How To Find Happiness – The Science Behind It

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail(Last Updated On: August 19, 2018)

Happy group of friends

What’s the secret to achieving happiness? We all want to have more joy in our lives, but most of us are unsure of how to attain it. Well, research has discovered that there are specific skills and steps that if practiced, will increase the pleasure of living. If you’re looking for specific things to do, these 50 things will surely cheer you up and make you happier.

Can Happiness Be Defined?

Happiness varies for each person so it can be difficult to define. Some social psychologists simply view it as having more positive than negative emotions. Yet others categorize happiness into three parts: feeling good, living good, and feeling part of a higher purpose.

There are also significant differences between short and long-term happiness. The former refers to a sudden burst of joy, while the latter embodies our entire life. Lurching towards instant gratification is a common stumbling block we tend to trip over in the pursuit of happiness.

The Happiness Framework

Conventional psychology defines happiness as a state of well-being characterized by pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Philosophers and western theologians have viewed happiness as the act of flourishing or living the “good life.” Yet Dr. Martin Seligman, a leading authority in positive psychology, has identified three broad types of happiness.

1. The Pleasant Life

Your goal is to experience as much pleasure as possible. You take shortcuts to find happiness and develop skills to increase the length, potency, and fullness of the pleasure. However, these experiences do not lead to complete fulfillment.

2. The Engaged Life

You receive gratification from understanding your strengths and fully employing them to enhance leisure, work, and relationships. You live life fully engaged and committed to what you do and who you are with. This form of happiness is pleasant but also allows you to feel connected.

3. Meaningful Life

Living a meaningful life involves using your strengths in the service of a higher purpose. You contribute your time and skills to a cause that benefits someone or something other than yourself.

According to Dr. Seligman, focusing solely on the pursuit of pleasure will not lead to long-term fulfillment. You can only find lasting happiness by living an engaged and meaningful life.

This is my happy place sign

Can We Really Increase Our Happiness?

Thousands of self-help gurus have been claiming for decades to know the key to attaining long-term happiness. However, there’s been a considerable increase in scientific studies on the science of what makes people happy. Much of this research outlines the specific steps you can take to feel more joy in your life. Here’s how.

Exercise More

Many people resolve to exercise more every new year. Yet science has shown that besides improving your health, exercise enhances your ability to enjoy life.

Exercising has a massive impact on our level of happiness according to research from The Happiness Advantage. The study focuses on three groups of depressed participants receiving a treatment of either medication, exercise or both. The results show that exercise is the determining factor in reducing depression.

But you don’t have to suffer from depression to reap the mind-altering rewards from exercise. Physical activity changes the brain by releasing endorphins that allow you to feel happier. And according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology, people who exercise regularly have an improved self-image even if their bodies haven’t changed.

When you exercise regularly, it’s not accidental that you are relaxed and less anxious, and basically more content. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that provides feelings of euphoria and motivation. It is routinely correlated with the “pleasure system of the brain.

And what is the best method for increasing your brain’s production of dopamine? Exercise, of course. So take a few minutes each day to get your body moving while feeling healthier and happier in the process.

Go Outside

When you go outside in the sun, your body is nourished with good old vitamin D. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that soaking up some sunlight for 20 minutes daily will boost your mood in the short and long-term. In addition to stimulating your mood, the sun also expands thinking and invigorates your working memory.

A UK study also reveals that people feel considerably more content outside surrounded by nature than in an urban environment. So on a beautiful sunny day, carve out some time to go outside and reap the benefits of an organic mood booster. Just don’t forget to put on the sunscreen.

Get More Quality Sleep

Getting a good night of quality sleep is essential in maintaining overall health and happiness. Studies prove that failing to get at least four hours of sleep per night will make you less optimistic. And research also shows that cutting back on sleep impairs your ability to function appropriately at school and work.

People who don’t get adequate sleep are more prone to embrace pessimistic thinking. Research shows that sleep-deprived college students remember far more words with a negative connotation than positive or neutral words. Another study reveals that people who take midday naps are less responsive to negativity but more receptive to positive emotions.

Whether taking catnaps or snuggling in for the night, quality Zzz’s foster positive perceptions that lead to a happier life.

Smile

Although some people view smiling as a reaction to feeling good, scientists have hypothesized that it actually makes people feel happier. Smiling tricks the brain’s pleasure center into thinking you’re happy; consequently, your mood improves.

Smiling can make you feel more content, but it works best when you combine the act with positive thinking. In a Michigan State University study, customer service workers using fake smiles throughout the day were more negative and less productive. While the workers who smiled as they reflected on positive thoughts were in better moods and more responsive.

Smiling is an effective method to relieve stress caused by a frustrating event or circumstance. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as a “facial feedback hypothesis.” Putting on a smile during an upsetting situation can be just enough to jump-start your mood.

So the next time you feel discouraged or down in the dumps, flash a big smile to improve your mood and your day.

