But you can take scientifically validated steps to improve your mental outlook, and — because the mind and body are entwined — these behaviors also will improve your overall health.
1. Practice optimism
Optimists also believe they have control over their fate and can create opportunities for good things to happen.
“When these kinds of mental exercises are taught to people, it actually changes the function and the structure of their brain in ways that we think support these kinds of positive qualities,” Davidson said. “And that may be key in producing the downstream impact on the body.”
2. Start volunteering
A prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi tell us, “It is in giving that we receive.”
3. Be grateful
One of the best ways to make thankfulness a part of your life, say experts, is to keep a daily journal. Before you go to bed, jot down any positive experience you had that day, no matter how small.
But you can also do this via the practice of mindfulness, or a purposeful self-regulation of attention to stay in the moment. One of Davidson’s favorite mindfulness exercises cultivates gratefulness.
“Simply to bring to mind people that are in our lives from whom we have received some kind of help,” Davidson told CNN. “Bring them to mind and appreciate the care and support or whatever it might be that these individuals have provided.”
If you do that for one minute each morning and evening, he added, that sense of appreciation can broaden to others in your life and bolster optimism and better mental health.
4. Bolster your social connections
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” Waldinger said.
And you don’t have to be in a committed relationship or have scores of pals to get this benefit. Instead, it’s the quality of the relationship that matters, he said.
“High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced,” Waldinger said. “And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”
5. Find your purpose
Finding a sense of purpose contributes greatly to well-being and a longer, happier life, experts tell CNN.
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, who co-founded the field of positive psychology, says a sense of purpose will come from being part of something bigger than ourselves. He points to religion, family, and social causes as ways to increase meaning in our lives. (See No. 2 on volunteering.)
It doesn’t have to be a traditional religion to be effective, according to Lord Richard Layard, one of Britain’s most prominent economists and the author of several books on happiness.
In his landmark book, “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science,” he says spiritual practices can range from meditation to positive psychology to cognitive therapy.
“If your sole duty is to achieve the best for yourself, life becomes just too stressful, too lonely — you are set up to fail. Instead, you need to feel you exist for something larger, and that very thought takes off some of the pressure.”