March 22, 2023

How to be happy in tough times: 5 more habits to start

By Sun Life Staff

You may not be able to buy happiness, but you can still channel it – even during uncertain times. Here’s how.

It's possible to be happy even in the most difficult circumstances. How? Put happiness practices first. By doing so, you can do two things:

  1. Recognize thought patterns (e.g. positive and negative thinking).
  2. Forge connections with others.

In 4 ways to stay positive during difficult times, we learned habits to help cultivate happiness. Now, let’s look at 5 more ways to be happy.

5 ways to be happier

1. Just breathe (slowly!)

What often happens when you're worried, upset or anxious? Your heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly and blood rushes to your brain. That “fight or flight” response once helped us survive. If this stress becomes chronic, it can cause or exacerbate serious health conditions

Thankfully, there is something within everyone’s reach to counter stress -- just breathe.

Studies have shown that controlled breathing can help make you feel calm and alleviate depression. You may have experienced the calming effect of deep or controlled breathing through yoga or meditation practices.

You can practice deep breathing anywhere, anytime – yoga pants optional. Just 2 minutes, once or twice a day is all you need.

There’s an easy way to start. Simply inhale for 5 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds.

Slowly work toward making the exhales longer: inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8.

Longer exhales slow your heart rate and calm you more quickly.

2. Give back and help others

Having a narrow-minded view of our own situation can lead to negativity. Using your time and talents to help others can lift your own spirits. 

Studies overwhelmingly show that those who volunteer live longer and healthier lives. And through MRI imaging, we see how giving lights up the pleasure centres of our brains.

It’s important to take care of yourself. But helping others can brighten your own mood. So do the self-care, but also: 

So many important charities need your help. More and more people are now taking action to support causes like diversity and anti-racism. If you’re looking to start giving, here’s how you can start

3. Become more grateful

In positive psychological research, there’s a strong link between gratitude and greater happiness. Practicing gratitude puts the spotlight on what you’re thankful for. This is especially important when bad news seems to be everywhere. 

Gratitude focuses our attention on what we have, rather than what we don’t. Another bonus? It squeezes out the negative feelings that can be more present.

So what are some easy ways to practice gratitude every day?

  1. Thank someone, either in person, by email or just by offering mental thanks.
  2. Write down things you are grateful for in a journal.

If you meditate, you can use that time to focus on whatever it is that you’re grateful for. It might feel contrived at first. Be patient: it gets easier over time and with practice.

4. Take a social media break

Focusing on other people's lives can make us feel inadequate. Seeing photos of other people’s ‘perfect’ lives on social media can make that feeling worse. 

Research shows that we tend to compare ourselves to the most visible and accomplished people. By doing so, we’re unconsciously stealing our own joy.

For example, you may compare your:

  • career to the most successful person in your line of work, or
  • your fitness level to your friend who runs marathons.

Celebrate your own accomplishments instead of comparing yourself to others. And take a break from social media if it doesn't bring you happiness.

5. Connect with friends and make new ones

Connection is a cornerstone of happiness. Studies have even found that people who feel isolated tend to feel more depressed. This is especially true for adults aged 50 and up.

Fostering a sense of community can counter feelings of isolation. But how do you do it? 

Start by spending more time with your closest friends and family. Connecting in person, by video chat or by phone all count! Coworkers can be a lifeline, too. Get to know them (even if only virtually) on a deeper level than day-to-day routine. 

You can widen your circle by connecting with the people in your community. Getting to know local shopkeepers and restaurateurs creates a sense of shared responsibility for your neighbourhood.

For better or for worse, happiness is a choice. Find the practices that work for you, and keep at them to spark joy and calm.

Want to take your health journey further?

We're giving you access to the Toronto Raptors Health Experts with Sun Life Healthy You.

Get started

This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.

Sign up for FREE personalized tips, tools and offers.

I understand I can unsubscribe at any time and acknowledge that this email address belongs to me. Learn more about privacy and how we collect data to provide you with more relevant content.

Tools & calculators

Life expectancy calculator

Use this calculator to estimate how long you might live and to see what you can do to live a longer, healthier life – now and in retirement.

Net worth calculator

Use this calculator to find out how your net worth – the difference between what you own (your assets) and  what you owe (your liabilities) compares to other Canadians. Understanding that difference is a great way to help you plan for the future.

Need financial advice?

Make well-informed decisions with helpful advice. Talk to your advisor or find one near you - there is no cost to talk to an advisor.