Do you want to be happier? CNN compiled 23 happiness hacks that are backed by science.  Incorporate as many of these into your life as you can, and you’ll be on your way to a happier, healthier you.

The feel-good effects of exercise are often attributed to endorphins, but anandamide may actually deserve the credit. Anandamideis a neurotransmitter and endocannabinoid produced in your brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.  It’s a derivative of the Sanskrit word “bliss,” and a deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and stress.  Anandamide levels are known to increase during and following exercise. A recent animal study similarly found that anandamide might be responsible for producing a “runner’s high” in mice.
Exercise also boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. It’s even one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.

Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise — some even see it as a “fad” — it’s really a comprehensive practice that integrates mental, physical, and spiritual elements.  With regards to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another. As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well.  In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may gain some needed flexibility as well.  Research suggests yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and boosting serotonin. It’s known to benefit mild depression and anxiety, too.

Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which helps your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. One 2012 study found people who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression than those who ate the least.  Furthermore, research from the University of Otago found eating fruits and vegetables of any sort (except fruit juice and dried fruit) helped young adults calm their nerves.  Department of Psychology researcher Tamlin Conner, Ph.D. said:
“On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier, and more energetic than they normally did.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to help you deal more effectively with situations that fill you with anxiety. It teaches you to recognize and reverse harmful thought patters and replace them with positive ones.  In a systematic review of 11 studies, no statistically significant difference in effectiveness was found between second-generation antidepressants and CBT.

Adorn Your Home with Fresh Flowers
People who looked at flowers first thing in the morning reported feeling happier and more energetic.  Just be sure your cut flowers come from organic growers (or your own backyard).

Think Happy and Smile
Simply thinking about a positive event and smiling, can make you happier and more upbeat (more so than simply fake smiling, which is actually linked to worsened mood).  A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to increased mood.

Light Therapy
Full-spectrum light therapy is often recommended over antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but according to recent research, light therapy may be preferable even for major depression.  Light therapy alone and placebo were both more effective than Prozac for the treatment of moderate to severe depression in the eight-week study. Blue light has been found to be particularly beneficial for boosting your mood, as it plays a key role in your brain’s ability to process emotions.

Open Your Shades
If you don’t have a light box, at least open your shades and let the sunshine in. A brighter living or work area will help to boost your mood.

**Stay tuned for the next installment of Clear Connections Happiness Hacks!