5 Habits of Happiness (Backed By Real Research)

Happiness habits are science-backed routine behaviors that can increase our positive emotions and well-being. These routines can help us raise our base level of happiness, allowing us to cope better with stress, be more resistant to anxiety and depression, and help us bounce back stronger from adversities.

Developed by positive psychologists, these habits are a collection of exercises or “interventions” that have been shown to boost human happiness. To reap benefits from their decades of happiness research, all you have to do is include these into your daily life.

Three simple happiness habits based on science that seem unbelievable but work:

  • Breathe in the deep forest air.
  • Learn to forgive everyone and everything.
  • Look with wonder from behind a veil of fear.

There’s more; read on.

Happiness Habits from Positive Psychology
Happiness Habits from Positive Psychology

5 Habits of Happiness Backed By Science

These five happiness habits are simple exercises shown to increase your psychological well-being. These can help you reach a more sustainable state of happiness, and a higher level of optimism, and achieve better mental resilience to stress, anxiety, and depression.

1. Practice Forest Therapy

A 40-minute walk in the woods can boost your mood as well as your sense of health and vigor.

In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku, and in Mandarin, they call it sēnlínyù. The English speakers call it “forest bathing” or “forest therapy” — in essence, an unrushed walk in the forest.

Researchers from Japan and South Korea have extensively studied the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest and built a robust body of scientific literature.

Shinrin-yoku is now finding recognition and usefulness throughout the rest of the world.

To practice this habit, go to a forested area and take a leisurely walk while inhaling deeply the forest air. In essence, you would breathe in the essential oils (phytoncides) emitted by the trees that get mixed into the forest air.

There are numerous scientifically proven benefits to breathing these organic tree oils. For one, cortisol, a stress hormone, is significantly reduced. Over time, it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.

Forest breathing or forest therapy improves mood and increases mental energy and performance.

The phytoncides also increase immunity by increasing the body’s natural killer cells. It helps patients to recover faster from any surgery or illness. Current research is hinting that this might even prevent cancer.

Shinrin-yoku, or forest breathing, lifts your mood.

2. Learn The Art of Forgiving

Everything and everyone can be forgiven.

You might want to react to that with a rebellion. We understand this may be the hardest of all the happiness habits we mention here.

Yes, there are acts and people you simply cannot and should not forgive. But in opposing the idea of universal forgiveness, you could be overlooking one thing.

Forgiving is mainly for you.

Your forgiveness of your abuser, first and foremost, is intended for you, not for them.

Forgiving can be thought of as getting rid of someone from your mind who is taking up space and causing negative emotions such as regret, anger, and desire for revenge.

So, while we urge you to forgive the worst offenses and the vilest offenders, please keep in mind that we are not asking you to do so for their sake.

When you forgive someone, you don’t even have to tell them about it. When you pardon the people who hurt you but do not tell them about it, in a way, you let them suffer — if they are suffering at all without your forgiveness.

Forgiveness is letting go of your negative feelings, whether that person deserves it, or gets to know about it. Keep this in mind, and you’ll find it easier to forgive.

If it’s still hard, you can learn how to forgive someone, even those who keep hurting.

Chronic anger creates a fight-or-flight reaction, resulting in drastic changes in heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, and immunological response. By forgiving them in your own mind space, you are ultimately putting down the smoldering grudge of chronic anger that has been hurting you.

Letting go of your resentments makes space in your mind for other positive emotions to come and stay.

Forgiving is emptying a toxic part of your mind.

Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can lower the risk of heart attack and improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Research shows it reduces pain, anxiety, depression, and stress. It can also help us sleep better.

Researchers indicate that with age, your forgiving capacity gets more intricately linked to your health. Says Karen Swartz, the director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital:

There is an enormous physical burden of being hurt and disappointed.

So, learn to forgive people, even those you cannot move away from, or those who do not ask for your forgiveness.

Lastly, it may be even harder to come by, but don’t forget to forgive yourself.

3. Start The “3 Good Things” Practice

This is a simple, yet effective, science-backed strategy for increasing your happiness levels. Its effectiveness was proven by Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Martin Seligman et al., in 2005.

