Originally Published on psysci.co
It’s easy to become obsessed with the pursuit of seeking happiness, but the truth is we can all do a little something to feel a bit happier. Often ‘a bit’ happier is all it takes to feel significantly better, the journey to happiness is more of an accumulation of marginal gains rather than one big thing suddenly making us happier.
Some of these ways will be more useful to certain people than others and for that reason they are in no particular order.
Research recently published in the journal of positive psychology tested if explicit intentions to increase happiness results in higher levels of happiness. Participants listened to music while actively trying to elevate their mood. The study was able to show that the people who tried to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood, this boost was sustained for at least 2 weeks.
Considered by some as his pioneering work into happiness Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the architect of the notion of ‘Flow’ The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Flow refers to those experiences when a person is completely immersed in one single activity or event, a moment when all energy is focused on one thing and the rest of the world fades into the distance.
3. Spend money on others
This may sound counterintuitive but research has shown that spending money on others can make you feel happier. In the research participants were split into two groups and told either to spend money on themselves or on somebody else. The study was able to show that those who spent the money on someone else reported happier moods over the course of the day. More importantly (for some) the amount they spent on others didn’t matter, they still felt happier by giving even small amounts.
4. Make sure your partner is happy
This one might sound a bit obvious, and well it is, despite this people can become blinkered and see their pursuit of happiness as a solo mission. But research has recently confirmed the old Happy Wife Happy Life adage by showing that the higher the quality of marriage that was observed, the happier the couples evaluated their life as a whole, this was the same for both genders.
5. Take part in simple activities
But make sure you’re doing it properly and its the right activity for you! Researchers have recently developed a framework based on existing research that demonstrates that relatively simple intentional changes in one’s thoughts and behaviors can precipitate meaningful increases in happiness. So it might be time to ditch those self-help books.
6. Listen to music
While #1 required people to try and feel happier while listening to positive music, strangely listening to sad music also prompts a boost in happiness. A recent study found that listening to sad music is actually beneficial in helping us to focus on and work through our difficult emotions.
7. Spend more time outside
Evolutionary wise the amount of time we spend inside is probably a bit awry. We are not designed to spend so much time inside, especially sitting down staring at a screen, we should be outside, away from technology and all of the modern day stresses at least some of the time. This is backed up by research that links time outdoors to a natural boost in happiness.
8. Exercise (Sorry)
Unfortunately for those who are not a fan of exercise, it has been shown time and time again to be extremely useful in improving mood. Some even go far as to say that regular strenuous exercise can be as good as taking antidepressant medication. One particular study recently published explains how exercise that helps our body to produce endorphins not only block feelings of pain but are also associated with a feeling of euphoria.
9. Sleep more (or better)
Getting a good nights sleep is unparalleled in feeling generally happier throughout the day. But more than that sleeping properly has been linked to many other benefits such as improved memory and increased optimism. One particular study showed how not getting enough sleep was linked to people choosing larger portions of food and performing worse at work. Lack of sleep can be seen as a catalyst for unhappy-inducing issues.
10. Be grateful
Most of us were brought up to say our pleases and thank you’s, probably out of politeness more than gratitude but growing evidence has shown that gratitude and happiness are strongly linked. Being grateful has been linked to positive emotions, boosts in energy levels and increased optimism.
11. Get a pet
Some anecdotally claim that a pet is happiness that you can buy but does science back this claim up? It seems so. Research has been able to show that pets can be a source of social and emotional support. Specifically the study was able to show that pet owners had better self-esteem, were more physically fit, were less lonely and more conscientious, as well as other benefits.
12. Move closer to work
Time spent sat in a car driving to and from work can seriously add up over the year. But what effect does this time wasted and generally frustration of sitting in traffic have on our happiness levels? Research has shown that it has a surprising and dramatic negative effect that can build up over time. The long drive may be a source of unhappiness that is never fully acknowledged or addressed.
