If you want to be happy, be. — Leo Tolstoy
It should come as no surprise that I write today’s post with a big smile on my face.
Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty good.
But happiness is best when you can share it with others. So today, I’m going to discuss some of the research on how to make YOU happier, too.
Although I’ve previously discussed how to improve one’s well-being in life, still, only 20% of U.S. adults report that they are “flourishing” (which I think means we need more people reading this blog 😉).
Thus, if you yourself don’t really feel happy in life (which is surely affected by COVID-19 restrictions), the first thing to note is that you’re not alone.
In research, happiness is usually called “subjective well-being,” and it’s defined by three features:
- The belief that you have a satisfying life
- A general feeling of positive emotions
- Minimally feeling negative emotions
Needless to say, the higher your subjective well-being (happiness), the better your life. Everything from how long you to live to how you do at work is affected by your general levels of happiness. So, what are some things you can do to raise it?
THREE ACTIVITIES TO INCREASE HAPPINESS
According to research, there are a number of activities proven to increase your happiness, so I’m just going to focus on three of the more documented ones: gratitude journaling, acts of kindness, and mindfulness meditation.
Gratitude Journaling: There is good reason that humans have practiced the act of expressing gratitude throughout history (e.g., in prayer, before meals, etc.) as it has profound effects on our psychology! Indeed, loads of research show that keeping a daily journal about various life aspects that you’re grateful for can improve your happiness. So go ahead and start now! Grab a notebook, pen, and jot down three things you’re grateful for at this moment. As another strategy, try writing a letter to someone where you express gratitude for what they’ve done for you. This brings happiness both to you AND the other person.
Acts of Kindness: Although it might seem like a cliché recommendation, doing acts of kindness for others consistently improves people’s wellbeing. From giving a meal to a homeless person to helping your parents clear out the “junk room,” doing acts of kindness for others is one of the most powerful ways to bring happiness for yourself. In fact, a recent study replicated this classic finding. Participants were given money to spend on themselves or spend on someone else, and the researchers found that spending the money on others increased one’s happiness more on average than spending it on oneself.
Mindfulness Meditation: Likely, you’ve heard about the power of mediation. And one very consistent effect of it is that it improves the practitioner’s happiness. Now, there are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness meditation (check out this site for some good examples), but one key element is often focusing on the present moment. To start, just set aside five minutes in your day where you intentionally choose to sit and focus on the present moment. In other words, try to observe the feelings and thoughts in your head as if you were a dispassionate onlooker – don’t judge whether the thoughts or feelings are good or bad, simply process what is occurring moment by moment.
SUSTAINING YOUR HAPPINESS
Although the above activities are reliable ones for increasing happiness, there are a couple tricks to improving their effectiveness (as well as other happiness-inducing activities):
First, try to do the happiness-improving activity for an extended period of time. For example, don’t just journal about your gratitude or practice mediation once. These activities have the greatest impact when you do them for a sustained period of time.
Second, try to mix up the activities you engage in. Some of the activities I mentioned might not be right for you. In terms of improving your happiness, it is important to achieve “activity-person-fit.” In other words, by trying out a bunch of different activities to try to make yourself happier, you can better find the ones that best fit your needs and desires.
Finally – and related to the prior point – spend some time reflecting on who you are and what your values are. Doing activities that reflect your own self-views and goals are the ones most likely to bring you happiness.
Hopefully More Happily,
Psych•o•philosophy to Ponder: Were you at all curious what my dissertation was about? Regardless, *I’m* going to get some more happiness by telling you a little about it 😉 That is, in my 183-page document, I wanted to provide insight to the question: How can we get people on the left and right of the political spectrum to converse more about their beliefs? If we can get them to civilly discuss their opinions, we can help reduce the political polarization evident today. In answering this question, I found that whether we perceive someone as “open-minded” greatly impacts whether we’re willing to have a discussion with them. Thus, my dissertation focuses on the consequences of perceiving other people as open-minded, and what “signals” leads us to believe that others are more or less open-minded.
Heintzelman, S. J., Kushlev, K., Lutes, L. D., Wirtz, D., Kanippayoor, J. M., Leitner, D., … & Diener, E. (2020). ENHANCE: Evidence for the efficacy of a comprehensive intervention program to promote subjective well-being. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 26(2), 360.
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well‐being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice‐friendly meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467-487.