We all have a remarkable capacity to make ourselves happier.
Each of the little things we do to boost our mood — from reading an adventure story to keeping a gratitude journal or even gazing up at the stars on a clear night — can add up to greater overall satisfaction.
But happiness doesn’t come easy. We have to work at it.
Here are some of the things that psychologists and social science researchers have found that have the power to lift your spirits and keep them high. Take a look:
Awe is a powerful -- even awesome, you might say -- human emotion. And a handful of recent studies have found a link between experiencing a sense of awe -- that feeling you get when you look up at a starry sky or out across a wide open valley -- with feeling less stressed and more satisfied.
OK, moving to Switzerland might not make you happy, but people who live there are some of the happiest in the world, according to the 2015 World Happiness Report, a ranking compiled by an international team of economists, neuroscientists, and statisticians to measure global well-being.
One of the report's key findings, based on decades of neuroscientific and psychological research, suggests that keeping the brain happy relies on 4 main factors, which include staying positive, recovering from negative feelings, spending time with loved ones, and being mindful.
'These findings highlight the view that happiness and well-being are best regarded as skills that can be enhanced through training,' the researchers write in their report.
Several studies have even found a connection between caffeine consumption and a reduced depression risk, as well as an even a lower risk of suicide. However, at least one of these studies specifically found this connection with caffeinated coffee but not tea, though others found the same effect for tea as well.
You don't have to be Don Draper to reap the benefits of some peace and quiet.
Multiple studies suggest that meditating -- focusing intently and quietly on the present for set periods of time -- can help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety. Research in long term meditators -- Buddhist monks, for example -- shows that these peoples' brains have well-developed areas that could be linked to heightened awareness and emotional control. While it's possible that people with such brains might be more likely to meditate in the first place, other studies do show that people who complete a meditation program tend to show brain changes linked with self-awareness, perspective, and memory.
Visiting a museum or seeing a concert is yet another way to boost your mood. A study that examined the anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction of over 50,000 adults in Norway offered an interesting link: People who participated in more cultural activities, like attending a play or joining a club, reported lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as a higher satisfaction with their overall quality of life. So get out there and participate!
When you've had a really bad day, you might have the urge to go and buy your favourite comfort food or finally purchase that pair of shoes you've been eyeing for the last three months. However, research shows that you'll feel happier if you spend that money on someone else instead of yourself.
Case in point: A 2008 study gave 46 volunteers an envelope with money in it wherein half were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half put the money towards a charitable donation or gift for someone they knew. The volunteers recorded their happiness level before receiving the envelope and after spending the money by the end of that same day.
Sure enough, the researchers discovered that those who spent their money on others had a higher level of happiness than those who spent the money on themselves.
It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the main ways you can care for yourself is to care for others.
In a recent review of 40 studies done over the last 20 years, researchers found that one activity was far more important than the rest for boosting psychological health: volunteering. This activity, the researchers reported, had been found in many volunteers to be linked with a reduced risk of depression, a higher amount of overall satisfaction, and even a reduced risk of death from of a physical illness as a consequence of mental distress.
It might come as no surprise that smiling can make you feel happier. But the important thing here is that the smile must be sincere, it can't be faked. If you fake it, you might even make yourself more unhappy, according to a 2011 study.
The study examined a group of city bus drivers over a period of two weeks. They found that employees who put on a fake smile for the job were in a worse mood by the end of the day compared to when their shift began. But drivers who genuinely smiles as a result of positive thoughts actually had a better mood by the end of the day. So when you smile, make sure to smile like you mean it!
If you have a good memory, you might recall a certain study in 2004 that said increasing your amount of intercourse from once a month to once a week would give you the same amount of happiness as receiving an extra $US50,000 in the bank!
But beware: more sex doesn't necessarily mean more happiness, according to a report published this year. The researchers of the latest study found that couples who had more sex because they were asked to for the study reported that the sex was not enjoyable and did not make them happier.
Therefore, sex will only lead to happiness when the couple is having it for a meaningful reason, the researchers conclude. So, whether it's once a week or once a month, the frequency is less important than the purpose behind the act.
People who have the positive attitude of optimists paired with the rational outlook of realists tend to be more successful and happy, according to psychologist Sophia Chou.
That's because so-called 'realistic optimists' have the perfect blend of personality types to succeed. Unlike idealists, they are willing to face challenging situations with a clear view of reality, but will use creativity and a positive outlook to try to work their way out of the problem.
Eating lunch at your desk can be a real downer, report scientists from the University of Sussex who measured the happiness of employees after they ate lunch in different locations.
The results showed that workers were happiest about their work when they ate lunch on the beach and least happy about work when they ate at their desk.
Getting outside in the sun was key to staving off misery -- people who ate in parks had a more positive attitude about their jobs than those who chowed down at a restaurant or at home.
Exercise is proven to increase feel-good chemicals in the brain, reduce stress hormones, and relieve depression and anxiety according to Happify, a website and app that offers psychology-based games to increase your happiness.
And you can achieve these positive changes in just a few short minutes. Researchers at the University of Vermont found that even just 20 minutes of exercise can give you those mood-boosting benefits for up to 12 hours afterward! Moreover, people who are active are happier and more satisfied with their lives.
The duration and location of your workout also affects how happy you feel afterward. So, check out how to achieve your maximum happiness sweet spot.
When it comes to happiness, older people seem to know something that the rest of us don't because a number of studies have found that older people tend to be some of the happiest people around.
Why this is, however, is still a mystery to scientists because they have yet to find what exactly is causing this happiness. Chances are, it's a number of things: One study in 2013 suggested the reason is because older people are more experienced, and therefore, better at dealing with negative emotions like anger and anxiety. But another, more recent study, reported that the cause is that older people are more trusting, which comes with a number of healthy psychological benefits that lead to happiness.
Whatever the reason, if you're not happy right now, you can rest assured that your chances of happiness in the future are good.
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