Who wouldn’t want to be happier, right? We all want to feel more joy in our lives, but most of us don’t know how to get it. That’s because we think of happiness as something that happens to us, when really it’s a practice that we can cultivate. Don’t believe me? There’s scientific evidence to back me up. Read on to find out what works—and what doesn’t!
Studies have shown that money really does not buy happiness. Once your needs are met, more money doesn’t make a difference. In fact, lottery winners are no happier than they were before their big windfall—and many of them end up worse off than before. Above $75,000 a year, there’s no real increase in feelings of happiness.
Humans are communal animals. We need to be around other people—even if sometimes we’d rather be alone. Spending time with friends and family rates much higher on the happiness index than buying yourself a present or indulging in a sugary treat. Yet people tend to overestimate how much they’ll enjoy that treat and underestimate the positive effect of socializing.
It’s okay to be sad sometimes. Happiness shouldn’t be a permanent state or an end goal. It’s fleeting, just like any other feeling. Sometimes we feel like we can’t allow ourselves to feel negative emotions, but they’re just as valid as any other. “Angst and melancholy are fundamental human emotions that have a particular functional purpose in our evolutionary trajectory,” Emaliana Simon-Thomas, an instructor at UC Berkeley’s “Science of Happiness” course says.
Practicing gratitude is an important step in cultivating happiness. When you feel thankful for something—a beautiful day, a home-cooked meal, avoiding a parking ticket—take a moment to let that feeling sink in. Once a week, jot down your experiences in a gratitude journal. Some people recommend a daily journal, but that may actually backfire. Gratitude shouldn’t be a chore!
Embracing nature has a profound effect on us. A simple walk through the garden can boost your mood to an incredible degree. If you can enjoy that time outdoors with loved ones, you’ll feel even better. Exercise, exposure to sunlight, and companionship are all powerful happiness triggers. Your body produces dopamine during and immediately after exercise, while sunlight helps boost your vitamin D levels. And being around people you love—and especially touching them—can prompt a flood of the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin.
One of the best ways to feel more content—a better goal than happiness in the long run—is to practice mindfulness. Scientists have found that the practice can boost feelings of well-being and reduce stress, and possibly even help battle depression. Mindfulness can be as simple as closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for a few minutes.