Happiness is a universal goal, but only a few people seem to achieve it effortlessly. It is a feeling that comes over you, you realize that life is good and you can’t help but smile. It can also be defined as a sense of well-being, joy or contentment.
Happiness comes from within and doesn’t need an external source to be activated.
While it’s not possible to be happy all the time, we all have a remarkable capacity to bring about a greater degree of happiness to our lives. Just a few changes here and there in your daily life, along with a change in attitude, is all you need to find happiness.
Even science has come up with a few ways that we can use to make ourselves happier.
Here are the top 10 science-backed things that will make you happy.
1. Practice Gratitude
By practicing gratitude, you can bring more happiness into your life.
Gratitude means the act of being thankful for the simple things in life. It can bring more positivity and happiness as well as satisfaction in life. Practicing gratitude can even protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety and depression.
On the other hand, complaining about things works in an opposite way and creates gloominess in life.
In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers examined the effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being. After a thorough analysis, results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
Another 2008 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality reports that overall gratitude seems to directly foster social support and protect people from stress and depression.
Hence, it is important to be grateful for all the little things in your life. Always bear in mind that many people are less fortunate and do not even have these little things for which to be thankful.
To keep a tab on the things you feel lucky to have in your life, maintain a gratitude journal. Write down the things that you feel grateful for in the journal.
2. Smile More
Practice smiling to alleviate pain and bring more happiness.
The simple act of smiling can make anyone feel better within seconds. The power of a smile is even more effective when backed up with positive thoughts.
Smiling sends signals back to the brain, which in turn increases the level of happy hormones, or endorphins. In short, when your brain feels happy, the result is a big smile and vice versa.
A 2011 study published in the Academy of Management Journal studied a group of city bus drivers regarding the effects of surface acting, or fake smiling, and deep acting, or cultivating positive emotions by recalling pleasant memories or thinking about the current situation in a more favorable way. After two weeks, it was found that drivers who smiled as a result of cultivating positive thoughts, such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital, improved their mood and withdrew less.
Smiling can even improve your attention and help you perform better on cognitive tasks.
Even the simple act of holding a pencil with your teeth, which engages the muscles used to smile, can actually make you feel better. So, the next time you are stressed or sad, do this simple exercise to lift your mood.
3. Do Things for Others
Any kind of volunteer activity is good, as it means getting out of your comfort zone and reaching out for people who are in need of your services.
Volunteering work can make you stronger and more physically fit, which in turn helps you deal with stress better and live a more satisfied life.
Plus, it can build social connections and provide a deep sense of happiness, which is also associated with a longer and healthier life.
Helping others or volunteering does not always mean you need to spend money. You can spend your time visiting or helping out in old-age homes or community centers.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior highlights the positive relationships between volunteer work in the community and six aspects of personal well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health and depression.
Later, a 2012 study published in Aging & Mental Health showed that volunteering is related to increased happiness, irrespective of ethnicity but moderated by economic status. Older individuals at the low end of the economic spectrum are likely to benefit more from volunteering than those at the high end.
Try to take just 1 to 2 hours out of your busy schedule every week for volunteer work and feel the change in your life.
4. Exercise More
Exercising your body is a powerful happiness booster. Similar to mood-boosting drugs, working out on a daily basis increases the amount of serotonin and endorphins circulating in the brain that boost happiness. It also alleviates stress, another important aspect of happiness.
Exercise even boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised six days a week for 40 minutes daily felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes. Feeling good about your body is a key factor in determining your happiness level.
A 2015 study published in BioMed Central Public concluded that high levels of physical activity were associated with higher levels of happiness. Happiness was strongest for “a lot” of domestic and/or “some” vocational physical activity.
Another study published in the same year in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing concluded that a physical exercise program had positive effects on happiness among older adults.
There is no need to run marathons to boost your happiness. In fact, there are many simple things you can do to be more active each day. Start small and gradually build a habit of exercising daily.
The invention of cell phones and social media platforms have made many things easier. You can talk to a friend living miles away within seconds with the help of a cell phone. Through social media platforms, you can get regular updates on what’s going on in the lives of your friends and family members.
