How to Feel Happy Again

Three science-backed techniques to get you back on track and have some fun along the way.

By Sarah Riley

We are all on a journey of self-discovery, personal growth and self-improvement. You wouldn’t be reading this magazine if you weren’t. But what happens when life throws you a curveball and you find yourself on a downward spiral? Before you know it you’ll be asking yourself how you got there and what you can do to pull yourself back up to a place of happiness.

I had this exact experience at the age of 38. I had a major stroke while I was looking after my 2-year-old and 2-week-old girls, and then after I recovered I went back to a redundant executive position—a job I’d been doing for over a decade. At that time, life was a real struggle and I needed to discover how to feel happy again. I was down, but I certainly wasn’t out, and during that time I used the following three simple techniques to help pick me up so I could deal with everyday life.

Cleanse Your Space

From the 1980s onwards we’ve been stuck in a cycle of measuring our success by the amount of money and/or material things we have. Back then, as it still is for some today, it was all about accumulating processions.

We often seek pleasure and hedonistic happiness in the purchase of belongings, and use them to distract our minds from what we probably need to be dealing with directly. This is like sticking a tiny Band-Aid on a wound that needs attention. Eventually the patch just won’t be enough. This materialism is a temporary fix that delivers a dose of the neurotransmitter dopamine (our pleasure chemical), and it can lead to an addiction because the more we experience the temporary fix, the more we want it…and so the cycle begins. While this is going on our space is becoming cluttered and difficult to deal with. This, in turn, creates emotional turmoil.

Less clutter allows us to focus on what’s important. Our space also reflects our emotional state like a mirror, so the calmer and more tranquil it is, the more we will be, too. In a 2009 study, evidence showed that women who described their homes as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” were more depressed, fatigued and had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than women who felt their homes were “restful” and “restorative.”

In recent years we’ve started to discover that wellness and personal happiness are more important that stuff. And we’re no longer validating ourselves with a highly paid job if it doesn’t allow us to achieve our lifestyle goals. We are no longer willing to let our processions be in charge of us. Now we’re in charge!

Here is a simple four-step process to decluttering. Go through your home room by room dividing the items into four distinct piles and then dealing with them appropriately:

1. Recycle. If something is broken or missing a part you planned to fix later, get rid of it.

2. Donate. If you haven’t worn or used something in a year then there’s a very good chance you never will. Theses items should go to the thrift shop so others can benefit from them.

3. Sell. If you haven’t used something for over a year but it still has some value, consider doing a garage sale. Use the proceeds to help fund your future bucket list of activities to generate more happiness.

4. Keep. These are the items you know you will use in the next year and beyond.

Practice Gratitude Techniques

Scientific evidence shows us that using simple gratitude techniques and exercises, such as keeping a diary or meditating daily on things for which we are grateful, can really help us feel happier, more positive and give our zest for life a boost.

The foundations of this exercise are based in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), a technique that helps change negative patterns of thinking and improve the way we feel. The idea is that our feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations and actions are all connected. If we have negative thoughts and feelings they can trap us in a vicious cycle, which, in turn, brings more negativity. This method of breaking patterns and making new ones is based on neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to rewire and reorganize throughout life based on stimulus from the environment, emotions, behavior and thinking.

Developing a gratitude practice not only helps to stop the spiraling of negative feelings and thoughts, it also helps to make new, more positive patterns in thoughts, feelings and behavior. This is an incredibly simple process to put into action on a daily basis.

Get Outside More Often

Almost everyone knows we all feel better if we go outside, take off our shoes, feel the grass under our feet, smell the flowers and listen to the birds in the trees. After my stroke, I was desperate to find out how to feel happy again. All I wanted to do was write about camping and being outside when I couldn’t actually go out. So I started a free online magazine called Inspired Camping. Just thinking about it made me feel like I was doing it, and I seemed to physically benefit as a result.

Being in nature has long been associated with being mindful and meditative, but only recently has the scientific community researched the mental health benefits of this type of outdoor immersion.

It is called Ecotherapy or Green Therapy, and a 2013 study revealed being outdoors was proven to improve mental health, boost self-esteem, help people with mental health problems return to work, improve physical health and reduce social isolation. Another study in 2010 proved that simply spending 20 minutes a day outdoors helps to boost energy levels, zest for life, vitality and resistance to illnesses.

Next time you are feeling down or depressed, remember you are just three simple steps away from boosting your mood and your well-being.

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.”—Jim Rohn

Sarah Riley, founder of Inspired Zest For Life, helps women to ditch stress, renew their confidence, improve their health and discover their true calling when they feel they’ve lost their mojo. After surviving a major stroke in 2009, when her youngest daughter was only two weeks old, Sarah earned a postgraduate diploma as a Performance, Health and Wellness Coach with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) training. She is fully accredited by the National Council of Psychotherapists and the UK’s ACB Academic Board. She is a member of the National Council for Psychotherapists and The Guild of Coaching and NLP. She also was formally certified as a government trainer by the Home Office in London. Contact Sarah at or visit

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