Getting things off your chest has an immediate and tangible positive effect for most, so it would make sense that withholding things, specifically complaints when you have a problem would make you feel unhappy. At least that is what researchers recently found, specifically withholding complaints does come at an emotional cost.
14. Smile more
Smiling can make you look more attractive and feel better. Research found that people unable to frown due to having cosmetic botox injections are happier on average than people who can frown. As well as feeling happier the perpetual-smilers were found to be less anxious, this was shown to be a psychological boost rather than a boost purely from feeling more physically attractive due to the botox.
15. Plan a trip
Yes, plan a trip not take a trip. Well taking a trip might do the job as well but research has shown that simply planning a trip even if you don’t end up taking it will boost your levels of happiness. The research specifically showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage due to the anticipation.
16. Help others
We all feel a little buzz when we do something nice for somebody else, especially if we don’t know the person well or if its a stranger. But what does science say about how helping others effects our happiness? Well it shows us that the little buzz is in fact a result of happiness, specifically showing it increased life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence and generally improves mood and reduces stress.
17. Spend more time with friends
As we get older we tend to lose friends as life gets in the way. But research has shown that it is important to maintain friendships. Positive friendships help us to feel more confident, feel less stressed and generally people with more solid positive friendships see higher and more consistent levels of happiness.
18. Bin your negative thoughts
It has been shown time and time again that negative thinking will lead to a spiral of negative affect and ultimately unhappiness. So what can be done? Well research shows that people who physically discarded a representation of their thoughts, they mentally discarded them as well. So write that negative thought down, and throw it in the bin.
You’ve probably heard about people mentally rehearsing or mentally running through things, well science is now able to back this up as a valid tool. A study found that imagination is strong enough to change real-world perception, that is to say that changing your mindset can change what you see and hear in the physical world. Change your mindset for a happier state.
Modern consumer culture can compel people to buy things they don’t need simply because its available and it seems like a cool thing to buy at the time. But does consuming buy us happiness? Well it likely gives us a small immediate boost but research shows that given the choice, experiences provide a much better gain in happiness over consumption.
To many the idea of meditation is somewhat alien but with the ever increasing popularity of mindfulness mediation it is becoming more accessible, with apps and websites walking you through simple meditation techniques. Research shows that simply performing daily meditation for eight weeks can lead to increased levels of happiness.
With so much going on ‘these days’ focusing is not an easy thing. Phone calls, text messages, emails and social media can keep us distracted for hours. But researchers have shown that focusing can increase levels of happiness, much like the practice of mindfulness meditation focusing involves living in the present moment, which can help to cut out negative feelings.
23. Write a journal
Working in a similar way to #18 Bin your negative thoughts, writing down your thoughts for the day so that you don’t dwell on them has proven to be a successful way of increasing happiness. Research has shown that keeping a journal helps people to let go of their worries, hold onto positive experiences for longer and feel more grateful.
24. Learn something new
Learning new things affects our well-being in many positive ways. We are exposed to new ideas an information that helps us to stay engaged and curious about the world. After learning something new we also get a boost of self-confidence from the newly acquired skill. Learning new things also has an array of knock on benefits such as improved career prospects and independence.
25. Drink tea
It appears us Brits are right after all. While tea has been linked with a range of benefits, many turn out to be untrue but new research has been able to show that drinking tea is linked with a protective effect against the symptoms of depression. This is thought to be due to antioxidants that are naturally occurring in most types of tea, although in differing amounts.
26. Fake it
This isn’t about faking happiness per se but about faking your body language. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has shown how ‘power posing’ that is, standing in a confidence posture even when we don’t feel confident can affect levels of testosterone and cortisol in the brain and improve our chances of succeeding. This tactic is best employed when we need to appear confident to enhance our chances of success.
27. Buy Happiness
While this may contradict some advice in that buying things doesn’t buy happiness, evidence does say that people who spend more money in certain circumstances are happier. This is more about ensuring we are buying things to live better, so spending money on maintaining strong bonds with friends and family, promoting health and living more efficiently all provide a positive boost.
