15 Ways to Improve Your Life for Free

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We all want to be happy, healthy, and reach our full potential. Day-to-day stressors and major traumas spare no one, so it's important to have practices in place that help us deal with hardships, whether fleeting or more serious. There are simple things anyone can do to nurture a life of joy rather than one burdened with anger, sadness, and envy.

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The ancient practice of meditation has been lauded by Eastern cultures as the key to happiness and life satisfaction. Modern-day Western science is beginning to find such a connection. But more important than what brain scans show is how you feel when meditation practice is part of your routine. Respected teachers advocate for daily sessions, even as little as two minutes a day. Many websites offer tips for meditation beginners.

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Even if you don't feel like smiling, force yourself. According to a report in Scientific American. the effects of muscle memory can help release chemicals in the brain that make you feel happy. Smiling also projects a positive outward attitude, drawing more positivity to you. And let's not forget that smiling makes you more attractive, which could lead to new social and even romantic interests that boost your happiness level.

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Studies routinely show that nearly half of all Americans don't drink enough water. Most people wait until they're thirsty, but by that time your body is already dehydrated. A fully hydrated body is a properly functioning body, and one that leaves you with more energy to enjoy the world around you. The website Slender Kitchen shows how to calculate the amount of water you should drink every day. Take the challenge and notice how you feel.

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Laughter is the best medicine, according to WebMD, because it boosts the immune system, increases blood flow to the brain, and gives your body a mini cardio workout. The power of laughter to relieve stress is exceptional, not least because it is a social activity that binds people together. Make it a point to spend time with your funny friends and find humor in the little details of life. Laugh at least once every day – ideally, much more.

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Walking outside is a free and easy way to improve your life. You'll get a shot of Vitamin D from the sun while the fresh air and sunshine will bring a smile to your face and make your body feel good. Walking is what fitness experts call "active rest," which is the best way to keep your body engaged while giving it, and your mind, time to relax. If you're lucky enough to live near a creek of lake, a simple 10 minute walk in nature can be your version of daily meditation -- just let your mind unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures.

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Giving your time to a community, person, or organization is more than charitable -- it also increases happiness. While volunteering or donating is normally not considered a selfish indulgence, an academic study found that giving makes humans feel good, whether or not what we give actually helps. The intention and act of exerting energy or resources on something or someone other than ourselves connects us with a sense of universal love, which leads to that warm, fuzzy feeling. Next time you feel down, rather than indulging your sorrows with a new shirt or ice cream cone, donate a few items from your closet or sign up for a volunteer visit at a retirement community.

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No matter what your situation, there is always something to be thankful for. Often times the people who have lost the most are the most thankful because they appreciate what they still have. When you feel anger or desire set in, or fall into an unpleasant situation, take a moment to come up with at least five things you are thankful for. Embracing thankfulness will fill you with genuine happiness and quickly become a stress-relieving response.

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Regular exercise is important for everyone's health, which is a key factor in overall quality of life. Even if regular exercise is part of your routine, you can still use it as an extra stress-relieving booster. When exercising, your body gets a rush of endorphins that put a positive spin on your outlook and promote a sense of euphoria. Just 20 minutes of a cardio workout can take your mood from low to high and leave you feeling good about your body.

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Americans are most anxious over jobs and the economy, according to a 2013 poll by the Washington Post and Miller Center, with no shortage of concerns about other matters. But regardless what prompts the worrying, don't waste the energy. Most of the time we worry about what may or may not happen even though worrying won't change anything. All worry does is flood the body and brain with cortisol, the stress hormone, which inhibits regular bodily functions such as appetite and sleep. Rather than indulge in negative thoughts, ask yourself if there is something you could do to ensure a positive outcome; if not, be thankful for the moment you are in.

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It's difficult to let go of anger and sadness, especially when the emotions seem warranted. Sharon Salzberg, a teacher of and writer about meditation, once suggested treating these emotions like brief house guests -- acknowledge them and offer them a cup of tea...to go. Don't ignore or push down your negative emotions, but once you recognize them, let them move on so they don't hinder your decisions or actions. Letting go takes practice and constant effort but eventually will reduce your stress and even improve and inspire those around you to do the same.

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A cluttered home can affect your life in negative ways, from feeling tired and overwhelmed to feeling stressed when you can't find something. Keeping your space neat and tidy will boost your productivity and confidence. Flex your minimalist muscle once a season and do a sweep of each room for things you can donate or discard.

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Humans are social creatures and our friends are the people we've chosen to share ourselves with. Hanging out with friends can inspire and reinvigorate you in unexpected ways, distinct from the effect wrought by work colleagues and family members. Americans are notorious workaholics who tend to focus all their energy on careers and family, often neglecting a self-oriented need to kick back and relax with friends. Schedule at least one hour a week to enjoy the company of friends.

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More and more neurological studies show the negative effects of complaining and being exposed to constant complaining. Expressing disappointment is normal, but excessive carping actually damages the brain. There will never be any shortage of things to grouse about, so it's a good idea to break the habit now. Challenge yourself to go a week without complaining and exercise your brain muscle to help you avoid falling into a pit of despair in the future.

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Turning on sitcom reruns or a classic movie may be a good way to unwind, but most of us watch entirely too much television. The more time we spend in front of a flickering screen filled with images, studies suggest, the less we exercise the higher functioning regions of our brains, which eventually leads to atrophy. While we may consider TV one of our best friends, too much exposure holds us back from experiencing life and growing into our full potential. Limit your TV intake to an hour or two a day to keep your brain healthy and your whole self actively engaged with the world.

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For all the health fads and trendy diets, experts agree on one thing: eating plants is good for you. Regardless whether you consume meat and/or other animal products, increasing the amount of plant-based food will give you more energy and improve your digestion. The enzymes in raw fruits and vegetables provide a natural boost of easily absorbed energy and the fiber helps flush the body of toxins. Try incorporating two to three servings of raw fruits and vegetables every day and enjoy the health benefits and increased energy.