One of Roko Belic's wealthy Hollywood friends approached him with an interesting question: "Why does it seem like the people who clean celebrity homes and do their yard work are oftentimes more happy than the celebrities themselves?" Belic found this concept so fascinating that he spent years exploring the topic. The result: Happy, a documentary by the Academy Award-nominated director that is now available on DVD. We spoke with Belic about the project, and he shared these five simple steps to make your H.Q. (happiness quotient) skyrocket.
- Be grateful. "Gratitude is one of the best tools to boost your mood," Belic says. "Thank someone who did something for you with a handwritten note, even if it's just a few sentences long." The act of writing the message adds happiness to your life for days. If you send the note, you extend the joy even longer (as you anticipate the letter arriving in their mailbox). And if they thank you back?
- Novelty keeps life fresh. Try something—anything—new! Whether you take a different route to work, eat at a new deli for lunch or go to a concert rather than a movie this Friday, doing something out of the ordinary "helps you appreciate what you have and expands your life," Belic says.
- Set humble goals. Many researchers have tried to pinpoint what makes certain countries, like Denmark, happier than others. Having expectations that are within reach seems to make you feel more accomplished. "Aim to provide for your family or find a job where you are friendly with your co-workers," Belic suggests, rather than trying to win the lottery or finish first in a marathon. You'll be much more likely to actually make these goals a reality and won't feel like you're missing out on the "better things in life" if you frame it this way.
- Go with the (fitness) flow. Aerobic exercise affects the dopamine system in your brain, Belic explains. "Think about it: You rarely see a person complaining about how terrible they feel after finishing a good run or spending a day surfing," he says. Fitness is even more beneficial for your mood if you're able to find "flow" in the activity. Look for something that totally captivates your attention and keeps your mind fully on your body rather than on paying the mortgage or something else stressful.
- Share the wealth. "Happiness is contagious. Research has found that the happier you are, the happier your friends are—and even your friend's, friend's, friends are," Belic says. Translation: If we were playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, joy spreads to your third degree connections. If you prioritize your happiness by following the previous four steps, you'll boost the collective mood. "This isn't just good for individuals; it's good for the world. Happier communities have fewer crimes, less pollution and more people who are willing to help a stranger in need," Belic adds.
Now tell us: What's making you smile lately?