In our normal day-to-day life, we tend to focus more on the negative cues in our environment, as these possibly pose a threat to our survival. The “3 Good Things” forces us to start seeing the good things in our lives. In essence, is the good old practice of counting our blessings.

The process is simple. Sit down with a pen and paper, undisturbed, and write down three good things that happened in your day. Be sure to include how they made you feel, and why they happened.

It will be difficult at first, but you’ll get the right hang of it with practice. Here’s The Shortest Guide To 3 Good Things.

With this, we become better at noticing the good things around us, and our mind gets some free space to become more aware of the positive things in our life.

Whereas a negative brain sees problems, a brain re-conditioned to “look at the bright side of life” sees happier possibilities. As a result, you find yourself living happier, more fulfilling lives.

‘3 Good Things’ rewires our brain to be more aware of positivity.

4. Exercise At Least 5 Days A Week

Exercise is good for you, whatever your age, sex, or physical condition.

Apart from fighting back many diseases, exercise boosts your mood and happiness. Science has shown time and again that physically active people are happier.

Experts suggest we do 30 minutes of moderate exercise for at least 5 days a week to derive maximum benefits. However, researchers found that even 20 minutes of exercise can give a mood lift that can last for up to 12 hours.

  • Exercise helps us have better control of our bodies and the capabilities of our bodies, which then boosts our confidence in goal-achievement. Remember to make the workout fun.
  • Exercise distracts us from negative thinking patterns, such as overthinking and worrying, and cuts down our stress.
  • When you exercise with a friend or a group, it increases your social relatedness and hikes your happiness.

A study revealed this surprising fact: exercise helps the body remove toxic substances that are linked to stress-related depression. Dr. Jorge Ruas, who led the study, says:

Well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances.

John Ratey, the world’s most known exercise researcher, says:

Exercise generates the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. People’s mood significantly increased after exercise.

5. Have More Experiences of Awe

Awe is a difficult sensation to describe. We may equal awe to a feeling of mild fear mixed with wide-eyed wonder.

You get a sense of awe when you come across something that’s exceptionally vast and incredibly powerful. Awe can exhilarate us while also making us feel a little weak in the knees. So, in a way, awe is a little less joyful than pure wonder. In any case, it is light-years away from the irritatingly ubiquitous urban jargon ‘awesome.’

Awe is a combination of fear, admiration, delight, and surprise.

Psychologists Paul Piff, Pia Dietze, and Dacher Keltner tell us how to find awe in their paper Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior:

Awe arises in evanescent experiences. Looking up at the starry expanse of the night sky. Gazing out across the blue vastness of the ocean. Feeling amazed at the birth and development of a child. Protesting at a political rally or watching a favorite sports team live. Many of the experiences people cherish most are triggers of the emotion we focused on here—awe.

The first-ever book on awe came from Paul Pearsall, a psychiatry professor, and clinical neuropsychologist: Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion.

Unfortunately, it also turned out to be his last book before he passed away in 2007.

Pearsall saw awe as the 11th emotion, beyond the scientifically accepted ten emotions of love, fear, sadness, pride, embarrassment, curiosity, enjoyment, despair, guilt, and anger.

Pearsall told us, if we experience and interpret awe correctly, it can save us from a state of languishing and launch us into a much-needed state of flourishing.

So, you can make your personal journey from languishing to flourishing by consciously engaging and reflecting on the world outside yourself, by being in awe of the ordinary things around you. Find out more about The Little-Known Power of Awe.

Pearsall wrote,

If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life’s meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life’s processes, including health, illness, love, and even death.

Now watch Felix Baumgartner jump from a helium balloon floating 39 km (ca. 24 miles) above the earth to set a world record for the highest skydive, and feel awe:

Jumping From Space! - Red Bull Space Dive - BBC

Infographic: 5 Happiness Habits

Habits of Happiness
Infographic: Happiness Habits

Final Words

A habit is an act you do without paying much attention. A ritual is just the opposite — it needs intentional focus. So, start with a happiness ritual, and keep at it patiently so that it turns into a happiness habit.

Of all these five happiness rituals, that become happiness habits with time, we suggest you surrender to awe first and feel how it changes you.

To find awe, look at some old pictures from your parent’s or grandparent’s time. Go watch a flower sway in the spring breeze, or peer into the vast expanse of a late evening sky.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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