Humans have remarkable control over their own happiness.
In her book, “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says a person’s happiness is 50% due to genetics, 10% due to circumstances, and the remaining 40% is “within our power to change.”
Happiness is different for each person, which is why we’ve compiled dozens of different methods to help you find your inner sunshine.
Studies have shown that eating high-calorie comfort foods can make your happier. The downside is this will also make you fat.
As an alternative, a study published in the Journal of Behavioural and Brain Science in May 2013 found that simply drawing pictures of foods high in fat, like cupcakes or pizza, and foods that taste sweet, like strawberries, can also boost your mood. The positive reactions were independent of subjects' weight and hunger level.
'These results extend a growing body of biobehavioral research on the positive impact of food images on mood by showing that this impact can be applied to enhance mood when expressing food images through art,' the researchers concluded.
Maybe it has something to do with those magical soil microbes, but florists and gardeners are the happiest with their careers, according to a survey by vocational training organisation City and Guilds.
Of those surveyed, more than 80% of florists and gardeners said they feel their work is worthwhile and useful, they feel recognised and appreciated, and they get to use their skills every day.
It's well known that sex makes people happy. According to a 2004 study among 1,000 women published in the journal American Economic Review, sex produced the single largest amount of happiness out of a list of 19 activities.
But sleeping with one person can be even more satisfying. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that people who had one partner were happier than people who had several partners throughout the year. 'A bi-weekly ride on a merry-go-round may be better than an annual ride on a roller coaster,' the authors write.
The same 2011 study found that frequent small pleasures, like double lattes, pedicures, or soft socks provides more happiness than infrequent large ones like sports cars or vacations.
Happiness'is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people's positive affective experiences,' the study said.
Research shows that breaking up enjoyable experiences into brief events -- such as two 20-minute massages at different times rather than one 40-minute massage -- gives people more pleasure.
Are you thinking about something other than what you're currently doing? If the answer is 'yes' then you are less happy than people who don't have a wandering mind, according to research from Harvard University.
'The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost,' the study, published in the journal Science, concluded.
People with power, either at work, with friends, or in a relationship, lead happier lives, according a study from Tel Aviv University. In a survey of 350 people, researchers found that those who felt more powerful were more satisfied with their lives, especially in their jobs.
The study concludes: 'By leading people to be true to their desires and inclinations -- to be authentic -- power leads individuals to experience greater happiness.'
Doing good for others increases personal happiness, a 2008 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine confirmed. People who volunteer for religious groups and organisations report higher levels of happiness than those who do not volunteer, regardless of socio-economic factors.
Interestingly, the researchers learned that other types of altruistic behaviour, like giving money to charity or donating blood did not have the same effect on happiness. They believe that volunteering increases empathy by making people more aware of others' needs. Volunteers come to appreciate what they have rather than focusing on what they don't have.
In the 'Myths of Happiness,' University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky says we should spend our money on things that, in turn, give us more free time to participate in meaningful activities that lead to happiness -- like hanging out with friends, listening to music, or volunteering.
'If we spend our money to open up more 'free' hours in the day -- for example, by reducing our work hours (because we already make enough) or paying others to perform time-consuming chores (e.g., fix the plumbing, stand in line at the post office, fill in tedious documents, call airlines) -- we can spend our time enjoying those things in life that both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests make us happy,' she writes.
Unhappy people are consumed by peer comparison, an experiment conducted by professor Lyubomirsky showed.
In another study, Columbia University economics professor Enrichetta Ravina and her co-author Karen Dynan, a vice president and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that being envious of the rich -- specifically members of the middle class wanting to do financially better than their neighbours -- can cause individuals to go into debt.
Several studies have found that long commutes to work increase stress and boredom, especially when driving in traffic.
'Commuting not only takes time, but also generates out of-pocket costs, causes stress and intervenes in the relationship between work and family,' two Swiss economists write in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Economics.
Commuting to work in the morning is particularly unpleasant, according to research published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 2006.
This is a no-brainer. Countless studies show that exercise makes us happy by releasing feel-good chemicals known as endorphins.
One study out of Penn State University showed that people who are more physically active report greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm compared to those who are not active.
'You don't have to be the fittest person who is exercising every day to receive the feel-good benefits of exercise,' researcher David Conroy, a professor of kinesiology, said in a statement. 'It's a matter of taking it one day at a time, of trying to get your activity in, and then there's this feel-good reward afterwards.'
One key predictor of a happy life (at least for men) is the warmth of their relationship with their mum during childhood. That's George Vaillant's conclusion of the famous Grand Study, which spent 75 years tracking the development and habits of more than 200 Harvard men.
Other research supports the claim that parental bonding creates happy, stable children. A study from the University of Iowa found that infants who form a strong attachment to one parent 'are less likely to be troubled, aggressive or experience other emotional and behavioural problems when they reach school age.'
Happiness is linked to the strength of our bonds with other people -- watching TV limits the amount of time we have to engage in social activities that develop these relationships, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Economic Psychology.
Heavy TV-viewers reported lower life satisfaction and higher levels of anxiety, the report said.
What's the cost of daily happiness? A study from Princeton University says its $US75,000 a year.
The research rests on the idea that there are two kinds of happiness: Daily emotions (i.e. the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, sadness, anger, stress, or affection) and life evaluation (the thoughts that people have about their life when they reflect on it as a whole).
Emotional well-being rises with income, but stops at a mark of $US75,000. Below $US75,000, the emotional pain associated wih life's misfortunes, like illness, divorce, or being alone, is exacerbated.
According to sociology professor Norbert Schwarz: 'Making $US60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.'
The finding comes from a study published in the journal Science that looked at how factors like poor sleep impact how people feel during daily activities, such as socializing, eating, praying, and doing housework.
The study reported that 'sleep quality has a greater influence on the ability to enjoy one's day than household income and even marital status.'
Listening to happy, upbeat music can really lift your mood, according to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in October 2012.
Participants who listened to the spirited music of composer Aaron Copland compared to the more mellow music of composer Igor Stravinsky showed higher levels of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, in the region of the brain associated with reward.
Importantly, researchers found this method only worked if listeners were consciously trying to improve their mood.
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