There has been a lot of research done on the topic of happiness over the last twenty years. I’ve not only read most of the research, but I started putting the researchers’ findings into practice in my own life, and I can happily report that what they suggest does work. I do feel happier and more content with my life than I previously did. Below is a list of what the happiness researchers found about what really makes people happy.
Supportive Family and Friends
According to happiness research, good family relationships and friendships have a much bigger effect on a person’s happiness than their income. This is because humans adapt less quickly to more meaningful things such as friendship and life goals, than to new material objects or money.
As humans, we are wired to be social beings, and just like all other mammals, we survive best in pods with others of our kind. To be happy and thrive in our lives we need to be needed as well as to have support from other fellow human beings. People who have things in common with you, and who genuinely like you and believe in you, who are there to listen to you and give feedback, hold you, and help you through the hard times. Someone to witness the passage of your life with you, and for you to share in and support them in their life too.
A Good Marriage
Having one special person/mate to share life with has been proven to add to the quality and longevity of a person’s life. The effect of marriage adds an average of seven years to the life of a man, and four years to a woman’s life.
Having A Meaning in Life
Having a belief in something bigger than yourself. This could be in the form of a religion, spirituality, or a philosophy of life — like “It is better to give than receive” or “Do onto others as you would want them to do unto you, or a belief in Karma.
Working towards Meaningful Goals
Fulfilment can be found when working towards goals that inspire you, are interesting to work on, and which use your particular Strengths and Abilities.
Conversely, when a person is failing to make adequate progress towards their goals, or when work is boring because of a poor fit with the person’s strengths, or difficult due to poor relations with fellow co-workers or a boss, this can lower life satisfaction.
Modelling Happy People
If you copy the habits of happy people, you are more likely to become happy. This is called modelling, and it is how we learned to speak and think from our parents when we were growing up. Below is a list of activities which research has found helps to make people happier.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
It has been proven that people who keep a daily diary of all the happenings they are grateful for, the more joy, happiness, and life satisfaction they feel. Psychologist, Robert Emmons, from the University of California found that Gratitude exercises can do more than lift one’s mood. “They improve physical health, raise energy levels and, for patients with neuromuscular disease, relieve pain and fatigue. The ones who benefited most tended to elaborate more and have a wider span of things they are grateful for,” said Mr Emmons.
Performing Acts of Altruism
Another happiness booster is performing acts of Altruism or kindness such as: visiting a nursing home, helping a friend’s children with homework, mowing a neighbour’s lawn, writing a letter to a grandparent. Doing five kinds acts a week gave a measurable boost to people who did them.
Making A Gratitude Visit
During his research on Happiness, Dr Martin Seligman, found that the single most effective way to turbocharge a person’s joy, was to make a Gratitude visit. That means writing a letter thanking someone who has made a difference in your life, and then visiting that person to read them the letter of appreciation. Suitable candidates for a Gratitude visit could be a teacher, pastor, grandparent, or coach.
Watching Something Funny
When people are put into good moods in a research laboratory, usually by watching humorous video clips, they show better cardiovascular recovery from stress, are more sociable, persevere at difficult tasks longer and are more creative problem solvers. It has been found that Happy people have high quality social relationships, make more money, receive better job evaluations and live nine years longer on average.
Three Blessings Exercise
This exercise consists of taking time each day to write 3 things that went well and why. People who do this have been shown to be less depressed and happier six months later because they are focusing on the positives in their lives.
When you are volunteering, you are distracting yourself from your own existence, and that’s beneficial. Giving puts meaning in your life. You have a sense of purpose because you matter to someone else. Dr Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, found that all the happiness exercises listed here make people feel more connected to others.
Why Money Doesn’t Make People Happy
The standard of living has increased dramatically in the Western world over the last fifty years, but surprisingly, so has depression. Why is this? Shouldn’t we be happier because we can afford so many more comforts now? Apparently not, and the reason for this is that humans adapt very quickly to pleasure. Once we get something new, the pleasure of having it diminishes within days.
Research also shows that once people have the essentials of life i.e. A roof over their head, food and clothes, that extra money does not seem to make people much happier. Happiness seems to be enhanced by the type of people we have in our life and the way we think about our circumstances and ourselves.
Interestingly, the happiest country in the world was found to be a little place high up in the Himalayas called Bhutan. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world. However, what they do have is a very strong sense of community and a willingness to help each other.
Using Signature Strengths in a New Way Exercise
Participants in a Happiness study were asked to take an inventory of character strengths test. They were then asked to use one of their five top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week. This exercise resulted in an increase in life satisfaction.
To take the Character Strengths Test and a number of others tests, including the Happiness Inventory Questionnaire, you can go to: