27 Guidelines to Improve Life-Satisfaction, Well-being, Mental Health and the Quality of Life

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Life-Satisfaction is how you evaluate the quality of your life and how happy/satisfied you are with it. People have different ways to evaluate their own life. Some people value relationships more than others. Some value emotional stability. Some value achievements and rewards.

In the strictest sense, a lot boils down to your personality, unmet needs, circumstances, and choices. However, we are going to look at 27 ways (more like 100) to improve life satisfaction assuming you are aware of your personality, needs, circumstances, and choices. Not all recommendations here will work for everyone.

For example, people who value emotional stability will value ups and downs in emotions a lot more than someone who can easily filter out emotions.

Note: This article is a global overview of all the activities you can do to improve life satisfaction. All red links with an underline will take you to a post that describes those in greater detail with specific instructions and original research findings.

Let’s first define a few terms in this article:

  1. Life-satisfaction: Describes how satisfied you are with your life and your attitude toward it
  2. Subjective well-being: Feeling that your life is going well
  3. Overall well-being: The global evaluation of your well-being, not just the lack of poor health
  4. Happiness: A mental state conducive to well-being characterized by positive emotions, satisfaction, and contentment
  5. Quality of life: An overall standard you give to your life


Global summary:

To Improve life-satisfaction and quality of life, have an active lifestyle, eat healthy food, exercise, have different experiences, achieve something, have a vision, make sense of the world, sleep, nurture social relationships, learn healthy coping strategies, show self-love, express gratitude, appreciate beauty, maintain balance, meditate, and modify your internal dialog.


1. Express gratitude to increase positive emotions, positive memories, and reduce negativity

Thanking other people for good deeds and being grateful is a powerful way to increase positive emotions, connectedness and reduce negative emotions. Deliberately expressing gratitude can focus your attention on positive things and even help you engage in positive behaviors. Sometimes, to even pay them forward.

Even when you are thankful for the smallest things which don’t involve other people, you bring your attention closer to the meaningful, valuable, and positive events in life. As a result, gratitude improves overall well-being.

Being grateful can reduce a wide range of negative emotional states like grief, stress, envy, guilt, and sorrow. In fact, the art of thanking others is linked to motivating others to repeat good deeds and solidify your personal motivation to do something good. This mechanism improves the chances of being satisfied in life.

Some examples of how to express gratitude:

  1. Write 3 things you are thankful for in the morning or at night, making this a journaling habit. It’ll train your attention to focus on positive things in life
  2. Make a phone call, send a WhatsApp, or an email with the express intent of thanking someone. No hidden agenda, be genuine. Such acts are seen as kind, impactful, and valuable. By doing this you motivate yourself to appreciate others, do good things, and encourage others to repeat good deeds.
  3. Mentally acknowledge a positive moment. If you can’t directly thank someone, tell your story to someone else. Sometimes, people just need to be aware that genuine gratefulness exists in the world.


2. Become Optimistic and cultivate hope without lying to yourself

Optimism is a perspective that healthily encourages people to focus on positive events (without ignoring negative events) and hope for better outcomes in life. Optimism isn’t about blindly believing the world owes you better. It is about cultivating positive outcomes in life by choosing what you focus on. Hope and optimism is intricately linked to life-satisfaction through negative thoughts.

Overthinking, negative thinking, and excessive worry often kills hope and blinds us to any optimistic outcome. Dealing with negative events is a key part of happiness. Preoccupation with negative events converts into intense negative thoughts and that pulls down life-satisfaction. However, forgiveness (self & others), regulating emotions, de-fusing negative thoughts improve life-satisfaction.

Care should be taken that self-reflection while regulating emotions is constructive and does not lead to more negative thinking. The best way to reduce this is to tell yourself what you value in life and paint a realistic picture of how you are. Be constructive in improving yourself without playing a blame-hate-game with yourself. Constructive self-reflection improves the quality of your inner-life. A large part of this accepting your personal reality as it is so you don’t end up lying to yourself.


3. Nurture quality social relationships even if you don’t need to be social all the time

Social life is important to humans as a species. But, everyone’s social needs are different. People focus on different aspects of social behavior. Research has consistently shown that people who cultivate high-quality relationships experience higher well-being, life-satisfaction, and quality of life than those who don’t nurture any relationship.

All types of relationships can be meaningful to people at different paths in life. Some focus on romantic relationships, some cultivate new friends, others find common-interest groups, and many work on building/re-building their existing families.

Quality relationships are a source of positive experiences and even become a support system during all sorts of crises. The process of nurturing a relationship in real-life or even on social media can improve subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Put in the effort, and watch your life improve. People flourish with a healthy social and interpersonal life.


4. Experience flow and find activities to get in “the zone”

Sometimes all people need are a few moments that redeem and nullify all other stressors in life. These moments come from hobbies or any activity for that matter. A powerful predictor of happiness and well-being is experiencing the “Flow State.” It’s the mental zone where people are one with activity and deeply involved in it.

The flow state is characterized by intense concentration, loss of time, moderate challenge, satisfaction, and a deep connection with yourself and an activity you are performing. In most scenarios, people get in the zone when motivation emerges from within and external rewards mean nothing. The activity is itself a reward. Distractions mean nothing too. In Flow, we are one with the activity.

Researchers describe a personality type called The Autotelic Personality which is linked to frequently experiencing flow. Autotelic people are self-motivated and do certain activities for themselves because it brings them immense joy.

This rewarding activity which puts you in a flow state is biochemical in nature: neural excitation in pathways that involve endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin; resulting into ‘feeling good.’ Experiencing flow correlates with a number of desirable mood states: satisfaction, frequent pleasure, joy, etc. All of those make your life conducive to happiness.

How to increase your chances of experiencing flow?

  1. Find an activity you are motivated to do
  2. Make it challenging
  3. Gain competence
  4. Continue doing it as long as you find it meaningful, rewarding, pleasurable, and valuable
  5. Use these steps to become Autotelic


5. Appreciate beauty in life and deliberately pay attention to admire things

When we appreciate beauty, we focus and prime our attention to appreciate things that make us feel good. Admiring excellence, noticing art, appreciating the form and function virtually anything improves our well-being and recovery from negative mental states. Beauty is subjective and people find beauty in things that inspire greatness, sadness, conflict, etc. People find beauty in usefulness, elegance, and even in something abstract. However, this subjective nature is what makes appreciating beauty valuable.

We mentally engage with that which is beautiful. This engagement can improve the quality of life by creating small moments we dive into. Appreciating aesthetics create positive moments even if they emerge from inherently negative moments. A classic case is sweet-sorrow where people feel good listening to sad music. What counts is – the moment is valuable and not necessarily “typically positive.”


6. Do things that are personally meaningful and find a way to relate to something

Whether you look at the universe from the point of view of a spiritual quest or science or religious scriptures, any point of view with a sense of meaning can bring you feelings of safety, purpose, and unity in the context of the bigger picture – A sure shot way to dramatically improve the quality of life and life satisfaction.

People also have a sense-making tendency where they want to figure out how the world makes sense and how they fit into it. It’s the source of personal journeys, the cliche “finding yourself,” and a way of life. To begin with this, it is useful to find what you can relate to and if you find like-minded people who make you feel like you belong.

Sometimes, it is not people but an activity that becomes a way to relate to the world (Abed Nadir using movie references to relate to the world).


7. Take care of your body and pay attention to what it is telling you

If you feel thirsty, drink water. If you are sleepy, sleep. Avoid compromising basic signals. If you are coming down with a fever, avoid pushing yourself.

Another core aspect of healthy functioning is paying attention to our Interoceptive sense – the sense that tells us about our body’s internal state and sensory stimulation (arousal, breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, sweating, etc.) Honing our interoceptive sense is important in regulating emotions, specifically down-regulating stress.

Mindfulness is linked to interoception as well as being aware of your environment. Mindfulness practices make you aware of your senses, breathing, and your thoughts. Noticing and accepting this information is helpful in reducing stress and pain. Managing both can have a significant impact on the quality of life of people who suffer from chronic pain, diseases, traumatic experiences, and anxiety.

Keep your vitamin, mineral levels optimal, find out if you have a deficiency. Vitamin deficiency can affect core brain function and worsen memory, and even compromise your immune system. These small but taken-for-granted aspects of our biology are important for biological maintenance and healthy functioning. Vitam B, Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, Iron, Chromium, Magnesium, and Zinc have a direct relationship with mood disorders like depression and bipolar. Figuring out if there is a nutrient/mineral/vitamin deficiency can be a gateway to improved physical and mental health. Deficiency may also be a reason why other efforts are wasted and the quality of life isn’t improving.

Drink enough water and eat healthy food. A meta-analysis of 18 studies shows that consuming fruits and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of depression.


8. Work on your physical body and shape it to your liking

How you feel in your body matters and you have a fair amount of control over it. Accepting unchangeable aspects is a starting point (genetic hair loss, disease, height, etc.) Beyond those, you can control how you look and choose what satisfies you. Your clothes, your hairstyle, your posture, gestures, muscle-mass, fat, etc. are in your control.

Exercise and work on your physical fitness. There is no need to push to the extreme and become an athlete but basic fitness, regular exercise, manageable weight, and cardiovascular health predict better quality of life, life-satisfaction, and more happiness. When these aspects turn into a playground for social comparison, they backfire and cause distress. So ideally, work on your fitness and body for yourself within your means. A fair starting point for most people is 30 minutes of casual exercise 4 times a week.

Exercise can make us feel good through the release of endorphins and even partially protect us from depression.


9. Work on physical hygiene

Physical hygiene has a connection with physical health as well as mental health. Apart from reducing the chances of infections spreading, body odor, and other illnesses, poor hygiene is a marker of poor mental health. A study by the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) reported that students who are exhibiting sub-standard hygiene may be suffering from mental health issues. The direction of cause and effect is not clear yet but poor hygiene may generate body-image issues, indicate poor socio-economic status, elicit disgust in others and become a barrier for self-love.

Poor hygiene can also negatively affect your sex life and social life. For adults, these two factors are often central to life-satisfaction. Genital hygiene and health is even more important for women in most countries because of poor sanitary resources. Related problems such as UTI become a primary source of life-dissatisfaction.

Ideally, maintain oral and physical hygiene – bathe, brush, wear clean clothes, keep your genitals clean, and wash hands.


10. Connect with nature and different life-forms

People have an innate tendency to connect with nature and natural life-forms – Biophilia. Research shows that playing with animals, smelling flowers, walking in a forest, hanging out near plants and trees, watching the sky, etc. can improve your mental health. Even nature in virtual reality and games can have a positive effect on well-being.

Many who work in offices with natural lighting, windows, and subtle natural elements like shadows, patterns, plants, and space to move have higher productivity than many who work in offices without these natural elements. Along with productivity, their work-culture permits healthier interpersonal interactions and reduce work-related stress.


11. Understand your social media behavior to drop the bad things and engage with the good things

Research tells us that the most distressing part of social media use is negative social cognition (comparison, idealistic self-presentation, FOMO) and underlying risk factors like poor sleep, low self-esteem, poor body image, etc.

Aspects like depressive memes can be uplifting for depressed people. The resonance between memes and real-life experiences, along with a humorous take on life, can alleviate depressive symptoms and improve mood. Memes can significantly improve the quality of life for some depressed people.

Activities like entertainment, joining common-interest groups, nurturing relationships, and updating small accomplishments/life-events can improve well-being.

Social media newsfeed is highly sensitive to what you interact with. This gives you the power to modify your feed. Research shows that we are likely to make more negative updates and share negative content if our newsfeed is full of negative content. Try taking control of what you view on the internet.


12. Seek solitude and satisfy your need for social activities and alone time

Many studies show that people who seek solitude for self-motivated reasons experience improved well-being. It’s a key part of happiness for sensitive people. These self-motivated reasons are more about personal space, satisfaction, and a genuine want of solitude.

Solitude due to external reasons (peer pressure, interpersonal conflict, fear, intimidation) induce loneliness. External reasons are more about lacking autonomy and choice. Justifying alone-time because one does not have better options can back-fire and convert solitude into loneliness.

Learn to say no to social gatherings if you do not want to socialize. Many people have a low need to be social but are forced to socialize and that causes distress. The key is to balance your Aloneliness – the subjective mismatch between your need to socialize and actual socializing.


13. Practice self-compassion, self-acceptance, and compassion

Research shows that we feel good when we extended compassion to other people. Our heart rate lowers, muscles loosen-up and we feel calmer. So along with expressing gratitude, it is a good idea to extend compassion toward others and allow it to benefit society on the whole.

Everyone experiences failures and set-backs. They are sometimes caused by oversight, mistakes, and poor judgment calls. However, self-compassion helps us accept this fact of reality for what it is.

Self-compassion is strongly linked with improved well-being. When we are kind to ourselves and more accepting of our status, there is a lower likelihood of developing psychological disorders. In fact, the actual correlation is pretty high (-0.54 between self-compassion and psychopathology). Self-compassion and self-kindness also help us stay realistic, accept and work on flaws, and reward ourselves for the little and big achievements. Researchers conclude that self-compassion causes an improvement in overall well-being.

Let go of perfection, accept reasonable limitations, and do what you can to the best of your ability.


14. Establish financial & personal security to develop psychological comfort

People often seek financial and interpersonal security by making commitments. Security creates an acceptable level of certainty and humans are often afraid of uncertainty. Salaries, contracts, marriage ceremonies, verbal assurances, etc. reduce uncertainty in subjectively important areas and create a sense of security.

Money does buy a baseline level of well-being, at least for many people. Money enables autonomy, a basic standard of living, luxury, socializing, learning, etc. All contribute to an improvement in mental health and well-being. In its simplest form, money acts as a necessary boundary condition and an active moderator between dozens of aspects of life.

People seek safety and comfort in other people. Some seek comfort in things. Kids have security blankets and adults have smartphones. Psychological comfort in one’s home, work-place, or relationships can quickly improve satisfaction or the lack of it can induce uncertainty-based anxiety. People like to believe in something for comfort – god, religion, gurus, family, etc. A large part of that belief stems from a need for safety, security, stability, and certainty.

Humans value aspects of their lives differently in terms of comfort and security: some prioritize mental health, some prioritize money, some prioritize intimacy.


15. Learn healthy coping mechanisms and control the unhealthy ones

There are a number of ways to cope with distress in life – talking to others, music, getaways, confrontations, alcoholism, drugs, abuse, etc. Not all are sustainable and healthy. Identify your coping strategies and make an attempt to reduce some of the damaging ones and replace them with healthier ones. Sustainable coping strategies can be easily integrated into your lifestyle. Social media venting and catharsis may not be the best idea as some research suggests that both have the potential to amplify negative emotions.


16. Understand your emotions to regulate them and manage them

Emotions are complex and have multiple dimensions – social, valence (+ve or -ve), arousal (energy), potency, thoughts, mood, etc. You can address your emotions on multiple levels. Sometimes, focusing on just the essence of an emotion can help you process an emotion without any content/details. Focusing on the global “flavor” can lower emotional intensity while fixating on details can trigger a chain of negative thoughts.

In day-to-day life, it’s usually a combination of emotions and thoughts that cause distress. Many know how to deal with them but there it times when coping becomes harder. For that, you can use specialized cognitive defusion techniques. Repeat the emotionally distressing words at a high speed, slow down your speech, use a silly voice. These seemingly trivial actions reduce the emotional weight of thoughts.

Use third-person self-talk (use your name to refer to yourself) to reduce anxiety and overwhelm. Addressing yourself in the third-person (“He/she/they/name” instead of “I”) creates psychological distance between you and your emotions. This distance reduces the intensity of emotions. This technique is ideal during short-term high-stress events.


17. Address psychological congruence to accept and reject what you say to yourself

Self-affirmations can improve self-esteem for those with low self-esteem if they are psychologically acceptable (in the latitude of acceptance). Overly positive affirmations can backfire because people might reject the affirmation to maintain their self-integrity.

