Almost everyone strives to be happier in all aspects of their life. Happier people tend to accomplish more, and who doesn’t want that? Belle Beth Cooper, co-founder of Hello Code, created an app called Exist that turns data about you into insights about your life. Here are Ms. Cooper’s 11 science-based ways to be happier.
- Smile more. A study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts improve their mood and withdraw less. According to PsyBlog, smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically.
- Exercise for 7 minutes. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage,” three groups of patients treated their depression with medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels early on, the follow-up assessment proved to be different. The groups were tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38% had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31% relapse rate. The exercise group’s relapse rate was only 9%.
- Sleep more. In one study, sleep deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, but they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation. Another study by the BPS Research Digest proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task throughout the course of the day, researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive to negative emotions. Another study found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day.
- Spend more time with friends and family. Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains that we are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends. The Longevity Project’s study found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives. The study found that beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others.
- Go outside more often. A study from the University of Sussex found that being outdoors made people happier. Additionally, The American Meteorological Society published research that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the court of the day.
- Help other people. The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that found that explored the topic of the correlation between happiness and helping others. Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made from someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after the recollection. The happier the participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.
- Plan a trip. A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as people enjoy the sense of anticipation.
- In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation. The study concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
- Move closer to work. The Art of Manliness found that while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it is not. Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that factors such as having a better job or bigger house does not make up for the misery created by a long commute.
- Practice gratitude. In an experiment where participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, the participants found that their moods were improved. The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness. Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period. Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms.
- Get older. Researchers have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember happier ones more and negative ones less. Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods.