- Happiness is achievable, and there are scientifically proven ways to achieve it.
- I decided to spend a week asking as many strangers as I could how to be happier, and I found their advice refreshing, useful, and genuinely universal.
Ask strangers about happiness and watch what happens to their facial cues when you do it. Little smiles are likely to turn up on the corners of their mouths, and brows may furrow slightly as they come up with answers.
I’m not sure what, exactly, I anticipated getting in response to my questions, but I did spend a week asking strangers from all walks of life for advice on how to increase my own happiness. Nobody was ready to respond off the cuff. Some people needed to take a moment to collect their thoughts, but many were actually happy to advise.
This article could have been different if it were crammed solely with happiness studies from behavioural scientists. But in speaking to strangers about happiness, I found not only genuine and sincere words but some universal and practical advice for anyone to use.
Here are the seven best responses I received:
1. Give to others.
One of the most popular responses I received was to start giving to others. The winter holidays were wrapping up during my interview week, and one could feel the spirit of giving in the air.
Retail manager Nick told me that giving to others is his go-to move for achieving happiness. “I love giving and not expecting to receive,” he said.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that the act of giving back can benefit our physical and mental health.
2. Find ways to control your stress.
People of all ages were quick to pass this advice on to me, but not everyone elaborated on how exactly they go about avoiding stress.
Miriam, a macaroon baker, told me that she doesn’t stress out about the future because she “lives day by day.”
Though everyone deals with some form of stress on a daily basis, there is room to control your perception of your stressors. One study conducted by The University of Wisconsin found that people who have a positive perception of stress in high-stress situations had a lower risk of their health being adversely affected by stress than even those in lower-stress situations.
3. Embrace a spiritual practice.
Spirituality was another key to happiness that I found in chatting with strangers of all ages, from twenty-somethings to baby boomers.
Fitness specialist Aryana told me: “Find a spiritual practice you’re able to embrace.”
Cookie salesman William said that his approach to happiness included a spiritual practicing of compassion. “You should embrace the good things and live with kindness and understanding,” he said.
“Don’t forget to breathe!” This short and sweet bit of happiness advice came from Sean, a beekeeper. Much like not stressing about the small stuff, remembering to breathe can be hard to put into practice.
One of the best ways to find your breath and focus on it is to meditate. Marketing associate Veronica told me she plans on meditating more in the new year. She recommended reading the book “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works” by Dan Harris.
Harris is a journalist who has worked as a correspondent for ABC News and suffered an on-air panic attack in 2004. The book chronicles his journey to quieting the voices second-guessing him inside his head by embracing meditation.
“I am going to try to meditate more because it’s supposed to make you 10% happier,” Veronica told me. “I already practice meditation, and I’m not perfect about it, but I want to meditate 10 minutes a day every day in 2019.”
5. Take care of yourself.
Clyde, who works as technician support for a streaming app, told me he believes that you can become happier if you take care of yourself as if you were taking care of someone else. He did not take credit for this concept but said that it came from the pages of a Jordan B. Peterson book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.”
Clyde cited the book’s second “rule,” which Peterson titled, “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping.”
How does doing this help make people happier? Peterson explains that the idea is a variation of the “golden rule,” or “treat others as you would want to be treated.” In order to treat ourselves as well as the people we love, we have to detach a bit and embrace a mindset that we’re worthy of respect and help across time.
6. Invest in an animal.
This was another piece of advice from fitness specialist Aryana that I immediately yelped out “Yes!” when hearing it.
Pets have long provided humans with emotional support, and studies, including one published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have shown that we can be happier and healthier because of our furry friends.
7. Find happiness in the here and now.
My favourite conversation of the week was with a college student named Dominic. When I asked him what to do to be happier, he paused and thought for a moment before responding.
“Ask yourself this question: ‘Is everything ok right now?'” Dominic said, “What’s wrong with this moment? Is there anything more we need?”
“I’m happy,” Dominic said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm to the open space around us. “Aren’t you?”
For a moment, I paused. I didn’t know what to say. I had spent a week catching strangers off guard, asking them to give me the recipe for a happier existence. It never occurred to me that I would have to return the favour.
How much happiness is already in the here and now? The answer will vary for everyone, but the moment we’re in can be filled with joy, perhaps more than we realise.
I gazed around Dominic and myself. I saw the mountains off in the distance, slowly spouting specks of emerald green. These mountains had been blackened for months, a burn victim of Southern California’s Woolsey Fire. I watched people make their way down the footpath to the local farmer’s market, carrying colourful shopping bags and chatting excitedly.
Then, I tried to see myself. In the here and now, eagerly approaching people she didn’t know to tell her about how they defined happiness. I have my own struggles like anyone else. But when it all boiled down to finding joy in that moment, I discovered something. I could do it. We all could do it.
“Yes,” I said, “Yes, I am happy.” And I meant it, in the here and now.
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