Happiness is good for you.
Psychology research shows that happy people make more money, perform better at work, live longer, and have better marriages than everyone else.
But the causes of happiness are elusive — philosophers have been trying to figure it out for thousands of years.
Over the past few decades psychological science has found a few consistent trends in what makes people happy. As the Gym Lion blog reports, happiness is less a matter of what you have than the things you do.
Here are a few of the top happiness-inducing behaviours:
Committing to goals
Like chocolate and peanut butter, goals and happiness are mutually reinforcing. The process is simple enough: Happy people have lots of energy, and that energy can be put toward pursuing their latest quest.
Psychologists say that the more we see a goal as a part of ourselves, the more it’s self-concordant — meaning we’ll bring more energy toward tackling it. University of Zurich psychologist Bettina Wiese says that “empirical research has repeatedly shown that striving toward self-concordant goals strengthens the link between goal progress and well-being.”
Finding meaning in your work
In 1997, Yale organizational psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues published an oft-cited paper about how people relate to their work. There were three ways of thinking about your work:
• A job: “Focus on financial rewards and necessity rather than pleasure or fulfillment; not a major positive part of life”
• A career: “Focus on advancement”
• A calling: “Focus on enjoyment of fulfilling, socially useful work”
Their finding: The people who found meaning in their work were happiest.
Spending time with people you care about
While it may sound like a Hallmark card, the research confirms that spending time with the people you love (or can at least tolerate) will make you happier. Interestingly, being at the “center” of a social network is a good predictor of well-being.
Cultivating a long-term relationship
The New York Times recently reported that “being married makes people happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who remain single — particularly during the most stressful periods, like midlife crises.”
The reason? Two people are more resilient than one.
Eating the fresh stuff
A 2013 study titled “Many apples a day keep the blues away” found that eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables had a positive correlation with happiness.
Specifically, the young people who ate seven to eight servings of fruits or vegetables reported higher happiness levels than their less-nourished peers.
Getting in exercise
A 8,000-person Dutch study of people between 16 and 65 years old made some very strong claims about the virtues of exercise. “Exercisers were more satisfied with their life and happier than non-exercisers at all ages,” the authors concluded. If you’re trying to work out more but can’t quite find the time, legendary psychologist Walter Mischel recommends “if-then” planning.
According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, if money doesn’t buy happiness, then you’re not spending it right. Chief among his spending principles is the insight that you should buy experiences instead of things.
In a survey of over 1,000 Americans, 57% of respondents said that they derived greater happiness from an experiential purchase, like a trip, concert, or other life event, over a material purchase, like a car, appliance, or other object. We like experiences more because we get to anticipate and remember them, the research says, and we appreciate them longer.
“After devoting days to selecting the perfect hardwood floor to install in a new condo, homebuyers find their once beloved Brazilian cherry floors quickly become nothing more than the unnoticed ground beneath their feet,” Gilbert and his colleagues say. “In contrast, their memory of seeing a baby cheetah at dawn on an African safari continues to provide delight.”
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