Anyone who watches enough TV is likely to believe the secret to happiness is to be found in a sleek luxury car, expensive vacation or a decked-out McMansion. But as it turns out, happiness often comes disguised in simpler — and much less expensive — packages.
In honor of National Relaxation Day — Aug. 15 — here are seven ways to get a little joy and unwind without breaking the bank.
Take a bath
Soaking in a hot tub has been one of humanity’s favorite ways to relax for hundreds of years, if not millennia. Immersing yourself in hot water can relax muscles and joints and improve your mood.
Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton discovered that a daily bath significantly boosted the mood and optimism of study participants.
Some people swear that adding inexpensive Epsom salt increases the restorative effect, whereas others are partial to bubbles.
Whatever you prefer, it’s a safe bet that a warm, soothing soak in your own tub will be a lot less expensive than a spa treatment.
Walk the dog
A simple stroll can do wonders for the soul. Scottish researchers measured the brain waves of people who walked through a green, leafy park and found that this natural setting caused the walkers’ minds to settle into a meditative, restorative pattern.
Having your puppy join you is likely to boost the calming effect. For decades, researchers have found evidence of a link between pets and the emotional health of their owners.
For example, studies have shown that petting your animal can lower your blood pressure and that heart attack patients who have pets live longer than patients who don’t have a furry family member.
Sip some tea
The next time you’re feeling a little frazzled, brew some tea, sit on your deck and watch the clouds float by.
Numerous studies have found a link between drinking tea — particularly green tea — and an increased sense of relaxation. Apparently, a natural chemical called L-theanine provides the good vibes.
Don’t have a deck? Sit in your backyard, living room or other favorite space in your home!
Meditate or pray
Whether you commune with God, nature or the Force, turning inward appears to have great benefits for individual peace of mind.
A Harvard study found that people who participated in a mind-body relaxation program — which included meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral skills and more — used 43 percent fewer medical services after starting the program than they did in the previous year. Researchers estimated the per-person savings to be anywhere from $640 to $25,500 annually.
Researchers also have found a host of benefits for people who pray. Prayer helps mitigate the effects of stress, and makes the worshipper a nicer and more forgiving person.
Listen to music
Listening to a good tune can turn your mood around in just a few minutes. Music with a slower tempo can relax you, as “slow beats encourage the slow brainwaves that are associated with hypnotic or meditative states,” according to scientists at Stanford University.
How soothing is music? Stanford says it can be as effective as medication in changing brain function. And, as clinical psychologist Harold Russell notes, “music is cheap and nearly anybody can get access to it.”
Read a great book
Do you love a good mystery? Or perhaps enriching your mind with a little nonfiction is your thing.
Whatever you like to read, keep doing it. Reading is one of the best ways to relax. In fact, escaping into a book for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by a stunning 68 percent, according to a 2009 study out of the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.
Finally, if you find yourself feeling anxious and agitated, put a smile on your face.
Research dating back to the 1980s has found that the simple act of turning a frown upside down can actually make you feel happier. In addition, smiling is likely to cause others around you to smile — making you feel even giddier.
Best of all, it won’t cost you a penny.
Do you have a favorite, inexpensive way to relax? Share it by commenting below or on our Facebook page.