Happiness. We all want it. And we all have been guilty of looking in the wrong places to find it.
Wikipedia defines happiness as, “a mental or emotional state of well-being which can be defined by, among others, positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”
It’s what we all are striving for, right? We want happiness for ourselves, our kids, our families, our freaking golden retrievers. Sometimes it can feel like being happy is just a bit too elusive, maybe one quick trip to Target away. We think we can find it with a new shirt, or a glass of wine, or binge-watching our favorite show. I can get so stuck in my routine, and job, and after-school activities, and errand running, and moving from place to place, that I don’t have time to think about whether or not I’m happy about it all. I’m just living.
Since everyone wants happiness, why not look to science to see what actually does the job?
1. Being Curious
One 2007 study found that people who experienced increased life satisfaction were more curious on any one day. I’ve been trying to cultivate my own curiosity about stuff, and honestly, it feels like I am waking up from being a zombie. Over vacation this summer, there was this very annoying bird chirping and my whole family researched all morning to figure out what it was. And it was oddly fun. I feel like if we are interested in the world, the world will probably be interested in us.
2 . Moving Your Body
Sorry, people, but humans are meant to move. Exercise has been shown over and over again to be key in increasing happiness and improving positive feelings. Exercise doesn’t always feel great physically. I know this. But if you are searching for a quick endorphin boost, going for a walk just might do the trick.
3. Stopping to Breathe
Pause to breathe and be grateful for the all good stuff. If you are here reading this, you have good stuff. Clothes, food, probably warm shelter. Some days it is harder than others to pinpoint, to be sure, but try to find something.
4. Maintaining Close Relationships
One long-term Harvard study found out that the happiest men were those who had strong relationships with people they could trust. And the men were not only happier, they were healthier too. Women already know all this.
5. Being Present
Meditating, being in the moment, stopping to smell the flowers, whatever you want to call it. To recognize that you are living a life, you have to wake up and be conscious of that life. A simple way to start? Pick one thing that you are going to be awake for today. For example, just be aware of your movement as you run, walk, exercise. Or concentrate on your child’s face every time you look at them. Appreciate the food you buy and prepare to nourish your body. Pick one thing and then pick more things. Wake up.
6. Choosing Time Over Money
Let this be our mantra. I think it’s pretty common to think that putting in those extra hours at work to get just a little more money will be what we really need to be happy. But studies have shown that people are happier when when they have more time on their hands to do the things that they love. At this point, I’m voting for sleep.
7. Okay, a Certain Amount of Money Helps
It turns out that, overall, emotional well-being goes up until a family is earning about $75,000. After that, the amount of money doesn’t seem to matter with regards to increased happiness. That’s maybe why lottery winners and people who sit on golden chairs are always so jacked up.
8. Being Kind
Lend a helping hand at school, give money to someone in need, open the door for someone, or just be a decent human being in general. Volunteering has been shown to be especially helpful for older adults — most report having a better sense of well-being when they spend more time helping others. Humans were meant to take care of each other in this world.
9. Choosing Experiences, Not Things
People feel more contentment when they spend their money and time on doing fun things rather than sitting around in a room filled with crap. Huh, I really need to get Santa Claus on board with this whole line of thinking.
10. Spending Time With Happy People
Social interaction with friends, especially happy friends, will make us feel more happiness ourselves. Grumpy people of the world, just fake it until you make it m’kay?
So the recipe to happiness is to go out there. Use your extra time to be present and do something fun (like exercise!) with your happy friends. Easy peasy. We’ve got this.