• Claire Hunter

5 ways to boost your happiness and emotional wellbeing

Positive psychology is the scientific study of the factors that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The discipline rests on the belief that we all want to live a life of meaning, happiness and fulfilment, although what form these things take differ greatly between people. But despite these universal needs, people often need help, support and guidance about how to structure their lives so as to create the conditions needed for personal thriving.

Encouragingly, the scientific findings suggest that there is much we can do to create the conditions for good mental health and happiness in our own lives, and that these actions are straightforward and within everyone’s reach. The evidence is showing that even small improvements in wellbeing can reduce some mental ill health and also help people lead happier, more satisfying lives.

Science shows that small positive actions can have a big impact on our mental health and happiness (Click to tweet)

The ‘five ways to well-being’ are a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal well-being and promote good mental health. They were developed by the centre for well-being at the New Economics Foundation as part of the UK Government’s Foresight project on Wellbeing. This project has drawn on high quality international research investigating mental wellbeing.

These straightforward recommendations, show that wellbeing does not depend on spending money or consuming more, but on simple actions that are within everyone’s reach. Whilst we all have different preferences, lifestyles and challenges, the five ways are broad enough for you to work them to suit you.


The evidence is clear that feeling close to and valued by others is a fundamental human need. Meeting this need has a strong impact on our happiness and healthy functioning in the world.

Some things to try:

  • Think about a relationship that could be improved in some way. Consider what might make it better and make a clear commitment to take action today on improving it

  • Pick up the phone and speak to someone rather than texting or emailing

  • Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know very well

  • Ask someone how they are, and really listen to what they say

  • Practice listening with only one aim- to understand what is being said from the other person’s perspective. Put aside your need to have your say or to make yourself understood and make the speaker ‘the star’

  • Plan time to catch up with old friends- actually put dates in the diary to make sure it happens

  • Let people in and let them see the real you. Share information about your life in a genuine and authentic way, and let people see who you really are, warts and all. Being open, warm and genuine is what creates connection, don’t presenting a façade of perfection to the world

  • Cultivate at least one good friendship at work

Be active

The evidence shows that in many cases, exercise is more effective than antidepressants for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. It can also be useful in managing anxiety and can help to slow age related decline in cognitive functioning. Physical doesn’t have to be particularly intense in order to bring benefits.

Some things to try:

  • Focus on the physical activity that makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter what this is. The important thing is to choose activities that you enjoy and can easily fit into your life, because this makes them more sustainable in the long-term.

  • Try going for a brisk walk at lunchtime

  • Have 5 minutes of crazy dancing every evening- get the kids involved!

  • Try walking or cycling to work- maybe with a colleague so you can connect as well

  • Get off the bus one step earlier and walk the final bit to work

  • Try something new and a bit different like hula hooping, Tai Chi or skipping

  • Organise a work based sporting activity such as a game of rounders or a new challenge to try as a team such as a 5K run or walk.

  • Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator

  • Take a look on YouTube at the wealth of exercise videos, which can be done at home with just a small amount of space

  • Download a yoga app such as Down Dog and start giving yoga a go at home

Take notice

Studies have shown that being noticing what’s happening in the present moment can have a big impact on your wellbeing and enjoyment of the world. Heightened awareness of the true conditions of your life can also help you assess and affirm what really matters in your life.

Some things to try:

  • Cultivate good listening skills and when someone is talking to you, try and give them your undivided attention with no distractions from devices or thinking about what you want to say next

  • At regular intervals throughout the day, stop what you’re doing and focus on the information coming in through each of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, feel and taste?

  • Examine a familiar object or place as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen or experienced it. Try and put preconceptions aside and see if any new realisations occur

  • Have a digital detox for a day and spend the time in nature

  • Be a uni-tasker. Give any task your full attention, instead of giving divided and distraction attention to several jobs. Be curious about what happens

  • Use every day occurrences such as boiling the kettle, flushing the toilet or opening the fridge, as a trigger to remind you to stop and properly take notice of what’s happening in that moment

Keep learning

A commitment to keep learning new information or skills can improve self-esteem, provide opportunities for social connection, and slow cognitive decline. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities can help to lift older people out of depression.

Additionally, the practice of setting achievement goals has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.

Some things to try:

  • Sign up for a course or night class

  • Join a book club, or set one up yourself

  • Set yourself a challenge, such as learning a certain number of foreign words every week

  • Rediscover an old interest

  • Say yes to a new and challenging responsibility at work

  • Learn a practical and valuable skills like how to change a tyre, fix a puncture or make a cake

  • Invest in a good personal development book, or better still, borrow one from the library

  • Commit to learning something in order to be able to share your skills and teach others


Making some kind of positive contribution to community life and the social networks around you, has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. For example, research has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week for six-weeks is associated with an increase in wellbeing.

Some things to try:

  • Do something helpful for a friend or stranger

  • Engage in at least one random act of kindness every day. It doesn’t have to cost money or be something big

  • Consider volunteering some of your time for a worthy cause

  • Offer to help someone out at work with a difficult task

  • Share your skills and talents with others

  • Give genuine thanks, appreciation and compliments like they’re going out of fashion

  • Give back through sport- consider coaching or helping to organise sporting events

  • Befriend someone isolated or vulnerable in your community

  • Become a mentor- at work perhaps, or some schools run community mentoring schemes

Over to you: I’d love to know what you think of the 5 ways to wellbeing and what other activities you personally would add to each list. What small actions have had the biggest positive impact on your happiness, wellbeing and mental health? Let me know in the comments below!

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