It’s easy to regard happiness as something that happens to you, but being happy is a choice that you can actively seek out and attain. You needn’t sit by and wait for happiness to come to you; you can go out and grab it virtually whenever you want.

What types of choices lead to happiness? Many of them involve leading a healthy lifestyle, because a healthy body goes hand-in-hand with a healthy mind.

Happy people tend to eat healthier, exercise more, and get better sleep than those who are stressed out or depressed — all habits associated with health.

On the other hand, when you feel happy, you’re more likely to actively seek out and follow a healthier lifestyle. Regardless of which comes first, happiness or a healthy lifestyle, striving to be happy can lead to physical changes along with emotional ones.

Lower Blood Pressure, Better Immune Function and Improved Mobility

A review of more than 200 studies found that positive psychological well-being is linked with a lower risk of heart disease as well as lower blood pressure, normal body weight and healthier blood fat profiles.1

Further, among those 60 and over, feelings of happiness and enjoyment were associated with improved mobility and a lower risk of developing a disability over an eight-year period.2

Past research has found that positive emotions — including being happy, lively and calm — appear to play a role in immune function. One study found that when happy people are exposed to cold and flu viruses, they’re less likely to get sick and, if they do, exhibit fewer symptoms.3

The association held true regardless of the participants’ levels of self-esteem, purpose, extraversion, age, education, body mass or pre-study immunity to the virus, leading the lead researcher to say:4

“We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk.”

23 Happiness Hacks

Do you want to be happier? CNN compiled 25 happiness hacks that are backed by science.5 Incorporate as many of these into your life as you can, and you’ll be on your way to a happier, healthier you.

1. Exercise

The feel-good effects of exercise are often attributed to endorphins, but anandamide may actually deserve the credit. Anandamideis a neurotransmitter and endocannabinoid produced in your brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.

It’s a derivative of the Sanskrit word “bliss,” and a deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and stress.6

Anandamide levels are known to increase during and following exercise. A recent animal study similarly found that anandamide might be responsible for producing a “runner’s high” in mice.

Exercise also boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. It’s even one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.

2. Yoga

Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise — some even see it as a “fad” — it’s really a comprehensive practice that integrates mental, physical, and spiritual elements.

With regards to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another. As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well.

In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may gain some needed flexibility as well.

Research suggests yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and boosting serotonin. It’s known to benefit mild depression and anxiety, too.

3. Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which helps your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. One 2012 study found people who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression than those who ate the least.7

Furthermore, research from the University of Otago found eating fruits and vegetables of any sort (except fruit juice and dried fruit) helped young adults calm their nerves.8 Department of Psychology researcher Tamlin Conner, Ph.D. said:9

“On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier, and more energetic than they normally did.”

4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to help you deal more effectively with situations that fill you with anxiety. It teaches you to recognize and reverse harmful thought patters and replace them with positive ones.

In a systematic review of 11 studies, no statistically significant difference in effectiveness was found between second-generation antidepressants and CBT.10

5. Adorn Your Home With Fresh Flowers

People who looked at flowers first thing in the morning reported feeling happier and more energetic.11 Just be sure your cut flowers come from organic growers (or your own backyard).

6. Think Happy and Smile

Simply thinking about a positive event, and smiling as a result, can make you happier and more upbeat (more so than simply fake smiling, which is actually linked to worsened mood).

A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to increased mood.

7. Light Therapy

Full-spectrum light therapy is often recommended over antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but according to recent research, light therapy may be preferable even for major depression.12

Light therapy alone and placebo were both more effective than Prozac for the treatment of moderate to severe depression in the eight-week study. Blue light has been found to be particularly beneficial for boosting your mood, as it plays a key role in your brain’s ability to process emotions.

8. Open Your Shades

If you don’t have a light box, at least open your shades and let the sunshine in. A brighter living or work area will help to boost your mood.

9. Go Outside

Exposure to bright outdoor light is crucial for a positive mood, in part because regular exposure to sunlight will helps to enhance your mood and energy through the release of endorphins.13

Getting sun exposure outdoors will also help you optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with SAD, as well as more chronic depression.14,15

10. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are certainly a wonderful medicinal food and many varieties are rich in the antioxidant selenium, low levels of which have been linked to anxiety.

Mushrooms are also one of the better food sources of vitamin D, which supports healthy mood (however, your best option to optimize your vitamin D levels is regular sun exposure or use of a high-quality tanning bed; if that’s not possible, a vitamin D3 supplement may be necessary).

11. Meditate

Meditation is an underutilized tool to optimize mental health. Not only is it helpful for stress relief and gaining greater self-awareness, but it has also been shown to alter the structures of your brain for the better, including reducing activity in the “me” centers of your brain.

Meditation is also linked to decreased anxiety and depression and improved psychological well-being.16 Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus and brain areas involved in the regulation of emotions and self-referential thought processes.17