Happy folks all seem to have a few things in common.
Tue, Jun 24, 2014
Want to be happier? Figure out your strengths and play off of them. You might be surprised at the results.
I know what you’re thinking: happy people are born happy so of course they have good habits — they feel good all the time! Not so fast. While the most recent research has shown that about 60 percent of our baseline level of happiness is probably genetically determined, that means 40 percent is under our control. And while you can’t go back and get new genes, you can start a bad morning over with a new attitude. (Literally, I’ve done this, and here’s how).
Figure out your strengths, then engage them: According to “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work”: “When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full month later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.” I can vouch for this one — a year ago I started a project to engage my creative, visual side, and it is the single greatest joy-bringer to my days outside my partner (and my cat!).
Spend time outside: If you can clock 20 minutes a day outside, studies show you’ll not only maintain a better mood, but your mind will be more open and you’ll improve your working memory too. Sunshine (even the brightness of a cloudy day is often brighter than indoor lights) and fresh air feel good too.
Put effort into being happy: Two separate studies in the Journal of Positive Psychology have confirmed that when people actively try to be happy, they raise their baseline moods, making them feel, in the end, happier than those who do not try. According to a release from Taylor and Francis, “In the first study, two sets of participants listened to ‘happy’ music. Those who actively tried to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood afterwards. In the second study, participants listened to a range of ‘positive’ music over a two-week period; those who were instructed to focus on improving their happiness experienced a greater increase in happiness than those who were told just to focus on the music.”
Exercise regularly: All exercise releases endorphins in your brain, which directly leads to a better mood, and if you workout regularly, this mood boost even carries over to non-workout days. Don’t just take my word for it; according to research from the University of Bristol: “On exercise days, people’s mood significantly improved after exercising. Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.”
Protect your health: Good health, on average, leads to a 20 percent gain in overall happiness, so spending time and money improving or prolonging your good health is a wise investment in something intangible but incredibly important.
Care for others: People who spend time every month helping others (whether that be animals, people or a space or place you love) are happier. There’s even an immediate effect, similar to a high, that most people feel directly after doing good — including random acts of goodness. “Volunteer work was good for both mental and physical health. People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression,” says Peggy Thoits, a Vanderbilt University sociologist. Other studies have shown that it’s not just happy people who are volunteers — depressed people who do work for others show an elevated mood from the work.
Cultivate strong social relationships: whether you have a few close friends, a large and loving family, or strong ties to the community, almost any kind of connection to a social group can improve happiness, according to “The Happiness Advantage”: “Turns out, there was one — and only one — characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships. My empirical study of well-being among 1,600 Harvard undergraduates found a similar result — social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race. In fact, the correlation between social support and happiness was 0.7. This may not sound like a big number, but for researchers it’s huge — most psychology findings are considered significant when they hit 0.3. The point is, the more social support you have, the happier you are.”
Hang out with happy people: This can be hard to do at work, where you don’t always choose who you are working with, but you can control the people you spend time with outside your job (and who you pass your lunch hour with!). Just as studies have found that people who exercise with a motivated partner are more likely to stick to workout plans, so do the people around you impact your mood — which means you also impact those around you with your attitude.