Happiness — it’s what we all strive to find and keep, even when it’s as elusive as ever. Nobody is jolly and elated all the time, but some individuals are definitely more fulfilled than others. Studies reveal that happiness has little to do with materialistic needs, goods, wants, or high achievement; it boils down to your outlook on life, the quality of your relationships, and basic amenities like good governance and community resources. Read on for more tips and tricks on how to unlock the happier you.
Be optimistic. In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year afterward, they were no happier than people who didn’t. This hedonic adaptation suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary, and we tend to revert to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that is due in part to genetics, but it’s also largely influenced by how you think.
- Add up all the little joyful things that happen to you during the day. For example, there was no traffic on the road, you had a decent breakfast, your friend said something uproariously humorous that made you laugh, you took your dog out for a walk in the park and played with it. All of these matters added together account to one big chunk of happiness.
- Look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty. Your boyfriend broke up with you? Now you have the chance to meet someone else! You lost your job? Now you can seize the opportunity to find a better one! Adjust your mentality so that, in everything that happens to you, there’s some kernel of good.
- Put yourself in situations where fabulous, fortunate things are likely to happen to you. It’s easier to remain optimistic if you set yourself up for success. Ask yourself before you act: Am I setting myself up for success or for failure?
- Think of your current situation (however hard it may be) and then think of how much harder some other people have it. Just be happy that you are not in that worse situation. Learn to enjoy your life!
Follow your gut. In one study, two groups of people were asked to pick a poster to take home. One group was asked to analyze their decision, weighing pros and cons, and the other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was happier with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions.
- Next time you have a decision to make, and you’re down to two or three options, just pick the one that feels right, and go with it. Never regret the decisions you make though. Just live by the 3 C’s of life: choices, chances, and changes. You need to make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change.
Make enough money to meet basic needs — food, shelter, and clothing. In the US, that magic number is $60,000 a year. Any money beyond that will not necessarily make you happier. Remember the lottery winners mentioned earlier? Oodles of money didn’t make them happier. Once you make enough to support basic needs, your happiness is not significantly affected by how much money you make, but by your level of optimism.
Treat your body like it deserves to be happy. It may sound cheesy to say, but your brain isn’t the only organ in your body that deserves to be happy. Researchers have found that exercise, healthy diets, and regular sleep are key factors in growing more happy and staying that way.
- People who are physically active have higher incidences of enthusiasm and excitement. Scientists hypothesize that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that elevate our mood.
- Eat right. Eating healthy foods — fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — gives your body and brain the energy it needs to be healthy. Some scientists speculate that unhealthy diets, especially those rich in processed carbohydrates, sugars, and industrial vegetable fats, is responsible for brain shrinkage and certain brain diseases like depression and dementia.
- Get enough sleep. Study after study confirms it: the more sleep you get, the happier you tend to be. Getting just a single extra hour of sleep per night makes the average person happier than making $60,000 more in annual income, astoundingly enough.
Stay close to friends and family. Studies show that people who live close to their family and friends are happier.
Be compassionate. Compassion is all about doing something kind for someone in need, or someone less privileged than yourself. A brain-imaging study (where scientists peek into people’s brains while they act or think) revealed that people gain as much happiness from watching others give to charity as they do receiving money themselves!
- Think of easy, quick, and effective ways that you can make your community a better place by being compassionate:
- Tutor, volunteer, or get involved in a church group. Countless children are looking for someone to teach them and act as a role model.
- Give a person in need food, clothing or shelter. It’s so basic we often forget to think about it, yet so easy to do.
Have deep, meaningful conversations. A study by a psychologist at the University of Arizona has shown that spending less time participating in small talk and more time in deep, meaningful conversations can increase happiness. So next time you’re beating around the bush with a friend, instead cut right to the chase. You’ll be happier for it.
Find happiness in the job you have now: Many people expect the right job or career to dramatically change their level of happiness. But research makes it clear that your levels of optimism and quality of relationships eclipse the satisfaction gained from your job.
- If you have a positive outlook, you will make the best of any job; and if you have good relationships, you won’t depend on your job for a sense of meaning. You’ll find meaning in interactions with the people you care about.
- This is not to say you shouldn’t aspire to get a job that will make you happier; many people find that being on the right career path is a key determination in their overall happiness. It just means you should understand that the capacity of your job to make you happy is quite small when compared to your outlook and your relationships.
Smile. Science suggests that when you smile, whether you’re happy or not, your mood is elevated. So smile all the time if you can! Smiling is like a feedback loop: smiling reinforces happiness, just as happiness causes smiling. People who smile during painful procedures reported less pain than those who kept their facial features neutral.
Forgive. In a study of college students, an attitude of forgiveness contributed to better cardiovascular health. You could say forgiveness literally heals the heart. While it is unknown how forgiveness directly affects your heart, the study suggests that it may lower the perception of stress.
Make friends. In a study published by Harvard researchers in American Sociological Review, people who went to church regularly reported greater life satisfaction than those who didn’t. The critical factor was not that they went to church, but rather the quality of friendships made in church. (Church-goers who lacked close friends there were no happier than people who never went to church.) When researchers compared people who had the same number of close friends, those who had close friends from church were more satisfied with their lives.
- The difference is the forming of friendships based on mutual interests and beliefs. So if church is not your thing, consider finding something else you’re deeply passionate about, making friends with those who share similar interests.
- When you interact with people who share your interests, you feel happier due to sensations of reward and well-being. This is because during such interactions, endorphin and dopamine — neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and relaxation — are released into the body. In other words, your body is designed to feel happier when engaged in social interactions.
Adapted from How to Be Happy.