curiosity enjoyed more “life satisfaction”.
Being more curious might mean asking more questions.
Be open to admitting there are things you don’t know, question your beliefs, and be willing to accept that they might be wrong.
Whether you read, write, or start a new hobby, there is always something new to learn so never stop taking new information in.
Curiosity can make you happier and relieve boredom but try to avoid multitasking. Instead, concentrate on one field and satisfy your curiosity in that area before moving onto the next.
2. Experience awe (or read about someone else experiencing it)
The Greater Good Science Centre based at the University of Berkeley, California has been conducting long-term research into awe.
Since 2003, scientists there have been measuring the effects on happiness, health, and even our personalities, of experiencing the truly awe-inducing.
In your day-to-day life that might mean chancing upon a stunning countryside view while walking the dog, gazing up at the stars on a clear night, or listening to a piece of music that moves and inspires you.
Research suggests that you might not even need to experience these moments yourself.
A 2012 study of over 100 participants found that reading about an ascent of the Eiffel Tower, with its associated views over Paris, inspired a greater sense of awe than a similar story about an unnamed tower above an unremarkable landscape.
Reading travel and adventure stories set in extraordinary or exotic landscapes could also make you happier.
With many classic works of literature out of copyright and available for free, and with Google Earth offering virtual tours of some of the world’s most impressive landscapes, you won’t need to part with a penny.
3. Seek out culture
The Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT Study) in Norway is one of the largest health studies ever conducted. It began in 1984 and currently has a database containing information on 230,000 people.
In 2012, a HUNT study of 50,000 people found a “significant association” between participation in cultural activities – both creative and receptive – and good health. This included high levels of life satisfaction and low levels of anxiety and depression.
If you are feeling creative, seeking out culture might mean joining a choir, a book club, or a painting group. If you want to experience cultural activities without participating yourself, you might attend a play or a concert.
While coronavirus restrictions remain in place consider live streams and archived performances. If you can’t find an online club to join, find like-minded friends or family members and start your own.
4. Take some fresh air
Recently, we looked at how the Japanese art of “forest bathing” could improve your physical and mental wellbeing and it could also make you happier. Forest bathing, or “shinrin yoku” as it is known in its native Japan, is about relaxing in nature, opening your senses to the forest to increase health and happiness.
There are other ways to enjoy fresh air and exercise. Walking the dog and gardening are simple and easy, as is taking a short camping break. If you are looking for something more strenuous you might consider hiking, jogging, or even wild swimming.
During the first national lockdown, as restrictions closed indoor swimming pools, the numbers of UK wild swimmers rose.
The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) was forced to remove its online map – highlighting the best open water swimming spots in the UK – for fear of overcrowding. The website received three times its usual visits during lockdown. The map has been unavailable since June 2020 and has not yet come back online.
You’ll need to search out your own local wild swimming spot for now, but it is an easy and free way to embrace nature, enjoying the beauty around you while improving your wellbeing and overall happiness.
5. Live healthily
The NHS recommends a healthy lifestyle as one of its six tips for a happier you. Here are three ways you might improve your overall health:
Be sure to get enough sleep
You need around seven to eight hours of sleep a night on average and remember that the quality of that sleep is important too.
Use routines – both in the evening and each morning – to maintain regular patterns. Relaxing before bed, staying off electronic devices, and using SAD lamps to regulate light in your room can help.
Maintain a balanced diet
A good diet will help maintain your physical health. Making positive choices about food can improve your emotional wellbeing too.
Picking the healthy option can lift your spirits, improving your self-esteem, and ultimately making you happier.
Limit your alcohol intake
Cutting down on alcohol could be one way to improve your sleep. It could also make you more energetic and help you to lose weight.
The NHS also points to the strong link between heavy drinking and depression. Drinking can make feelings of anxiety or sadness worse, so cutting down could save you money and improve your mental health.