5 Research-Proven Ways to Increase Happiness

I know scientifically proven would have made for a much better title, but I don’t think it’s ethical to call the research I have found scientific. However, in my travels, I have come across a number of ways to improve happiness based on tests performed in a controlled and professional environment. Happiness is something that everyone is searching for. When we’re happy, life just feels great. Everything feels…right. Now, as happiness is a goal for many of us, there is a lot of advice out there. I’ve even wrote a post myself about attaining instant happiness, but today I wanted to share some proven examples. One of the most common recommendations for increasing your levels of happiness is positive thinking. That could involve seeing the positive in certain situations or focusing on what we like about ourselves through affirmations. However, as research and my own personal experiences suggest, positive thinking can actually lead to unhappiness as you constantly remember what you don’t like and what you’re trying to resist. Instead, let’s look at some exercises that research and my personal experience both agree with. I have included five of them because, after all, you can’t be too happy, right?

1. Write Things Down

In a survey, 90% of people stated that talking to other people about their problems is beneficial, but is that really the case? Emmanuelle Zach and Bernard Rime, two Belgian researchers, decided to test the idea. A large number of participants were divided into two groups. One group was asked to speak to a stranger about a serious and traumatic event in their lives, while the other group was asked to speak to a stranger about their typical day. Although the first group thought that talking about the issue helped them, survey results taken after the test told a different story. In fact, their results were no different to that of the second group. Following this, the participants were then asked to write down their traumatic experiences on paper. The result? They were clearly happier, more enthusiastic, and more energetic. The researchers concluded that when writing things down we can see the bigger picture and keep things in order, whereas talking can be muddled, confusing, and leave us focusing on the issue. So, the next time something is bothering you, just write about it.

2. Purchase Experiences Over Goods

I used to be very materialistic in that I wanted to have the latest trainers, the latest phone, and a better computer than my friends. These days, I would much rather save my money for travelling the world than spending it on designer goods. Not only is this what I want to do, but according to psychologists Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich, it’s more likely to make me happier. They pair conducted two experiments. The first was to ask people about an object or experience they had bought in order to improve their happiness, and how effective it had been. The second was to ask one group to think about an object and another group to think about a holiday. They were both then asked to mark their current mood on a scale of -4 (sad) to 4 (happy). There was clear proof that those who had thought of experiences instead of possessions were much happier. They believe the reason behind this is that objects get old quickly, and the self esteem from them soon disappears. On the other hand, when we think about holidays, we only focus on the good parts, and forget about the plane delays or even the costs involved.

3. Give to Receive

Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues from the University of British Columbia have performed numerous tests on the relationship between income, spending and happiness. They first sent out a national survey asking participants about their happiness, income level, and the amount of money they tend to spend on gifts for others or charity donations. Another test involved them measuring the happiness and spending habits of employees, before and after they received a bonus of over $3,000 through their companies profit-sharing. The results that emerged clearly showed that those who spend money on others are far happier than those that spend it on themselves. My brother became a father last week (picture below) and I surprised him with a large cheque to help him financially as I know he is struggling and I’m doing well. I still feel great about what I did so I can definitely relate to this study. Further research shows that it doesn’t have to be monetary giving though, even donating blood or helping out at a charity can allow you to feel fantastic.  

4. Write About Someone You Care For

Just as writing down your problems can greatly improve your happiness, so can writing about a loved one according to researchers from Arizona State University. Kory Floyd and colleagues asked volunteers to write about someone they cared about, and why they did, for 20 minutes. Another group were just asked to write about something that happened during the week as a control measure. This was repeated three times per week for five weeks. The results showed that those engaged in affectionate writing were significantly happier, had a reduction in stress, and even had much lower cholesterol levels.

5. Sit Up (Men Only)

Finally, I thought I would end with a very interesting and fun test conducted by Tomi-Ann Roberts at Colorado University. Of the two groups involved, one was asked to sit up straight in their chair while the others were asked to slouch. Both groups were then given a maths test and afterwards asked to rate their mood. Those who sat upright were much happier and even scored a much greater score on the test. Results show that this didn’t apply to women, however, and it is thought they may be self conscious from sticking out their chest when sitting up straight.

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