25 Things That Make You Happier – based on Science

Humans have remarkable control over their own happiness.In her book, “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says a person’s happiness is 50% due to genetics, 10% due to circumstances, and the remaining 40% is “within our power to change.”But it takes work.That’s why we’ve compiled 25 different ways to boost your mood. Happiness is different for each person, but hopefully at least one of these methods will help you find your inner sunshine.

Draw pictures of unhealthy food.

Draw pictures of unhealthy food.

mhatzapa/Shutterstock

Studies have shown that eating high-calorie comfort foods can make your happier. The downside is this will also make you fat.

As an alternative, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science in May 2013 found that simply drawing pictures of foods high in fat, like cupcakes or pizza, and foods that taste sweet, like strawberries, can also boost your mood. The positive reactions were independent of subjects’ weight and hunger level.

“These results extend a growing body of biobehavioral research on the positive impact of food images on mood by showing that this impact can be applied to enhance mood when expressing food images through art,” the researchers concluded.

Be both an optimist and a realist.

People who have the positive attitude of optimists paired with the rational outlook of realists tend to be more successful and happy, according to psychology researcher Sophia Chou.

That’s because so-called “realistic optimists” have the perfect blend of personality types to succeed. Unlike idealists, they are willing to face challenging situations with a clear view of reality, but will use creativity and a positive outlook to try to work their way out of the problem.

Get your hands dirty.

Breathing in the smell of dirt may lift your spirits, according to a study which found that a bacteria commonly found in soil produces effects similar to antidepressant drugs.

The harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, stimulated the release of serotonin in the brain after it was injected into mice. Low levels of serotonin is what causes depression in people.

In a human test, cancer patients reported increases in their quality of life when they were treated with the bacteria.

The findings “leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt,” lead author Chris Lowry of the University of Bristol in England said in a statement.

Become a florist or a gardener.

Become a florist or a gardener.

AP/Jacquelyn Martin

Maybe it has something to do with those magical soil microbes, but florists and gardeners are the happiest with their careers, according to a survey by vocational training organization City and Guilds.

Of those surveyed, more than 80% of florists and gardeners said they feel their work is worthwhile and useful, they feel recognized and appreciated, and they get to use their skills every day.

Have sex — with one partner.

It’s well-known that sex makes people happy. According to a 2004 study among 1,000 women published in the journal American Economic Review, sex produced the single largest amount of happiness out of a list of 19 activities.

But sleeping with one person can be even more satisfying. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that people who had one partner were happier than people who had several partners throughout the year. “A bi-weekly ride on a merry-go-round may be better than an annual ride on a roller coaster,” the authors write.

Spend money on many small pleasures rather than a few big ones.

Spend money on many small pleasures rather than a few big ones.

Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

The same 2011 study found that frequent small pleasures, like double lattes, pedicures, or soft socks provides more happiness than infrequent large ones like sports cars or vacations.

Happiness “is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences,” the study said.

Research shows that breaking up enjoyable experiences into brief events — such as two 20-minute massages at different times rather than one 40-minute massage — gives people more pleasure.

Eat lunch on the beach.

Eating lunch at your desk can be a real downer, report scientists from the University of Sussex who measured the happiness of employees after they ate lunch in different locations.

The results showed that workers were happiest about their work when they ate lunch on the beach and least happy about work when they ate at their desk.

Getting outside in the sun was key to staving off misery — people who ate in parks had a more positive attitude about their jobs than those who chowed down at a restaurant or at home.

Make your bed.

Making the bed is “one of the quickest, easiest steps to cultivate a sense of order,” according to Gretchin Rubin, creator of the The Happiness Project.

Why does order matter?

“Outer order contributes to inner calm,” she says. And regaining a sense a control, especially when one feels overwhelmed, cheers people up.

Graham Hill, the founder of TreeHugger.com, makes a similar case for de-cluttering your bedroom. He argues in a TedTalk that less stuff in your room leads to more happiness.

Focus on what you’re doing right now.

Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing? If the answer is “yes” then you are less happy than people who don’t have a wandering mind, according to research from Harvard University.

About 46% of people spend their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, say Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost,” the study, published in the journal Science, concluded.

Move to Australia.

Move to Australia.

Flickr/Richard Fisher

Brisbane, Australia.

For the second year in a row, Australia was ranked in 2013 as the world’s happiest country by the Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD).

Eighty-four percent of Aussies are content with their lives, attributable to good health, high levels of employment, and strong civic participation.

“Australia performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index,” the OECD writes on its website.

Eat seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day.

Fruits and vegetables are good for the body and soul. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that people who eat at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day are happier than those who eat very few fruits and vegetables.

“When comparing small and large levels of fruit and vegetable consumption per day, the effect corresponds to between 0.25 and 0.33 life-satisfaction points. To put that in perspective, the known (huge) effect of being unemployed corresponds to a loss of 0.90 of a life-satisfaction point,” the authors explain.

Maintain a position of power.

People with power, either at work, with friends, or in a relationship, lead happier lives, according a study from Tel Aviv University. In a survey of 350 people, researchers found that those who felt more powerful were more satisfied with their lives, especially in their jobs.