28. Eat a well balanced diet
Most people know eating a well balanced, fruit and vegetable rich diet is beneficial to our physical health. But eating nutrient rich food has been shown to improve your mental health as well as physical health. Research has shown that people who eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables everyday have higher levels of happiness and mental well-being.
29. Drink alcohol
While we should always drink in moderation, drinking socially can be a great short term boost to happiness, some would describe it as ‘borrowing’ happiness but there is some evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol releases feel good endorphins that enhance pleasure. Obviously drink sensibility as getting extremely drunk is definitely not fun, at least not for long.
30. Drink less alcohol
Erm, okay so this is sort of, the opposite of the last point so now might be a good time to point out that different substances effect different people differently and alcohol is no exception to that. In a 75 year long Harvard study they were able to show that people who moderated their alcohol intake were generally happier, healthier and had higher levels of well-being.
Talking therapies have proved extremely useful time after time but can a simple chat help to increase our levels of happiness? Well one study found that people who engaged in even meaningless chatter saw a boost in happiness levels. Part of the art of conversation is also listening, being a good listener has also been linked to a greater sense of well-being and strong relationships.
32. Have fun / Play
This one is quite often missed out on lists like this. But having fun and playing is such an obvious way to improve our levels of happiness that it seems silly to list it. But it is in fact backed up by some pretty impressive research. Play is an important developmental tool when we are growing and continues to be a something that is missing from many adults lives.
33. Take risks
As we get older we tend to avoid risks more and more, and rightly so, we have learnt our boundaries. But can some risk be good for our happiness levels? Research has shown that people who take more risks are generally happier and this could be for several reasons, firstly these risk pay off in terms of rewards. Research shows that well calculated risks help happiness levels.
34. Remain optimistic
Being optimistic might not be as easy as it sounds, especially if you aren’t a particularly optimistic person to start out with. But optimistic people generally respond to negative events more positively and this is protective against letting negative events make you feel unhappy. Researchers recommend framing negative events as temporary and limited, and remembering that over a life time they are insignificant and will pass quickly.
35. Say no
Not just randomly but when you should be doing. Some people find it very difficult to say no to requests, whether at work or in their personal lives. But saying no is important in order to make sure you aren’t taking on too much and that you are setting clear boundaries. Research has shown that overburdening yourself leads to feelings of being overwhelmed, severely worsening your state of happiness and well-being.
36. Lower your expectations
You might have jokingly heard people say they are lowering their expectations but it turns out that might not actually be a bad thing. Research suggests that lowering your expectations protects you from disappointment when things don’t go the way you hoped. Obviously this doesn’t mean stop striving, it just means aim for the best but prepare for the worst.
37. Take the right Supplements
While taking multivitamins is generally frowned up these days, there is evidence that suggests particular supplements are linked to well-being and increased levels of happiness. 2 supplements in particular have recently been shown to improve the symptoms of depression and increase general levels of mood. Luckily both are extremely safe and accessible.
Forgiveness comes easier to some people that it does to others. But just like letting go of negative emotions forgiving is essential so that we don’t enter a spiral of negativity. Researchers from Stanford University have been able to show that forgiveness is a huge predictor of happiness and well-being, explaining that forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment.
You can’t really do much with this one but it might act as reassurance. The vast majority of people see a rise in general happiness levels in line with ageing, we naturally grow happier. Researchers have shown that the older we get the more our memory is biased towards the positive. Another study has also demonstrated that we have simply learn to seek out the activities that we know will lift our moods.
40. Stop trying to be happy
The hard truth is that we aren’t supposed to or capable of being happy all of the time, so the endless pursuit for constant happiness is properly in vein at best and damaging at worst. This is backed up by a study completed by Yale psychologists who found that pursuing happiness can lead to increased expectations that ultimately lead to unhappiness if not fully realised.