Although social media and cell phones seem harmless, there are actually many detrimental effects associated with using them.
Checking social media sites frequently can have severe psychological effects, ranging from increased chances of depression to heightened social anxiety.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that daily use of social media by adolescents led to an excess of attention- and reassurance-seeking behavior. This in turn led to heightened levels of depression and anxiety.
Another 2015 study carried out by the Happiness Research Institute involved a sample of 1,095 people in Denmark divided into two groups, half of whom continued using Facebook while the others stopped. At the end of the experiment, the abstainers reported having a better social life and fewer difficulties in concentrating, while the others reported no such change.
A 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior reports that high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPAs, higher anxiety and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used cell phones less often.
To lead a happy life, try to limit your use of cell phones as well as social media.
6. Connect More with People
Relationships are the most important contributor to happiness.
People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. In this regard, economic status is not a factor.
Get out of your comfort zone and start spending time with your family members and friends. Being socially active paves the way for more love, meaning and support in life. It even instills a feeling of self-worth and belonging.
In fact, relationships and happiness are connected vice versa. Working on relationships is good for happiness and working on happiness is good for relationships.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics explores the use of the shadow-pricing method to estimate the monetary value of the satisfaction with life gained by a greater frequency of interaction with friends, relatives and neighbors. It was found that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior shows that social relationships affect a range of health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, health habits and mortality risk.
Several studies even hint that money may be more frequently primed in today’s world, and interpersonal relationships and happiness suffer as a consequence.
So, instead of running after work and money, take time out to spend with family and friends.
7. Do 10 Minutes of Meditation
Many of us know that meditation is very important, but very few of us practice it.
Meditation helps improve focus, clarity, attention span and calmness in your life. With time, meditation increases positive emotions, which in turn increases happiness and overall life satisfaction.
When it comes to meditation, mindfulness meditation is the best. This type of meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment.
A 2011 study published in Psychiatry Research suggests that people who practice mindfulness meditation experience changes in the gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking.
In the book titled “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being”, the author reports that meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.
Meditation is even beneficial at reducing anxiety.
A 2014 study published in Mindfulness shows that self-compassion and mindfulness can be associated with reductions in anxiety, and the cultivation of mindfulness has the most robust mediating effect on reductions in trait anxiety.
8. Spend More Time with Mother Nature
In today’s age of high technology, with life more concentrated behind closed doors and miles away from nature, dissatisfaction and sadness have increased.
However, hunger for the natural world still endures and it is one of the best medicines for people of all ages. Being in nature and appreciating Mother Nature’s small wonders can improve health, happiness and well-being.
On the other hand, deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology concludes that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, and this sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction.
A 2014 study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology reports that green space can make people happier for years.
A 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness when compared with people who walked through an urban environment.
Stop and take notice of the world around you. Instead of heading to a gym, go for a walk in a green park near you.
9. Tame Your Materialism
Craving more and better stuff seriously affects your happiness level. On the other hand, by spending your hard-earned money wisely, you can get a handle on your materialism and boost your well-being.
People derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and, in fact, waiting for an experience to happen tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than getting a material good.
If your financial status allows, spending money on experiences rather than stuff can help you get the much-deserved happiness in life. For instance, going on a holiday with family or friends will give you more pleasure than buying clothes and shoes.
A 2014 study published in Psychological Science found that experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tends to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having).
You can also make monetary contributions to trusts and organizations that are working for the welfare of needy people or betterment of society.
To increase your happiness, keep a close eye on your spending and steer clear of snobbish behavior.
10. Practice Spirituality or Faith
Spirituality means the process of learning the inner and original self. People who are spiritual have a purpose and meaning in life, and they feel connected to a broader eternal power. These things help determine happiness.
In fact, spirituality and happiness both are very important concepts of a human life.
A recent 2016 study published in the International Journal of Indian Psychology found spirituality makes a person more open to positive emotions and feelings. So, spirituality is highly positively correlated with happiness.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that children’s spirituality, but not their religious practices (e.g., attending church, praying and meditating), was strongly linked to their happiness. Children who were more spiritual were happier.