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This time of year is all about striving to be the best possible version of ourselves. But there’s one thing we often overlook when considering what we need to work on – our happiness… We’ve sifted through the latest research and spoken to the top experts to compile this easy-to-do guide of little boosts to help make this year your happiest yet.
Cute dog snaps on social media make you smile? There’s a scientific reason. University of Sheffield research found that spending just 15 minutes with man’s best friend can reduce feelings of anxiety and temporarily lower blood pressure. Don’t own a pooch? Sign up to a dog-sitting scheme, such as dogbuddy.com
The scent of ylang-ylang can have a calming and relaxing effect. Intrigued? The flower is at the heart of these feel-good fragrances: Prada La Femme*,£72.50/7,250 points (50ml, edp), Estée Lauder Private Collection*, £56/5,600 points (50ml, edp), Gucci Bamboo, £74/7,400 points (50ml, edp)
Tasty meals to help put a spring in your step
Poached eggs on wholegrain toast: this sets you up with an energy-boosting hit of vitamin B2 and magnesium. Add mushrooms or tomatoes and you’ve ticked off one of your five-a-day, too.
Salmon and chickpea salad: mix a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas (full of folic acid and iron) with brown rice and veg such as celery, broccoli, watercress and peppers, which contain folic acid to help reduce tiredness and vitamin C to help boost iron absorption. Add olive oil and lemon juice, then mix and top with salmon, rich in vitamin B3, which helps release energy from food.
Beef with potatoes and kale: red meat and dark green, leafy veg are sources of iron, which is important for energy. Potatoes also contain vitamin C. Cook the meat and potatoes to your liking, before lightly steaming the kale.
Apples for vitamin C, dried fruit for iron and Brazil nuts and seeds for selenium, which may help improve mood. We like Boots Nibbles Mixed Nuts & Raisins, £1.99/199 points (150g).
Most people are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy, balanced diet. But if you’d like to consider a supplement, visit boots.com or head in store to see the range.
Feeling worried or nervous? Try striking a pose like our fave superhero (see left). ‘It can increase testosterone, the “dominance hormone”, and decrease cortisol, the “stress hormone”,’ says psychologist Jess Baker.
Get organised… and relax
‘I started a bullet journal – or ‘bujo’ – to help with work stress,’ says nurse Olivia, 36. ‘You list every task, aim, event, etc, in a notebook, using symbols such as dots for to-dos, arrows for events. It’s made me more organised and chilled.’ For more, go to bulletjournal.com
Put yourself in the picture
‘I downloaded the 1 Second Everyday app: you film one second of what you’re up to every day, then make it into one big video,’ explains Sam, 28, who works in PR. ‘I always watch it when I need cheering up.’
Laugh your cares away
‘I follow YouTube tutorials by Dr Madan Kataria, who started the modern laughter yoga movement,’ says accountant Aysha, 31. ‘It involves forcing yourself to laugh. It feels weird at first, but once you get into it, it’s uplifting.’
Try these in your lunch break
Practise ‘fast gratitude’
‘Being grateful lifts our mood by reminding us of the positives in our life, so we feel more satisfied,’ says psychologist Jess Baker. ‘Simply jot down everything you’re grateful for in one minute.’
Frazzled? Try Bhramari pranayama, a breathing technique in yoga. ‘It helps lift spirits,’ says therapist and self-care coach Eve Menezes Cunningham. ‘Sit comfortably, block noise with your thumbs in your ears, and hum: 30 seconds will help you relax, but five minutes will quiet a busy mind.’
Free up your feed
Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad and try these feel-good accounts instead: @weratedogs for cute pet pics; @satiregram for a hilarious social media reality-check.
Learning something new can lead to long-term happiness, because it helps make us feel competent and independent. With that in mind, here are some free online tutorials:
duolingo.com: pick up another language – you can commit to as much or as little as you want. Bonne chance!
artyfactory.com: unleash your inner Picasso.
bbc.com/food/techniques: for all that culinary know-how you’ve always wanted to master.
An act of kindness every day can help make us happier
Pay for two coffees and the second will be given to someone in need: find participating coffee shops at suspendedcoffees.com
As one in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford sanitary items, donate some to a foodbank (trusselltrust.org). Or find other ways to help at redboxproject.org
Spending on others can increase our happiness. So you could buy something thoughtful, such as a lip balm for a pal with a chapped pout.
A whopping 65% of us wouldn’t consider our neighbours ‘good ‘friends’. Time to invite yours over for coffee?
Pay someone a genuine compliment, as it’s scientifically proven to banish a bad mood. It’s easier than you think!
For do-good inspiration, check out globalgoals.org – the UN’s list of 17 goals for a better world by 2030.
Help someone to get some rest, whether it’s by babysitting for a friend with a new baby, or making breakfast for the kids so your other half gets an extra hour in bed.
Struggling to drop off to sleep = feeling grumpier than Victor Meldrew. These slumber heroes may help keep that inner grouch at bay…
Pukka Organic Night Time Herbal Tea Sachets, £2.39/239 points (20 sachets): a blissful brew of oat flower, lavender and limeflower makes the ideal nightcap.
Dr Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Soaking Solution Soothe & Sleep With Lavender, £7.99/799 points (1.36kg). Lavender adds a soothing aroma, which can create a relaxing atmosphere to help you drift off to sleep.
Champneys Professional Collection Pillow Mist£12/1,200 points (50ml). Spritz this dreamy spray over your bedlinen before nodding off.
‘The word sorry is loaded with negativity, yet we often say it unnecessarily. Ditch it in the sorts of situations below,’ says psychotherapist Catherine Asta Labbett.
‘Sorry I didn’t email sooner’
‘Things have been hectic, hence my delayed response.’
‘Sorry to be a pain, but I don’t know what this task involves’
‘Could you explain this to me, please?’
Try the Unhelpful Thinking Podcast to help you replace negative thoughts with positive ones: find it on nhs.co.uk. Listen on the move with Sony Bluetooth CH-500 Folding Headphones*, £60/6,000 points.
Words Fleur Fruzza Photography Alamy, Getty Images, Shutterstock
*Available in selected stores.