These ten happiness hacks from positive psychology are backed by scientific evidence. Keep them safe.
Chasing happiness is never a productive way to find it. In fact, when you pursue happiness, it becomes a moving target.
However, It’s not too difficult to make your life happier if you take help from some science-backed ideas to be happier.
This list-post of ten happiness hacks from positive psychology or the science of happiness is based on a slew of studies from experts and endorsed by leading positive psychologists.
10 Happiness Hacks From The Science Of Positive Psychology
When we say “happiness hacks,” we mean activities that make us happier without harming others.
Some of these happiness-enhancing activities come from valid research: Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).
Each of these hacks includes a link to the scientific study that inspired it. These are expert-recommend intentional activities to promote good feelings and happy thoughts.
Here are the ten happiness hacks from science:
#1. Get Social: Stay connected with friends and family.
This is how to keep yourself happy and motivated: remain socially connected.
Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and author of the wildly popular humorous read, Stumbling on Happiness, says:
This one is perhaps the easiest happiness hack on this list. Who doesn’t love to spend time with friends?
It is also the one that gives the most. What’s better than socializing with those who truly care for you?
- 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 by Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling On Happiness, 2007.
When we ponder who in our lives means the most to us, we find that it is often not those who give us opinions or solutions, but those who share our pain and sit with us when we are bruised.
#2. Keep Moving: Build a 30-minute/day, 5-day/week fitness routine.
We intuitively understand that our health is a top priority in our life plans.
Starting an exercise routine is perhaps the most popular New Year’s resolution all around the world.
People who exercise are happier, more resilient to adversities, and protected from depression.
Why does exercise make us happier?
- A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found people who exercised are higher on happiness because they feel better about their bodies.
- This study found that subjects who participated in regular physical activity reported better results on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).
Learn more about the brain science behind exercise and happiness.
Once you get a daily habit of exercising, staying happy becomes easy.
- Studies: 1. Richard Carter: “Exercise and happiness.” The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 2. Chris Tkach and Sonja Lyubomirsky. “How do people pursue happiness?: Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies, and well-being.” Journal of Happiness Studies. 3. Harris, Cronkite, Moos: Physical activity, exercise coping, and depression in a 10-year cohort study of depressed patients. 4. Hassmen, Koivula, Uutela: Physical exercise and psychological well-being: a population study in Finland.
- Book by John Ratey and Richard Manning, Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization.
So, start a habit of exercising as a daily routine, and see yourself become happier.
#3. Stay Focused: Meditate mindfully for just 10 minutes every day.
Meditation increases self-awareness, compassion, and calmness within us.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the easiest and doable mood-boosting hacks. It makes us happier and calmer, and it increases our self-awareness and self-compassion.
It also reduces our stress response to unexpected situations, whether they are actual or anticipated.
This study found that both novice and experienced mindfulness meditators looked happier after a nine-day intensive meditation retreat (when compared to before the retreat).
This study gave us the first experimental evidence that cultivating an attitude of acceptance toward present-moment experiences is a key mechanism in mindfulness therapies for boosting positive emotions in daily life.
Meditation over long periods changes the brain structure — scientifically termed neuroplasticity (read the fascinating story of the “Silver Spring monkeys” who gave science one of its best breakthroughs in this field).
Mindfulness is “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.” – Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999
Here’s a little guide to begin mindfulness practice: Mindfulness In 7 Steps (PDF).
- Book by Sharon Salzberg: Real Happiness, 2010.
- Book by Andy Puddicombe: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness, 2016
- Book by Jon Kabat-Zinn: Mindfulness for All: The Wisdom to Transform the World, 2019
#4. Stop Overthinking: Get better of your rumination habit
Overthinking or rumination is thinking the same thought over and over.
Overthinkers constantly over-analyze everything they see or hear, seek the hidden meaning behind words, and replay the same thoughts in their heads.
Overthinking is a common problem, and there are many dangers to it.
The late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the world’s leading researcher on rumination, found that 73% of people between 25 and 35 years identified themselves as overthinkers. Among those, more were women (57%) than men (43%).
A large study of 33,000 people found rumination and self-blame were significantly responsible for anxiety and depression in those who had a family history of mental health difficulties.
Overthinking can weaken confidence, limit decision-making skills, and undermine problem-solving abilities. IT can ruin your productivity and sleep cycle.
Some excellent ways to overcome overthinking are:
- Accepting your past as irreversible,
- Forgiving yourself for not doing the right thing,
- Distracting yourself with attention-demanding activity,
- Practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing to stimulate your vagus nerve.
- Book by Nick Trenton: Stop Overthinking: 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress, Stop Negative Spirals, Declutter Your Mind, and Focus on the Present.
#5. Take A Nap: Napping relieves stress and improves your mood.
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.― Chinese Proverb
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.
Consider taking a drug that improves your alertness, creativity, and stamina. It decreases stress, boosts your mood, improves your bedroom life, helps you make better decisions, and keeps you sharp and young-looking.
It is also completely safe and totally free. And this wonder drug is 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 throughout the day, and therefore less able to dampen down emotional reactivity in the sub-cortex.
By the way, do you know, for the greatest benefit, how many minutes are the best length of an ideal nap?
- Study: Oerlemans, Wido GM, Arnold B. Bakker, and Ruut Veenhoven.”Finding the key to happy aging: A day reconstruction study of happiness.” Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2011.
- Book by Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution, 2016.
- Book by Sara C. Mednick, PhD: Take a Nap! Change Your Life, 2006.
#6. Go For Forest Bathing: A walk through a forested area can lift your mood.
Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a Japanese tradition that involves walking through a forest or a forested area.
Modern-day researchers have found that shinrin-yoku improves mood as well as increases immunity.
