How to Relax and Be Happy (7 Tips)

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: December 17, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

If you’ve ever felt you need a tropical vacation to finally relax and be happy—you’re not alone. But the happiest people in the world don’t wait for external circumstances to align. They focus on cultivating a happy inner spirit, regardless of what’s going on in the outside world. Tools like breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, and spending time in nature can help.

The goal for most of us is simple:

We’re looking for happiness.

But the path to happiness and relaxation doesn’t always go the way you think it will. If you’ve ever managed to be stressed out and miserable in a beautiful place, you know exactly what I mean. Lasting happiness is an inner condition that needs to be cultivated, not an external condition that can be absorbed.

There are a number of techniques you can use to cultivate relaxation and happiness in daily life.

7 Tips to Relax and Be Happy

By pausing in your day and focusing on inner peace (rather than trying to control your external circumstances), you’ll give yourself a much needed chance to cultivate relaxation and happiness.

Here are some techniques to try:

  1. Deep breathing exercises
  2. Gratitude
  3. Practice self-compassion
  4. Reset your mind during transition moments
  5. Wash your hands mindfully
  6. Journaling
  7. Relaxing your mind by relaxing your body

Deep Breathing Exercises

Relaxation techniques based on mindfulness

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is intended to calm your nervous system, and provide a mindful moment through the experience of breathing.

Make yourself comfortable while sitting or lying down, then breathe through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, then breath forcefully out for 8 seconds.

In one minute, you can do three cycles of 4-7-8 breathing.

Box breathing is similar to 4-7-8 breathing, but shorter, and includes a visualization exercise to simplify things.

Start by visualizing the left side of a two-dimensional square, and inhale to the count of 4. As you inhale, head to the top of the square in your mind’s eye. Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds, heading towards the right side of the square. Exhale for 4 seconds, heading down the right side of the box. Then hold for another 4 seconds at the bottom of the box, before starting the process again.

You can do as many as four rounds of box breathing in one minute.

Gratitude

Carve out a moment in your day for gratitude.

It doesn’t just have to be gratitude about the big things in life, like your health and your family.

Gratitude is powerful even if you’re just expressing thanks for the things in your day that normally go unappreciated:

  • Your air conditioner is working
  • You have a warm lunch to eat
  • You have a beautiful view out your window
  • You have a clean home

Anything that can be appreciated counts.

Practice Self-Compassion

Oftentimes, we don’t show ourselves enough compassion.

It can be easy to beat yourself up for mistakes in the course of the day. “I should have done this; I wish I’d done that. I should be more responsible. How could I let that happen?”

Self-compassion is a way to treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend, or a child. In just one minute, the CAN mnemonic can help you show yourself compassion.

Here’s how it works.

(C) it’s Common to feel like this. In the first step, you reassure yourself that everyone has moments like this.

(A) bring Awareness to your breath and your body. Ground yourself.

(N) be Nurturing to yourself. Place your hand on your heart, or give yourself a hug. Tell yourself, “It’s okay. You’re okay. It’s normal to feel the way you’re feeling. This will pass.”

“Reset” Your Mind During Transition Moments

One of my favorite short essays of all time is How to Walk Across a Parking Lot, by David Cain. It explores turning the mundane into magic by reimagining the most boring, utilitarian experience imaginable. When walking across a parking lot, all we want is for the experience to be over, to get to where we’re going. But what if we didn’t look at it like that?

Transition moments like this are abundant in our lives. We rarely notice their potential to turn into something greater, to be an experience unto themselves.

So whether you’re walking across a parking lot, riding the elevator, waiting in line to check out at a store, or even waiting for your coffee to finish brewing, ask yourself: how can I immerse myself in this moment? What do I notice about it? And how is this moment different when I pay attention to it, versus when I don’t?

Wash Your Hands Mindfully

Woman washing her hands close up

This might sound too specific, but stay with me:

Hand washing is the single best time to jolt yourself back into a state of mindfulness each day.

That’s for a couple reasons. First, you’re pretty likely to have a private, quiet moment in the bathroom when washing your hands. And second, it’s something that happens multiple times each day, so it can be a great moment to check in with yourself.

When you get to the sink to wash your hands and see yourself in the mirror, set the intention for that to be a trigger to come back to the present. Slowly turn on the tap, feeling the temperature of the water. Lather soap onto your hands with care, rather than quickly. Then slowly rinse your hands, and turn the tap off.

The key is to linger on each part of this process, noticing how it feels to turn an everyday, automatic activity into something you truly give your attention to.

Journaling

It’s hard to know how you’re feeling sometimes. Journaling is an excellent tool for countering this effect. 

But when you sit down to journal, the blank page can be intimidating.

Common topics include gratitude, being present, noticing how you feel, paying attention to your senses, visioning, self-compassion, awareness, and mental and physical tension.

Mindfulness journaling can help you to notice how far you’ve come, and what areas you still want to develop. 

To get started, simply grab a piece of paper, a notebook, or open a new document on your computer, and reflect on or more of the following mindfulness journal prompts.

Relaxing Your Mind By Relaxing Your Body

One of the strangest things about the mind-body relationship is that we often have it backwards.

“Mind over matter” is a well-known saying that implies our thoughts have powerful control over reality.

But the opposite can be just as true: Your body can have a powerful influence on your mind.

Pay attention to areas of tension in your body.

Is your jaw clenched? Relax it.

Are your shoulders tight? Let them go.

By keeping your body loose, you may find that your mental state shifts, too.