12 Cheap Ways to Hack Your Life for Happiness

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YOU'LL BE HAPPY TO HEAR THIS

What makes you happy? The third annual World Happiness Report shows that the Swiss, Icelanders, Danes, and Norwegians may have it figured out -- they score highest on a "happiness scale" out of all the countries on Earth. Having a national social support network and being able to generally trust government and fellow citizens raised those scores, report editors said, but plenty of measures of happiness are entirely personal, including generosity, compassion, and physical and mental health. That means there's a lot that individual people can do to make themselves happier, and the adage holds true: Money has nothing to do with it -- at least, not in the way you'd expect.

FOCUS ON INTRINSIC MOTIVATIONS

People who have intrinsic goals (such as being more skilled or compassionate) tend to be happier than those with extrinsic goals (making more money or buying a nicer car, for instance), says Jim Hjort, a psychotherapist who founded the Right Life Project to pass on these beliefs. But the goals can be tied together for a win-win, such as trying to become more skilled at something that will also help one's professional life.

EAT WHEN HUNGRY

There are many ties between eating and happiness. Sometimes foods are the focus; chocolate, for instance, is known to have many happiness-inducing qualities. Sometimes it is the experience; just about everyone has had a blissful moment of nostalgia when smelling or tasting a food that was a childhood favorite. Forgoing meals also sends some people straight into "hangry" mode, which is most certainly not a happy place.

JUST SAY NO

Committing to too much at once can result in stress, the antithesis of happiness for most people. Jill Liberman, a behavior therapist and author of "Choose Happy," says some people continuously say yes because they seek acceptance and approval. But by doing so they may be valuing others' acceptance or approval over their own self-respect, and it's self-respect that can actually lead to long-term happiness. Say no and take time for yourself.

SPEND MONEY ON OTHERS

Money actually can buy happiness -- just not when it's spent on oneself. A study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found that participants given money and told to spend it on others were happier than those told to keep the money. The study also found that spending more on others is a predictor of happiness.

START A GRATITUDE JOURNAL

Gratitude journals have been shown to increase happiness and set up practitioners for better sleep patterns. All that is needed is a small journal and pen. The University of California at Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center offers a few tips to keep in mind, including: Focus on people rather than things; observe how life would change if some people or things were taken away; and write only a couple of times a week to preserve the practice's significance.

BUY INEXPENSIVE EXPERIENCES

The advice to buy experiences rather than things is often touted as a key to happiness, but which experiences are worth spending money on? A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, "Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences," found that young people tend to get the most happiness from extraordinary experiences, but older people get the most happiness from ordinary experiences.

FULLY APPRECIATE THOSE EXPERIENCES

Whether they are ordinary or extraordinary, take the time and energy to fully appreciate positive experiences. Being intentionally mindful of what is happening can make the experience more intense and emotionally stimulating.

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Mindfulness-based meditation practices can help people deal with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Based in Buddhist teachings, the meditation practice can start with a simple five- or 10-minute exercise that involves focusing on one's breath and letting thoughts float by without judgment. There are many free guided exercises online, including several from the University of California at Los Angeles' Health Department.

PRETEND TO BE HAPPY UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY ARE

Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling book "The Happiness Project," says acting cheery would actually make her happier. She also makes a practice of venting all her anger before going to bed and trying new experiences, even when that means she has to "enjoy the fun of failure."

SLEEP AT LEAST SEVEN HOURS

Sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lack of sleep can lead to workplace mishaps, fatal accidents, and depression. A recommended dose is seven to eight hours a night for adults and at least 10 hours for school-age children.

PUT YOUR TROUBLES IN PERSPECTIVE

Elea Faucheron, founder of the life-coaching group Move Think Smile, says taking part in activity that forces the mind to focus on the present is one way to move past the troubles of the day. The activity can be inexpensive and fun, such as creating art from materials found around the house or hosting a cook-off with friends or family.

EXERCISE 20 MINUTES A DAY

Regular exercise can increase productivity, improve memory, and help treat depression. Studies cited in an article by Fast Compan have shown that elevated moods may be limited to the days that physical activity takes place, but a 20-minute workout is all that's needed to see the benefits.