Walks in densely wooded parks are associated with lower depression, less stress, and enhanced well-being.
Spending time outside in 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 one is another easy happiness hack that you could well include in your weekend plans.
- Studies: Zelenski, John M. and Elizabeth K. Nisbet. “Happiness and Feeling Connected To 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.
Hack #7. Say Thanks: Be more grateful for the good things in your life.
Gratitude is an acknowledgment that we have received something of value from others (Emmons & Mishra, 2011)
Gratitude is the practice of counting our blessings and being thankful for the goodness in our lives.
Of course, gratitude is not an easy or automatic response to life situations. It is not easy to say “I am grateful for this moment. I am grateful for this challenge” when our expectations fail.
Cultivating the “gratitude attitude” takes conscious practice at first. But once it becomes a habit of character, your inner life improves immensely.
When you feel more grateful for the good things and good people in your life, you have less time and desire to complain about what you lack or what went wrong.
Gratitude is a virtue, and like all virtues, it improves your emotional climate, interpersonal well-being, and long-term happiness.
The grateful person overcomes the tendency to take things for granted. They reciprocate the goodness of others with benevolence and kindness.
By the way, gratitude is not just saying thanks. To show gratitude is to do three things:
- appreciate it,
- feel it,
- 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 by Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude, 2016.
#8. Be Generous: Spend money on others without expecting anything in return.
We, as human beings, are naturally wired to derive emotional gains from spending our money to help others (what psychologists call prosocial spending). It is the happiness advantage of prosocial spending.
Participants in a 2013 social experiment by Lara Aknin, Robert Biswas-Diener, and Elizabeth Dunn, who were randomly assigned to buy items for charity, reported higher levels of positive affect than those who were asked 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, 2014.
#9. Listen to Happy Music: Music is a powerful mood changer.
Music can boost your mood, especially if you tell yourself that listening to upbeat music will make you happy before you listen to the songs.
Yuna Ferguson and Kennon Sheldon, US psychologists, found that students who listened to just 12 minutes of “happy” music while trying to feel happier had greater mood lifts.
Music therapy has a positive effect on various mental health disorders like schizophrenia, depression, and substance abuse. Recently, Gold and others in the study found that, in addition to usual care, individual music therapy can have a therapeutic 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, 2007.
#10. Get Flexible: Learn to adjust to life’s challenges.
We saved the best happiness hack for last. If you were to ask me, this is one hack you should use as much as possible:
Todd Kashdan – a professor of psychology at George Mason University and a leading authority on well-being – has this to say,
Be flexible to the challenges life throws at you.
Human beings have the potential to tolerate better 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.– Todd Kashdan, positive psychologist
Life will toss you curveballs at random intervals. Grow your psychological flexibility to handle them while still moving forward.
Also, don’t have unrealistic expectations of others.
Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological science, says, “We can stay in the upper half of our ‘set range’ of potential happiness as long as we keep having positive experiences, and avoid wanting too much more than we have.”
- Study: Todd B. Kashdan. Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. Clinical Psychology Review, 2010.
- Book by Todd B. Kashdan: Curious?, 2010.
7 More Ways To Hack Your Happiness
1. Forgive yourself as well as others.
Carrying guilt, regret, and anguish only makes you feel down and bitter. Stop crucifying yourself for the same mistakes over and over. As humans, we all make mistakes. So, learn to forgive yourself and get into forgiving others.
2. Set goals for yourself.
Have some goals in your life. Having and working toward your goals makes your life happier and more successful. Learn how to set goals (especially these 2 secret tricks of goal-setting). Have a personal definition of success.
3. Laugh without offending others.
Laughter boosts your immune system, improves your mood, reduces pain, and protects you from the negative effects of stress. So, tune in to your favorite comedy shows or movies, or listen to your favorite comedians. Look for hidden humor in everyday situations.
4. Cultivate meaningful relationships.
Your real-life friends are your biggest assets when it comes to increasing your happiness. Spend time with great friends, who care about you as much as you do about them. Get out of toxic relationships. Talk to your parents if you cannot meet them every weekend.
5. Ask for help when you cannot handle it alone.
Depression, anxiety, or a mental illness, can bring down your happiness greatly. Reach out to a trained, certified therapist who can assist you in dealing with the mental health issues that are affecting your happiness.
6. Get enough sleep every night.
When you don’t get enough sleep, especially for a long period, your concentration, memory, and mood all suffer. All of us must know the science-backed hacks to go to sleep fast.
7. Be altruistic.
Altruism is the principle and practice of unselfish concern for other people. Altruistic acts, like spending money on others and devoting time to charitable causes, can significantly boost your happiness and life satisfaction.
Happiness Tips From Pope Francis
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 through life.
- Have a healthy sense of leisure.
The Pope also asked parents to make time to play with their children and turn off the TV while eating together.
Do you know this strange phenomenon called the Arrival Fallacy? It is why achieving your goals does not keep you happy for as long as you think.
Let’s finish this with a heartwarming research story.
The Grant Study of Adult Development, a 75-year-long Harvard study on the factors influencing overall happiness in life, is the longest-running study of its kind.
It has been tracking the physical and emotional health of 268 Harvard students since their sophomore year.
The study gave us three books, all written by George Eman Vaillant:
- Adaptation to Life (1977),
- Aging Well (2002), and
- Triumphs of Experience (2012)
Dr. Vaillant, a professor is a professor at the Harvard Medical School who joined the Grant Study team as a researcher in 1966, and led the study from 1972. Vaillant’s main conclusion was that the ‘warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on life satisfaction.’
His exact words when he talked about the study are something you will remember for a long, long time:
Love is really all that matters for humans to be happy. Happiness is love. Full stop. — George E. Vaillant
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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