Top 10 happiness hacks from the science of happiness, that is, positive psychology. Each of these 10 hacks for happiness has been hand-picked by psychologists, and proven to be highly effective in making you happier.
You may quickly grab the list below if you are short of time. And, if you enjoy these happiness hacks and want to know more, do read on for a better understanding of each point.
10 Happiness Hacks
Each of the 10 happiness hacks that you will find here are activities suggested after many experiments by psychologists. They found these to be quite effective in raising your happiness levels. The methods they advise are mostly easy to do.
However, remember that a correlation does not indicate a causation. That is, they do not guarantee an happiness uptick, but say most people who did these got happier.
And, for the witch-hunting accusatory critics of positive psychology, the point to mention here is the one championed by Robert Biswas-Diener in his defense of his The Upside of His Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self-Not Just Your “Good” Self-Drives Success and Fulfillment:
“Reading the research gave us our ideas, not the other way around. It is a mistake to think that we had ideas and then went searching for odd studies to support them.”
10 Happiness Hacks Proven By Science
We also mention the scientific researches that lead to the hack in each case. So, here you go.
1. Get Social.
Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and author of the wildly popular humorous read, Stumbling on Happiness, says, “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.” This is perhaps the easiest happiness hack in this list. Also, it is the one that gives the most — who else can make you happier than your friends or family?
- Study: Fowler, James H., and Nicholas A. Christakis. “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study.” BMJ 337 (2008).
- Book: Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling On Happiness, 2007.
It is perhaps the commonest new year resolution around the world. Our own health always holds the top position in our health plans. Science validates this. People who exercise are happy because they feel better about their bodies, they stay protected from depression. Find out what is the brain science behind exercise and happiness.
Once you get into a daily habit of exercise, this happiness hack keeps you giving for years and decades.
- Studies: Richard Carter: “Exercise and happiness.” The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness 17.3 (1977). Chris Tkach and Sonja Lyubomirsky. “How do people pursue happiness?: Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies, and well-being.” Journal of Happiness Studies 7.2 (2006).
- Book: John Ratey and Richard Manning, Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-being, 2015.
Meditation over periods of time changes the brain structure — scientifically termed neuroplasticity – to enhance more self-awareness, compassion, and calmness within us. It also reduces out stress response to unexpected events, actual or anticipated.
4. Practice Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, defined by Marlatt & Kristeller as ‘bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis’, provides many observed benefits, including reduction in our stress levels, increment of self-awareness, improvement of focus, facilitation of calmness in the face of difficult emotions as frustration, resentment, boredom and anxiety.
- Book: Ruth Baer: The Practicing Happiness Workbook: How Mindfulness Can Free You from the Four Psychological Traps that Keep You Stressed, Anxious, and Depressed, 2014.
5. Take A Nap.
A 2011 study done by The British Psychological Society and published in their Research Digest showed that people who stay awake throughout the day become increasingly more sensitive to negative emotions. Whereas people who take an afternoon nap are desensitized to negative emotions, and yet more responsive to positive ones. The researchers put forward the reason behind this that, possibly, the prefrontal cortex in our brain becomes fatigued through the day and therefore less able to dampen down emotional reactivity in the sub-cortex.
- Study: Oerlemans, Wido GM, Arnold B. Bakker, and Ruut Veenhoven.”Finding the key to happy aging: A day reconstruction study of happiness.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2011.
- Book: Arianna Huffington. The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, 2016.
6. Go For A Nature Walk.
Spending time outside in the nature freshens our mood, improves our working memory, and reduces our stress. George MacKerron in his paper Happiness Is Greater In Natural Environments writes: “On average, study participants are significantly and substantially happier outdoors in all green or natural habitat types than they are in urban environments.”
This is another easy happiness hack, that you could well include into your weekend plans.
- Studies: Zelenski, John M. and Elizabeth K. Nisbet. “Happiness and Feeling Connected The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness.” Environment and Behavior, 2014. Marselle Melissa R., Irvine Katherine N., and Warber Sara L.. Ecopsychology, “Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study”, September 2014.
7. Be More Grateful.
Gratitude is the practice of counting our blessings and being thankful for good things in our lives. Those who have inculcated the habit of gratitude into their lives have been found to have greater levels of emotional and interpersonal wellbeing as compared to others. Gratitude increases our long-term happiness.
By the way, gratitude is not just saying thanks. Showing gratitude is to do three things: 1. appreciate it, 2. feel it, 3. say it.
- Study: Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough. “Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003.
- Book: Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude, 2016.
8. Spend On Others.
We, as human beings, are naturally wired to derive emotional gains from spending our money to help others (what psychologists call prosocial spending). This is the happiness advantage of prosocial spending. In a 2013 social experiment by Lara Aknin, Robert Biswas-Diener and Elizabeth Dunn, participants in Canada and South Africa who were randomly assigned to buy items for charity reported higher levels of positive affect than those assigned to buy the same items for themselves.
- Study: Dunn, Elizabeth W., Lara B. Aknin, and Michael I. Norton. “Spending money on others promotes happiness.” Science, 2008.
- Book: Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, 2014.
9. Listen to Happy Music.
Music therapy has been found to have positive effect in various mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and substance abuse. Recently, Gold and others in study found that, in addition to to usual care, individual music therapy can be used to an effective advantage for clients with low motivation.
- Study: Hunter, Patrick G., E. Glenn Schellenberg, and Ulrich Schimmack. “Feelings and perceptions of happiness and sadness induced by music: Similarities, differences, and mixed emotions.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 2010.
- Book: Daniel J. Levitin, This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of A Human Obsession, 2007.
10. Be Flexible To Life’s Challenges
We saved the best happiness hack for the last. If you ask me, this is one hack you should use as much as possible.
Todd Kashdan, professor of psychology at George Mason University, and a leading authority on happiness, says,
“Human beings have the potential to better tolerate and effectively use emotions, thoughts, and behavior to extract the best possible outcomes in varying situations. This wide range of dynamic abilities forms the essence of health. After all, a healthy person is someone who can manage themselves in the uncertain, unpredictable world around them, where novelty and change are the norm rather than the exception.”
- Study: Todd B. Kashdan. Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. Clinical Psychology Review, 2010.
- Book: Todd B. Kashdan, Curious? Discover The Missing Ingredient to A Fulfilling Life, 2010.
The Pope’s 10 Tips
It may interest you that in July 2014, Pope Francis compiled his Top 10 To-Do Things for Happiness, based on his own experiences. We mention three here:
- Be giving of yourself to others.
- Proceed calmly in life.
- Have a healthy sense of leisure. The Pope asked parents to make time to play with their children, and turn the TV off while eating together.
A Harvard study about the factors determining the overall happiness in life, the Grant Study of Adult Development, that was conducted over a period of more than 75 years, charting the physical and emotional health of 268 participants since their sophomore years at Harvard, has resulted in three books – “Adaptation to Life (1977)”, “Aging Well (2002)” and “Triumphs of Experience (2012)” by George Eman Vaillant, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard medical School. Vaillant’s main conclusion was that ‘warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on life satisfaction’.
He says the study shows:
“Love is really all that matters for humans to be happy. Happiness is love. Full stop.”
Finally, here’s a video by researchers at UC Berkeley, Psychologists Dacher Keltner, Rudy Mendoza-Denton, and sociologists Rob Willer and Christina Carter, where they claim that the theory of “survival of the fittest” is giving way to “survival of the kindest.”
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