4 Things Happy People Do (& You Should Too)
On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you?
If you gave yourself 10/10 then congratulations; you’re already at peak happiness and there’s not much this article can teach you. But if you’re like the average Brit or American, you’ll have scored yourself somewhere around the 7.5 mark. We’re a tolerably happy nation, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
The good news is that there are science-backed ways of making people happier. After aeons of research time and money being poured into the study of contentment, four things have been proven to make most people happy, most of the time:
Bibliotherapy is a real thing. A study by the NHS Foundation Trust, and another by an experimental psychiatry journal found that reading is helpful in the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Reading is also widely acknowledged as one of the best stress-busters out there: after just six minutes of reading, your stress levels drop by two-thirds. And when the BookTrust asked frequent readers about the effect on their happiness, 75% claimed that reading made them feel good and improved their lives.
Write down ten books that you’ve always wanted to read, and finish them all by this time next year. It doesn’t matter whether you plump for Ulysses or Fifty Shades of Grey, as long as you’ll enjoy reading them. (If you struggle with reading, there’s a huge range of audio books available).
Stuck for ideas? Type the title of a book you loved into What Should I Read Next? and it will generate a bunch of suggestions.
Dopamine, the “happy chemical”, is released when you exercise. Physical activity has also been proven by numerous studies to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your self-esteem. You can get these benefits without being a body-builder; exercising for just 20 minutes each morning is the most effective way to get the associated happiness boost.
Stop telling yourself you are too busy to exercise. Find a gym near work and go at lunchtime. Wake up half an hour earlier. Incorporate it into your daily activities – spend your next date or a family day out wall-climbing, or at an indoor trampoline centre, or cycling through the countryside.
The trick to exercising is to find an activity you enjoy. Whether it’s showing off your moves at Zumba or pretending to be D’Artagan in a fencing class, when it’s fun it won’t feel like hard work.
It doesn’t matter how far go or what you do, it’s the experience that counts. Literally. Studies show that doing things (especially compared to buying things) doesn’t just make us happy at the time. It continues to make us happy long afterwards, because we get a mood boost every time we relive the memory or retell it to our family and friends.
This effect is so pronounced that even when we disliked the initial experience we feel positive emotions when we recount it later. Ever turn a personal horror into a dinner-table comedy skit? Exactly.
Even just planning a holiday makes us happy, as we anticipate the good times ahead.
If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Time to make that dream destination a real holiday.
Usually the only obstacles in the way of our goals are the ones we put there ourselves. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a long time to save for it; work out a saving plan now and stick to it. If you think you can’t afford it full-stop, then research the many ways that you can travel to exotic locations for next to nothing. If you have no one to go with then go by yourself. Solo travel is incredibly rewarding.
Use this knowledge sparingly – retail therapy actually works. It has “lasting positive impacts on mood” and does not create negative sensations of guilt or regret. Plus, our brains are programmed to appreciate novelty, meaning that the very newness of a purchase makes us feel good.
The problem is that novelty wears off, so constantly splurging on impulse buys is counter-productive. Limit yourself to the occasional highly-desired item.
We’re not talking about constant retail therapy here. We’re talking about that single, gorgeous, ridiculously-overpriced item – be it a pair of Louboutins or an Acer Predator gaming laptop – which you want with all your heart and soul but couldn’t justify buying.
Work out how much of your monthly budget you could put aside for it. Save. And when you have the money, go buy it guilt-free. Yes, it’s decadent, yes it’s unnecessary. But you deserve it.