Seven tips for a happier daily life

Is it true that we’re either happy – or not? Happiness researcher Tobias Esch believes each of us is responsible for our own happiness. We just have to give our brains the right stimuli.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller; photo: Nine Köpfer/Unsplash

Happiness is fragile. What makes us happy can change from one minute to the next, because our brain quickly gets used to stimuli. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon: At the start of a new relationship our hearts race when we look at our partner, but this gradually fades and, ideally, gives way to a calmer, warmer feeling. “Another example is the euphoria you feel after your first bungee jump. The thrill is never so great when you jump for a second, third or fourth time”, says happiness researcher and doctor Tobias Esch.

The good news is that the reward centre in our brain is involved in the production of these feelings of happiness – and it can be reprogrammed. This works especially well with rituals that are not only linked to anticipation, but also have a demonstrably positive effect on our psyche. Tobias Esch suggests that we use the BERN model as a point of reference, where B stands for Behaviour, E for Exercise, R for Relaxation and N for Nutrition. If we set positive stimuli in these areas, we not only experience anticipation, but feel good during the activity, too – every time.

Seven simple tips

Keep active: “Exercise always helps,” says Tobias Esch, “both physical and mental”. In other words, it’s a good idea to complete tasks and challenges that keep your brain alert. And get out in the fresh air at least once a day. Tobias Esch’s explanation: The reward system in our brain loves exercise. This is where it all comes together: the anticipation, strenuous activity, satisfaction and the feeling of tiredness afterwards.

Surround yourself with positive people: It’s no secret that hanging out with positive people who are close to you makes you feel good. And this works on a number of levels: the social interaction keeps us alert and takes our mind off our problems, gives us a sense of purpose and security – even at times when we don’t feel good.

Use all your senses: think about tasting, smelling and hearing the world around you – our reward centre loves it when we use all our senses on a daily basis. This way, you’ll be totally in the moment, which is a basic requirement for happiness.

Interval fasting: It sounds surprising, but it is scientifically proven that interval fasting is good for our mental well-being. “If you fast regularly for 12 to 14 hours, you have fewer inflammatory processes in the body and will also be rewarded with a reward stimulus,” explains Tobias Esch.

Conscious mini breaks: Tobias Esch recommends that we incorporate mini islands of inner contemplation into our daily routine. These can be brief, fleeting moments: consciously pause and take in your surroundings, for example when you enter a room or meet someone. These little rituals bring you back to the now.

Meditate: Many people find it hard to meditate, but give it a try. There are now good meditation apps to help you get started. The positive effect is scientifically proven: Meditation helps you find your centre, stay balanced, be in the here and now, and gather your thoughts.

Change your focus: Especially when things aren’t going well, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that we’re responsible for our own happiness. To a large extent we can influence how we think and act. And if something doesn’t go to plan, taking a step back and observing the mechanisms and triggers can help break through the negative spirals. This brings us back to point 1, when we need to take our mind off our problems with exercise.

Runner’s high

It’s true that physically demanding sports can create a feeling of exhilaration. Take marathon running, for example. The body releases the messenger substances adrenalin and dopamine even in the run-up to the event. During the run, endorphins, endocannabinoids and the body’s own morphines are produced, which trigger a state similar to intoxication and reduce pain. These morphines and endocannabinoids remain in the body for some time even after you've crossed the finish line and started your recovery.