We spend a lot of time thinking about happiness. We like to help people “Open Happiness” with an ice-cold drink. We enjoy encouraging people to feel happy by promoting physical fitness. And we love spreading happiness by giving special gifts, such as when we sent Joey Doble home for the holidays — and to visit the son he hadn’t seen in 10 years.
All this happiness talk made us want to learn more about what scientists and others have discovered about the subject.
“We know through research that a person’s happiness is ultimately determined by three factors: genetics, life circumstances and intentional activities,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. “You can only really change the last category — how you behave and the way you think about life every day.”
So where do you start? “From a mental perspective, practicing meditation can make you more mindful of your life experiences, which in turn helps you really savor moments of happiness,” says Lyubomirsky. “As far as actions go, seek out positive activities that strengthen your relationships. Express gratitude, which can increase feelings of life satisfaction, and perform acts of kindness for others.”
As scientists continue researching the ins and outs of our psyche, more studies are cropping up with fascinating intel on what makes us feel satisfied. While there’s still no universal formula for fulfillment, these insights help paint a better picture of our happiness habits — some of which may surprise you.
1. Happiness really is contagious.
Researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego found that happiness spreads through social circles like a virus, originating with one person, then trickling down to their neighbors, colleagues, friends and even friends of friends they’ve never met. That means if your neighbor were to get a promotion, for example, not only could you experience a feel-good ripple effect, your friends and their friends, could, too.
2. Making more money boosts happiness — to a point.
More money doesn’t always equate to more happiness. In fact, a 2010 study from Princeton University revealed that higher salaries do correlate with stronger feelings of happiness, but only to a certain point — at US$75,000, to be precise. Once you’ve reached that income threshold, reported happiness levels plateau and remain static, showing no increase in happiness despite the extra cash flow.
3. We’re all secretly morning people.
For a few hours, at least. Researchers from Cornell University discovered that, based on tone and mood patterns in Twitter posts, people all over the world tend to feel happy when first waking up, regardless of culture or geographic location.
4. Doing things makes you happier than buying stuff.
If you’re trying to decide between taking a vacation or upgrading the family TV this summer, go with the getaway. The flat screen may seem like the better long-term buy now, but according to research out of San Francisco State University, we become increasingly dissatisfied with material purchases over time, especially as better options come along and make us second-guess our investments. Our happiness with experience-related purchases, on the other hand, starts off high and actually grows over time as we reflect on fond memories.
5. In Bhutan, happiness is measured as a national commodity.
Psychological wellbeing is so important in Butanese culture that leaders measure the country’s prosperity by Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than Gross Domestic Product — the standard measure used by all other countries in the world. Crafted to preserve the spiritual and social health of citizens in Bhutan, GNH has influenced several of the country’s laws, like its strict 8-hour-workday limit (those who work more than that are considered time-deprived).
6. Some believe 33 is the golden age.
Seven out of 10 adults claim they were their happiest at age 33, according to a study by the UK-based social network Friends Reunited. Psychologists say thirty-somethings feel more positive about life, thanks to optimism about the future, professional fulfillment and a sense of security they lacked during their twenties.
7. Cheery music can pull you out of a bad mood.When you’re feeling blah, high-energy music can make you noticeably happier — as long as you’re actively seeking the pick-me-up.In a recent University of Missouri study, people who listened to positive music in attempts to change their mood reported feeling higher levels of happiness post-listen, while those tuning in to the same music without any specific purpose reported no change in happiness.
8. The happiest workers in America are …
Real estate agents! That’s the word from CareerBliss’ 2013 “Happiest and Unhappiest Jobs” survey, which asked more than 65,000 employees worldwide to rate their workplaces on compensation, work-life balance, office relationships and more. One important factor contributing to agents’ high levels of job satisfaction? Feeling a sense of control over their daily workloads.
9. The color green makes us happy — at least when we’re working out.
Simply seeing the color green is enough to make us feel happier and more relaxed during a workout. In a study from the University of Essex, indoor bicyclists who watched simulation videos with a green filter felt more calm, reported better moods and had more energy compared to those who watched versions tinted with other colors.
10. The farther you roam, the happier your vacation will be.
After analyzing more than 37 million geo-located tweets, researchers from the University of Vermont determined that the farther users ventured from home, the happier their posts became. The most positive tweets included destination-based words like “beach,” “new” and “restaurant,” terms the researchers say connect new life experiences with increased feelings of satisfaction.
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