Happy kid playing with smiley baloons

Make Showing Gratitude a Habit

Gratitude is a mindset that enables us to acknowledge and appreciate the good things in our lives while returning the kindness. Studies show that developing a gratitude mindset increases happiness. Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that focusing on blessings with intentionality has a positive impact on your emotional health.

Simple actions like writing a heartfelt thank you note or keeping a gratitude journal create optimism and enthusiasm that lasts throughout the day. In fact, experts assert that writing just one daily sentence expressing gratitude will improve your mood and interactions with others. Try establishing a habit of showing appreciation, and you’ll add more satisfaction and meaning to your life.

Put the Cellphone Down

Over 1.8 million smartphones are sold daily, and most of us are on our phones for more than three hours a day. We eat, watch TV, and use the bathroom on our phones, so it’s pretty evident that we like staying connected. But we have to pay a price for having the entire social network at our fingertips.

A Kent State study suggests that excessive contact with social media leads to academic issues, anxiety, and reduced satisfaction with life. Too much time on your phone equates to less meaningful personal interactions. Take a break from your cell phone, and your outlook on life will improve.

Spend Money on Experiences

No, money cannot buy happiness. However, Harvard professor, Michael Norton asserts that people who spend money on social experiences are happier individuals. Plus, anticipating a fun or exciting activity releases that happiness-inducing chemical called dopamine for an extra boost joy.

Research also shows that spending money on experiences rather than material possessions is intrinsically more satisfying. Try spending your hard-earned cash on a purpose-driven activity you’re passionate about. Create meaningful experiences and memories, and live a prosperous life.

Meditate

Meditation enhances clarity, focus, attention span, and yes, it makes you feel happier. It is arguably the most effective way to live a more fulfilled life. And case studies prove that meditating on a regular basis will reconfigure your brain to provide long-term happiness.

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed their subject’s brain scans after participating in a two-month course on mindfulness meditation. After the session, the areas in the subject’s brains connected to self-awarenesses expanded, and the areas related to stress diminished. Begin meditating regularly to increase feelings of calm and contentment and gain a heightened sense of self-actualization.

Socialize With Family and Friends

Even if you are an introvert, social interaction is an essential component to becoming happier. A study in National Geographic looking at the world’s happiest places shows that generally, the more we socialize, the happier we are.

Spending time with family and friends has a significant impact on your quality of life. In fact, a study in the Journal of Socio-Economics estimates that our relationships are worth over $131,232 a year.

Failing to stay connected with family and friends is one of the top five regrets of people who are dying. Forming positive relationships plays a considerable role in how positive people feel. So make cultivating meaningful relationships a priority, and live a more abundant life.

Get a Hobby

Currently, hobbies are generating a lot of buzz among social scientists who specialize in happiness research. There’s a good reason for the interest too. People who focus on developing their passions experience increased levels of happiness.

Hobbies reflect who you are. They are activities that you choose to engage in just because you enjoy them. And although hobbies that involve learning something new can cause a bit of frustration, mastering them is an intrinsic reward.

Fully engaging in something enjoyable facilitates what’s called a “flow.” During this period, enjoyment, interest, and concentration are perfectly intertwined. When this occurs, embrace it.

Try placing more value on time well spent rather than only pursuing monetary rewards. It’s important to spend your precious time wisely. Now is the time to start nurturing your hobbies and relish in the self-confidence that stems from doing what you love.

Cut the Commute

Very few people enjoy the experience of driving an hour to work. But it also takes a toll on your health. Surprisingly, research calculates that we’ll be $40,000 happier if we cut an hour of commuting out of our lives.

A study by the Office for National Statistics finds that every minute that we add to our commute has a detrimental effect on our happiness, anxiety level, and overall wellbeing. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert aptly states, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.” Commuters feel more frustration and dissatisfaction than their counterparts who don’t commute long hours even if they make less money.

So if possible, move closer to where you work or try finding a job near your home. Cutting out the commute will give you a better attitude at work and a brighter outlook on life.

Woman giving roses away

Embrace the Power of Giving

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It is better to give than receive.” But this is more than just an adage parents use to coax their kids to share. From the beginning of time, scholars, theologians, and philosophers have agreed that the key to attaining happiness is helping others.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published research that reveals that spending money on other people brings more pleasure than buying material possessions. In addition, a German study finds that volunteering increases people’s satisfaction with life. And Dr. Achor’s book states that the sweet spot for carving out time to help others is two hours a week.

Lending a hand to someone less fortunate makes us more appreciative of what we have. Studies show that the act of helping releases pleasure endorphins that creates what’s called a “helper’s high.” Whether you’re offering your time, money or resources, altruism will reduce stress, increase life expectancy, and improve your mental health.

Helping others increases feelings of self-worth and allows you to develop a deeper appreciation for your current situation in life.

Embrace the power of lending a helping hand, and watch the power of giving enrich your life.

Conclusion

Although you may believe that your current predicament or past experiences prevent you from finding long-term happiness, it’s probably not the case. In truth, only about 60% of your happiness level stems from genetics or environmental factors.

You control your body, habits, and life, so try these scientific steps to live a happier life.

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