The study concludes: “By leading people to be true to their desires and inclinations — to be authentic — power leads individuals to experience greater happiness.”

Master a skill.

Working hard to improve a skill or ability, such as learning how to drive or solving a math problem, may increase stress in the short-term, but makes people feel happy and more content with their lives in the long run, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reported.

“People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well. And what’s striking is that you don’t have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well-being,” co-author Ryan Howell  said in a statement.

Seal your worries in an envelope, literally.

One study found that sealing materials related to a bad experience in an envelope, improved their feelings toward that negative event.

“What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions,” says co-author Dilip Soman from the University of Tornonto.

Surround yourself with happy people.

Emotions are like germs. As people observe others in specific emotional states, those emotions spread from one person to the next like an “emotional contagion,” explain researchers who investigated the spread of happiness among nearly 5,000 individuals over a 20-year period.

As a result, people “who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future,” the researchers conclude.

Volunteer.

Doing good for others increases personal happiness, a 2008 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine confirmed. People who volunteer for religious groups and organizations report higher levels of happiness than those who do not volunteer, regardless of socio-economic factors.

Interestingly, the researchers learned that other types of altruistic behavior, like giving money to charity or donating blood did not have the same effect on happiness. They believe that volunteering increases empathy by making people more aware of others’ needs. Volunteers come to appreciate what they have rather than focusing on what they don’t have.

Play with puppies.

Researchers at Birkbeck University in London measured the brainwaves of 80 people who participated in different activities. Although finding a stray £10 note generated the highest level of pleasure, playing with puppies also scored well on the happiness index.

Stroking pets “showed increased activity in the left-hand side of the brain — a sign of happiness,” PhD student Mervyn Etienne said in a statement.

Several studies have shown that owning a pet relieves anxiety, loneliness, and depression by providing comfort and physical contact.

Smile more (even if it’s fake).

Research from Clark University found that smiling activates memories associated with happiness.

In the study, published in 2003 in the journal Cognition and Emotion, subjects were divided into three groups: One group was told to smile, another group was told to make an angry expression, and the last group was supposed to look sad. All groups were then shown cards with neutral words on them, like “tree” or “house.” The group of smilers had more positive responses to the cards than the angry and sad groups.

“Pretend that you are happy, and you will feel happy, pretend that you are angry, and you will feel angry,” the authors wrote.

Live in relatively cool temperatures.

Happiness is maximized at 13.9°C (about 57° F), says Oska University’s Yoshiro Tsutsui,who described the effect of temperature on mood in a paper published in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society.

“The effects of other meteorological variables — humidity, wind speed, precipitation, and sunshine — are not significant,” Tsutsui wrote.

That makes sense when one considers that cooler locations like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark often top lists of the world’s happiest countries.

List three good things that happened today.

Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests writing down three things that went well each day and the reasons they went well, every night for one week. In a study of nearly 600 people, he found that this technique, based on positive psychology, “increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months.”

“The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (‘My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today’), but they can be important (‘My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy’),” Seligman explains in his book, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.”

Spend money to free up more time.

Spend money to free up more time.

REUTERS/Darren Staples

In the “Myths of Happiness,” University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says we should spend our money on things that, in turn, give us more free time to participate in meaningful activities that lead to happiness — like hanging out with friends, listening to music, or volunteering.

“If we spend our money to open up more ‘free’ hours in the day— for example, by reducing our work hours (because we already make enough) or paying others to perform time-consuming chores (e.g., fix the plumbing, stand in line at the post office, fill in tedious documents, call airlines) — we can spend our time enjoying those things in life that both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests make us happy,” she writes.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

Unhappy people are consumed by peer comparison, an experiment conducted by professor Lyubomirsky showed.

In another study, Columbia University economics professor Enrichetta Ravina and her co-author Karen Dynan, a vice president and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that being envious of the rich — specifically members of the middle class wanting to do financially better than their neighbors — can cause individuals to go into debt.

Shorten your commute to work.

Shorten your commute to work.

Wikimedia Commons / downtowngal

Several studies have found that long commutes to work increase stress and boredom, especially when driving in traffic.

“Commuting not only takes time, but also generates out of-pocket costs, causes stress and intervenes in the relationship between work and family,” two Swiss economists write in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Economics.

Commuting to work in the morning is particularly unpleasant, according to research published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 2006.

Exercise.

Exercise.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

This is a no-brainer. Countless studies show that exercise makes us happy by releasing feel-good chemicals known as endorphins.

One study out of Penn State University showed that people who are more physically active report greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm compared to those who are not active.

“You don’t have to be the fittest person who is exercising every day to receive the feel-good benefits of exercise,” researcher David Conroy, a professor of kinesiology, said in a statement. “It’s a matter of taking it one day at a time, of trying to get your activity in, and then there’s this feel-good reward afterwards.”

Listen to upbeat music.

Listen to upbeat music.

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Listening to happy, upbeat music can really lift your mood, according to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in October 2012.

Participants who listened to the spirited music of composer Aaron Copland compared to the more mellow music of composer Igor Stravinsky showed higher levels of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, in the region of the brain associated with reward.

Importantly, researchers found this method only worked if listeners were consciously trying to improve their mood.

Originally posted here.

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