by Eric Barker
What’s the secret to a head full of happy thoughts?
Time to round up the research on living a happy life to see what we can use.
First, yeah, a good chunk of happiness is controlled by your genes but there’s a lot you can do to make yourself happier. Many of these techniques have been repeatedly tested and even worked with the clinically depressed.
Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Showing gratitude for the good things you have is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is.
It will make you happier.
It will improve your relationships.
It can make you a better person.
It can make life better for everyone around you.
Bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. Why? They feel grateful to get a medal at all.
Every night before you go to bed write three good things that happened to you that day. Jotting those down is pretty much all it takes to get a boost in well-being over time.
There’s a second lesson here: the reverse is also true. Keeping track of the bad things will make you miserable. A convenient memory is a powerful thing. Do not train your brain to see the negative, teach it to see the positive.
Wanna make yourself and someone else extremely happy? Try a gratitude visit. Write someone a letter thanking them and telling them how much what they have done for you means. Visit them and read it in person. It’s a proven happiness WMD. More info here.
Do what you are good at as often as you can
“Signature strengths” are the things you are uniquely good at and using them increases happy thoughts. Exercising signature strengths is why starving artists are happier with their jobs.
Think about the best possible version of yourself and move toward that. Signature strengths are the secret to experiencing more “flow” at work and in life.
Spend as much time as possible with people you like
Spend as much time as possible with people you like. The happiest people are social with strong relationships. Not spending more time with people we love is something we regret the most.
Being able to spend more time with friends provides an increase in happiness worth up to an additional $133,000 a year. (Values for your other relationships are here.)
Being compassionate makes us happier (causal, not correlative.) Share the best events of your day with loved ones and ask them to do the same. And compliment them — we love compliments more than money or sex.
But I’m an introvert, you say? A little bit of extraversion here would do you good. Happiness is more contagious than unhappiness so with amount of exposure to others well-being scales.
Money is good. Many other things are better.
After about 75K a year, money has minimal effects on happiness. Read that again. Not that money won’t increase happiness but if you want to be happier your time and energy are better spent elsewhere. It will not increase your moment to moment mood.
The Amish are as satisfied as billionaires and slumdwellers can be surprisingly happy. The happiest of all income groups is people making 50-75k a year. Money is good but wanting money can be bad.
Giving makes us happier than receiving. In fact, it can create a feedback loop of happiness in your life. Volunteering makes us happier and can therefore be the most selfless way to be selfish.
Helping others reach their goals brings joy. Doing nice things for others today can literally make you happier for the rest of the week.
Take time to really enjoy the good things. What are the best ways to savor?
- Positive mental time travel : Happy memories or looking forward to something
- Being present : Not letting your mind wander and being absorbed in the moment.
Savoring is one of the secrets of the happiest people. Focusing on the limited time you have in this life is a good way to remind you to savor what is important.
You don’t usually do what brings you joy, you do what is easy. Set ambitious goals and strive. Thinking about what happens to you in terms of your self-esteem will crush you — look at life as growing and learning.
Sitting on the couch watching TV does not make you happy. You are happier when you are busy and are probably have more fun at work than at home. Thinking and working can beat sad feelings. A wandering mind is not a happy mind. Mastering skills is stressful in the short term and happiness-boosting in the long term.
Be optimistic, even to the border of delusion
Optimism is key. Yes, pessimism softens the blow of bad news but it isn’t worth it.
Does this make you out of touch with reality? Maybe but being a little deluded is good:
- People with positive illusions about their relationship are more satisfied, score higher on love and trust and have fewer problems.
- Overconfidence increases producitivity and improves teamwork.
- “Self-deception has been associated with stress reduction, a positive self-bias, and increased pain tolerance, all of which could enhance motivation and performance during competitive tasks.“
Love means being slightly deluded. Happy people believe their partner is a little more awesome than they really are. Someone you think is great who also thinks you’re great — it’s one of the primary things you should look for in a marriage partner.
Thinking happy thoughts, giving hugs and smiling sound like unscientific hippie silliness but they all work.
Fundamentals are fundamental
Cranky? Before you blame the world, eat something. Take a nap — it can purge negative emotions and increase happy thoughts. Sleep is vital because your mood in the morning affects your mood all day.
Get your sleep. You cannot get away with cheating yourself on sleep and being tired makes it harder to be happy.
Frequency beats intensity
Lots of little good things is the path to happiness. You want frequent boosts not rare big stuff. (And this explains the best method of how to split a dinner bill with friends.) For the most part, don’t bother to try and reduce the bad so much as you increase the good.
Stop thinking about big events that might make you thrilled — it’s the little things of everyday life that make lasting improvements to our happiness. You’re not going to win the lottery and it wouldn’t have the impact you think it would.
Avoid life’s most common regrets
We know what people most often regret before they die:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
There are things you can do every day to improve your life.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.