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How to be Happy: 5 Surefire Ways to a Happier 2017

Posted on Jan 16, 2017 by Rupert Shanks

This Blue Monday you may be forgiven for feeling particularly bluesy. So let’s get practical about it with our How to be Happy: 5 Ways to Beat Blue Monday.

Political uncertainty, social divisions, climate concerns, the loss of cultural icons and the shrinking Toblerone. Life in 2016 could certainly have knocked some positivity out of you. How to be happy in 2017 may require a more conscious effort from each of us.

It’s something we’re all aiming at. Not necessarily the wide-eyed, transcendent joy of a toddler on Christmas morning. But we all want to be happy. Relatively happy, most of the time. But how good are we really in knowing how to be happy? And then putting what we know into action? On that thought, we’ve collated some research and our own ideas into a practical list to improve happiness.

1. Help nature do its thing


Dipping the feet at the edge of Loch Lomond walking the West Highland Way.

We all know that clean air and sunshine is good for our health. But there’s increasing evidence of deeper health benefits from time spent in wild places. ‘Forest Bathing’ was coined in Japan. It’s based on research that spending time in nature increases mental wellbeing by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. Since then this practice has led to a variety of supporting evidence.

Research from the Cognition and Neural Science at the University of Utah shows that creativity can be enhanced by spending time in nature. As our minds escape the suppressive process of trying to multi-task, our powers of creativity can increase by up to 50%. As the machines start replacing all our jobs, creativity will be increasingly valuable. (Sorry, lets just keep things positive!).

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” – John Muir.

Studies have shown that volunteering not only can benefit mental health but also boost physical wellbeing. Volunteers can expect to feel more socially connected, happier and also live longer. So if you want a double whammy of feelgood activity (and the associated smug points), why not volunteer with a conservation charity? Our friends at Trees for Life and the John Muir Trust offer a variety of volunteering projects in remote, beautiful places.

2. Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The 24 hour news cycle is still a recent phenomenon. Are we really able to process relentless news in a meaningful way? What now classifies as news anyway? A lot of modern news media is more about building the largest audience than being balanced or informative. Stoking up outrage, despair and anger seems to be a great way to do that. So it’s the negative and inflammatory stories that reach us the most.


Ancient Caledonian forest in the Cairngorms is gradually being regenerated. Credit : PTomkins / VisitScotland

Of course there are serious problems facing the world. But good things are happening too. The world’s carbon dioxide emissions have stabilised for the third year in a row. This is a big step towards what’s needed to tackle climate change. The amount of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by over 50% since 1990. There are issues around growing inequality. But this is still pretty amazing news!


3. Book that trip

Well it would be very remiss of us not to mention the incredible benefits of travel! Research has confirmed that travel does indeed improve our mental health and wellbeing. Travelling with loved ones can deepen our relationships as new shared experiences cement those connections.

Engaging with fellow travellers also can create long-lasting friendships. These human interactions enabled by travel have been shown to even change our personality. Studies have found that travel often leads to higher levels of agreeableness and reduced neuroticism (tendency to be in a negative emotional state).

How to be Happy

Getting stuck in together on a North West Highlands canoe adventure.


“The real voyage of discovery consists not just in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Additional research from Cornell University has also supported the benefits of travel to make us happy. They have proven that investment in travel and outdoor experiences is more beneficial in how to be happy than buying material things. The things we buy do make us happy up to a point. But this effect is short-lived. Travel and outdoor experiences have been shown to create longer-lasting happiness. This is because positive experiences travelling and being outdoors are part of us. We take those experiences into ourselves and carry them into the rest of our lives. Whereas the new things we own will never be anything more than objects around us we gradually get used to.

4. Eat more chocolate

Let’s take a moment and savour it. Don’t shrug your shoulders and dismiss this as some wacky advice from the French or something. Put down whatever you re doing and go and eat some dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is a fantastic, tasty weapon in the arsenal of how to be happy. This magical substance boosts endorphin production which then binds with opiate receptors in our brains to give those feelgood emotions. In fact there’s a variety of chemical reasons that dark chocolate will help us to be happy. But the real lesson here is that not everything that tastes good is bad for us. So don’t punish yourself too fiercely with strict diets, training regimes and fasting. If you do feel like some self-flagellation, take a moment and eat some dark chocolate. You re doing ok.

5. This wee guy

Just this guy. Sitting on a tree stump. Quietly eating his nuts.

How to be Hapy

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in autumn, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Seriously though, there’s never been a moment when I’ve seen a red squirrel that I havent felt a wee boost of happiness. In fact that goes for nearly all wildlife interactions. (Still got some pigeon forgiveness issues to work through after an incident a few years ago). So if you get a chance to go and see some wildlife, seize it with your opposable thumbs.

Want to increase your happiness levels with an unforgettable adventure?  Check out the list below for just a taste of the many different adventure trips we offer.  There is really something for everyone from classic walking trips to mountain biking adventures – all in the amazing backdrop of the beautiful Scottish surroundings.

Trip Date Name Price Availability Book
28th Apr - 4th May 2018 Road Cycling - Outer Hebrides £1,6953 place(s) leftBook Now
26th May - 31st May 2018 Sea Kayaking - West Coast Explorer £9951 place(s) leftBook Now
9th Jun - 15th Jun 2018 Wilderness Walking - Cairngorms National Park & Royal Deeside £1,3954 place(s) leftBook Now
23rd Jun - 29th Jun 2018 Wildlife Adventures - The Scottish Highlands £1,6953 place(s) leftBook Now
30th Jun - 5th Jul 2018 Sea Kayaking - Scottish Sea Kayak Trail North - Gaelic Coast £1,2953 place(s) leftBook Now
30th Jun - 6th Jul 2018 Road Cycling - Outer Hebrides £1,6951 place(s) leftBook Now
30th Jun - 6th Jul 2018 Wilderness Walking - Outer Hebrides & Skye £1,5958 place(s) leftBook Now

About the author

Rupert Shanks

After a spell in the corporate world in London Rupert decided to find a more rewarding way of life involving a closer connection to the outdoors and to his camera! Rupert produces a lot of the photography and video for Wilderness Scotland and works within the Marketing team.

Read more articles by Rupert

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