Make your self-talk acceptable and flat-out reject some of the things you say to yourself if there is evidence against it. In many situations, the evidence is hard to find and you’ll need to hunt it down.


18. Align how you feel and how you present yourself at a global level

There are 2 levels on which we present ourselves.

First, align how you present yourself on social media and how you are in real life. The larger the difference in how you present yourself online and how you feel about yourself, the more dissonance there will be. This cognitive self-presentation dissonance creates anxiety and is a hot spot for negative thinking.

Second, adjust how you judge yourself on the whole and how you feel. When people fail at something, they tend to adjust other parts of their lives to compensate and preserve their self-image. This a time when judging yourself locally (I failed in xyz) or globally (I am a failure in life) can affect how you feel. Try to affirm yourself of broad things like “I am not a failure in life but I failed in xyz. I value giving things a fair chance so I’ll work on it” Global judgments affect you on the whole. Do some mildly positive self-talk about your global-self when you are feeling low.


19. Work on your sense of achievement, competence, and autonomy

The well-supported Self-determination theory tells us that humans are innately motivated to grow and prosper when 3 core needs are satisfied: Need for autonomy/independence, Need for competence, Need for relatedness/connection. These needs further extend to other acquired needs like the need for power, affiliation, and achievement.

  • Develop and refine your skill(s) in some domain and become useful
  • Gain control over important aspects of your life and maintain a sense of independence in movement, decision making, and choices while accepting responsibility for that independence.
  • Belong and contribute toward a vision
  • Accomplish and acknowledge your accomplishments

The need for autonomy, competence, achievement, and connection begs for effort. Where there is effort, there is procrastination. To overcome procrastination, you need to address the core anxieties involved because procrastination is not about laziness and discipline – it is about emotions.


20. Don’t avoid negative experiences/thoughts, learn to work through them

A lot of people quickly advise “Think positive” and “Just have happy thoughts.” The truth is healthy mental health and overall well-being contains a fair share of negative thoughts. Researchers have tried putting a number on it and most estimates suggest that there are a significant amount of negative thoughts in perfectly healthy minds. Estimates put a 1:1 positive to negative thought ratio for psychologically unhealthy people and 1.6:1 for psychologically healthy people. Avoiding internal negative thoughts is avoiding reality and that is a direct conflict between you and the world.

The hedonic treadmill describes how humans quickly return to a set point (stable level) of happiness after going through extreme positive and negative events in life. After a large negative event, most people are resilient enough to return to a normal life after some time. Even after break-ups and deaths. Understanding that you are on this hedonic treadmill can help you take extra measures to not make things worse. People have a different hedonic treadmill for different emotions like joy, guilt, happiness, excitement, boredom, and different states like satisfaction, misery, etc. People vary in how they adapt to events how much their set-point changes. With this in mind, working through negative events is the most reasonable long-term solution.

Don’t run behind impossible ideals like ultimate bliss, and only happy thoughts


21. Find a way to make sense of an uncontrollable, uncertain universe

People like to make sense of the world. There is an inherent tendency to reduce uncertainty in the world and seek comfort in something when things go south. Some choose science, some choose faith, some choose pseudoscience, some choose spiritual guides, some reject everything, some accept assertions like “nothing is knowable”, etc. In fact, one of the main reasons people believe in astrology and horoscopes is to reduce uncertainty and make sense of the ambiguity in the world.

When people have a specific lens through which they view parts of the world, they become a part of a framework that becomes a personal narrative of the world. That may or may not assign meaning to the world and their place in it. Find a way to make sense of the world.

Have a vision in life, a vision that makes sense to you. This vision sets you on a path to experience life through a meaningful path, even when it is scattered. It is one of the reasons why people want leaders to have a vision, a way to make sense of the current state and explain where the world is going.


22. Practice mindfulness, meditation, and yoga

While there are many forms of Yoga in many different traditions, all forms are equally beneficial for improving well-being. Research also shows that guided Yoga sessions can decrease depressive symptoms and even help with treatment-resistant depression. Yoga seems to have hit the sweet spot for improving the quality of life for people suffering from various types of mental health issues.

