It’s true: researchers have spent a lot of time (and funding) trying to determine what makes people happy. After all, how grand would it be if we could find that golden ticket? The good news is they’ve learned a lot that can point the way for each of us to live happier lives. The bad news? It’s not quite a golden ticket, but if you set your mind to it, we think being happy is totally achievable! So, here are four things you can do to boost your own happiness. (We’ll toast to that, right?)
#1 Nurture and cherish your closest relationships
Study after study have found that the people who rank themselves as happiest value their relationships. Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the longest-running study on happiness, the Harvard Study on Adult Development, says that loneliness can be more dangerous to one’s health than smoking. That’s serious. Similarly, the 75 year longitudinal Grant and Glueck studies led by George Vaillant and Sheldon Glueck found that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Take home message? Spend quality time with your friends, family, and loved ones. Maybe on a retreat to somewhere lovely?
#2 Move your body
Consistent exercise is correlated with better health and increased levels of endorphins, which boost endorphin levels and increase your overall sense of wellbeing. A study led by Harvard researchers published in the June 2017 Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that feelings of well-being were linked to higher levels of physical activity among almost 10,000 adults over age 50 -- you can bet that number is similar for younger folk, too. Yoga, dance, hiking, surfing -- you name it, it all produces those mood-boosting endorphins.
#3 Buy experiences, not things
Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University 2014 study found that experiences are far more valuable to our social and personal happiness than the latest gadget. Surprised? We didn’t think so. But if you need proof, here are his main findings:
- Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods
- Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person's identity
- Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.
In 2012, he also found that people tend to have more regrets over inaction for experiences rather than for possessions..
#4 You make and trust your own decisions
Turns out autonomy is also a hugely important aspect of happiness. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that "autonomy" - defined as "the feeling that your life - its activities and habits -- are self-chosen and self-endorsed” - is a strong predictor of feeling happy with your life. You create your own reality. Taking control and making choices that support your own wellbeing -- it makes sense that we would feel happier. Right?
So. How will you increase your happiness this year? We have some pretty good ideas….