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How to Be Happy: 7 Science-Backed Methods

The "how to" of happiness: what science says you should do to be happier.

Girl holding an umbrella in front of yellow wall
Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

How can you be happy? Is there a proven formula that will make you happier?

Happiness is a bit of an abstract concept. When most people think of making themselves happier, they turn to try to get more money, buying themselves gifts, or pursuing their hobbies.

However, plenty of studies show that there are concrete ways to improve happiness – both in the short run and the long term. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says that people can increase their happiness level by up to 40% through regular actions and habits. Is she correct? Well, look at what science says about these activities. Here are some ways to improve your happiness levels:

Exercise.

Working out is one surefire way to make you a happier person. Going to the gym, lifting weights, or even jogging all contributes to your self-esteem. You’ll build muscle, feel confident in your looks, and lose weight.

Most importantly, working out releases endorphins, which are “feel-good hormones.” Your body produces endorphins to combat the stress of working out. These will help boost mood and alleviate stress – both of which will make you happier.

In fact, exercise can create a positive feedback loop. The more you work out, the better you feel. These positive feelings will encourage you to work out even more.

Exercise does other wonders for the brain too. It will improve your concentration, creativity, willpower, and help you sleep better. What’s your excuse for not jogging more often?

Meditate.

Much like exercise, meditation also benefits you in many ways. Meditation will help improve concentration and mindfulness while decreasing stress and brain aging. Mainly, doing loving-kindness meditation helps people feel positive feelings towards themselves and others. Practicing this meditation over long periods helps stave off depression and increase overall satisfaction.

Even a tiny bit of meditation each day can bring you enormous benefits. You can use apps like Headspace or Serenity to meditate 5-10 minutes each day.

Even a little bit of meditation can work wonders. I like to meditate in the morning. I set aside 10 minutes each day to practice mindfulness and gratitude. This small act of self-kindness gets me in the right mood to be productive and work hard for the rest of the day.

Photo by Wix

Eat well.

You are what you eat, so to speak. If you eat nothing but sugar, you’ll feel down and depressed far more often. That’s because food can significantly impact your mood and energy levels.

For example, one study compared the self-reported dietary habits of about 12,000 people with depressive symptoms. Researchers discovered that those who mostly ate fruits and vegetables had the fewest depressive symptoms.

Try to eat a little healthier every day. Avoid sodas and candies and opt for fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Some ideas for healthy foods include avocados, berries, fish, almonds, kale, bananas, nuts, sweet potato, quinoa, and eggs.

Write down your thoughts.

Research from psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker found that expressive writing helps reduce stress and anxiety after long periods. If you don’t know what expressive writing is, here’s a quick rundown: Simply write about your innermost feelings for 15-20 minutes for four days in a row. Don’t worry about punctuation or neatness. This technique works because everyone has plenty of thoughts bottled up. Writing not only helps people express those feelings, but also make sense of them.

Many researchers have replicated Pennebaker’s findings in their studies. For example, one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association assigned 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients writing assignments. For the next four months, each patient had to write about an assigned topic for 20 minutes a day, three consecutive days a week. Seventy-one of them wrote about stressful events, and the other 37 wrote about their daily plans.

Seventy out of 71 of the stress-writing group showed improvement in clinical analysis. They were remarkably healthier with lower levels of stress and deterioration.

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand conducted a similar study on HIV/AIDS patients. Thirty-seven patients were told to either write about stressful events or mundane life experiences for 30 minutes a day.

Unsurprisingly, those who wrote about stressful experiences were healthier than the control group. The stress-writing group showed higher levels of CD4 lymphocyte – something which plays a role in immunity. However, these effects disappeared three months after.

Photo by Wix

Spend time with people.

Humans are naturally social creatures and want to be around others. We’re happiest when in the company of friends and family.

In one study, researchers asked how happy subjects were on a scale from 1 to 10. Participants wrote down what strategies they’d use to improve their happiness. Some decided to pursue personal goals such as quitting smoking or seeking a better job. Others focused on social goals, such as spending time with loved ones.

A year later, researchers found that those who sought social goals were happier than those who pursue personal goals. Strangely enough, those who pursued individual goals were unhappier than those who didn’t have goals at all.

Researchers aren’t sure why, but they hypothesize that social goals are easier to attain. Finding a job is much harder than making time to hang out with friends.

A study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics found that healthy relationships are worth over $100,000 in terms of life satisfaction. In other words, a social person who earns $40,000 will be about as happy as a loner who makes $140,000.

Give your time to others.

A review of 40 scientific papers suggests that doing volunteer work can boost your mental health and decrease mortality by up to 20%. The causes aren’t quite clear, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you’re giving back to the community and forming new social bonds.

The Independent Sector estimates that, if volunteer work were paid, volunteers would earn $25.38 an hour. Yet, volunteers do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They put in time and effort not to make a profit, but to make a difference.

Volunteers give their work for free because they believe in a social cause or organization. Charities and non-profits all try to make the world a slightly better place. They feed the homeless, rescue stray animals, tutor children, pick up trash, and more.

Start a gratitude journal.

Writing in a gratitude journal is one of the most popular methods of self-help out there. It’s something quite easy – just write about 3-5 things you’re thankful for in your life. This small act will help you appreciate all the little things in your life.

Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, studied over 1,000 people and how gratitude affects them. He says that people who practice gratitude have better sleep, lower blood pressure, experience positive feelings, feel less lonely, are more outgoing, and many other things.

Conclusion

Being a happier person isn’t hard work. Keep in mind that these habits often take plenty of time and energy. It may take a few weeks until these activities become habits that are second-nature to your routine. It’s worth doing a little bit of everything on this list each day to improve your life, mood, and health.

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