Mindfulness activities are geared toward accepting and becoming aware of the events within you and outside you. Most mindfulness practices help in reducing stress and anxiety. They also help in becoming aware of positive events and counter the mind’s bias toward negative thoughts which intrude.

Mindfulness is also great in helping perfectionists let go of unrealistically high standards and accept failure. The non-judgmental acceptance part of mindfulness can make it easier for people to feel more relaxed after failure.


23. Do small things today which may or may not affect you in the future

  • Manage finances, save, and spend on yourself in meaningful ways, even if it is for fun
  • Work on physical health
  • Learn extra skills even if you don’t need them
  • Invest in relationships (within your capacity) without a hidden agenda
  • Avoid pointless conflicts with strangers


24. Maintain a healthy sleep routine and recover your sleep as soon as possible

Humans need sleep and those needs differ from person to person. Most experts put the average need between 7-9 hours at a stretch. However, there are exceptions and temporary circumstances that disable our sleep options. Chronic sleep deprivation compromises mental health, disrupts cognitive functioning, and disrupts homeostasis (internal balance of biological systems).

Disrupted sleep can delay emotional processing and its effects are seen the next day – if you are embarrassed of something today, and experience poor sleep, your embarrassment will be more pronounced the next day.

Sleep deprivation can also increase loneliness and social distancing. Researchers suggest that there is no biological reserve for sleep deprivation like there is for starvation (fat reserves) and that is why sleep deprivation can instantly disrupt mental, physical, and social health.

Here are some techniques to improve sleep hygiene.


25. Smile and improve your posture

You can force a smile to become happier. After analyzing 138 studies, researchers have strong evidence to show that smiling can make you slightly happier.

A stooped posture can reduce confidence and worsen mood and even prevent recovering from a bad mood. It’s ideal to rectify your posture and stay erect.

A combination of good posture and a smiling face is often welcomed because we live in a society and when life-satisfaction is dependent on informal or semi-formal social exchanges, the combo can go a long way. A good mood can make you more welcoming – that makes you more likely to have safe communication – that can stack-up to nurture relationships and form new connections – and that impacts life-satisfaction.

This is closely linked to the idea that you can fake it till you make it.


26. Don’t eliminate fun and enjoyment in life, eliminate boredom

Having fun in life is important. Fun is an expression of life-satisfaction. It correlates with positive emotions, nullified threats, pleasant moments, enjoyable experiences, interpersonal bonding, etc. Fun and enjoyment are also linked to higher grades in schools and colleges.

When we enjoy and have a good mood, our brain activates a wider network of memories and is more acceptable to new perspectives and change. This enhances all sorts of learning and personal growth.

Boredom is one of the strongest negative forces in most people’s lives. It implies a lack of excitement, lack of stimulation, lack of enriching experiences, etc. Boredom worsens life-satisfaction, counter happiness, and makes us question the quality of our lives. Boredom is, technically, an insidious negative mental state, closely linked to numbness. People avoid boredom like they avoid pain.


27. Maintain balance & harmony in your way of life – however you define it

While we all are individuals and unique humans, we all benefit from some balance in life. Balance in social situations, balance in how our days are spent, harmony at home, harmony at work. When people have a sense of balance and harmony, they are more likely to believe they are satisfied with their life. No matter what you do and choose in life, eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well. Healthy food, physical activity and sleep hygiene (HEPAS) may be the best defense against neuropsychiatric disorders.


Global summary:

To Improve life-satisfaction and quality of life, have an active lifestyle, eat healthy food, exercise, have different experiences, achieve something, have a vision, make sense of the world, sleep, nurture social relationships, learn healthy coping strategies, show self-love, express gratitude, appreciate beauty, maintain balance, meditate, and modify your internal dialog.


P.S. Socioeconomic status, terminal illnesses, permanent disabilities, living in political unrest & war-zones, and trauma can affect the quality of life in extreme ways. These aspects are often completely out of one’s control or require precise professional case-specific help, or communication with specialized support groups. These situations can shake the very nature of being human and change the concept of living a relatively normal life.

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