|The smiling Buddha (atmajyoti.org)|
There is rapture, bliss, joy (piti), but "happiness" (sukha) provides a nice counterbalance to overt forms of dukkha (misery). We may all have different ideas about what "happiness" is and how to get it, so we would be far better off on a quest for nirvana (the end of all disappointment).
But, instead, happiness is all we get. Naturally, we get obsessed with it. Most of us would like to be happier. What does science, our great secular "religion" with its white-lab-coat-clad priestly caste, have to say about it? Here are 10 things.
A seven-minute workout? Says who? The New York Times reports... No time? Maybe there is time. Exercise has a profound effect on happiness and well-being.
It’s been proven to be an effective treatment for overcoming depression. In a study cited by Shawn Achor in The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients were treated for depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results were that although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:
Exercising makes us happier, according to Leo Widrich. What does it do to our brains? It releases proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier:
|Surrender to sleep; it does a bodymind good.|
In , Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:
Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala [a part of the brain]; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus [another part of the brain]. Sleep-deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is the sleep-deprived fail to recall pleasant memories yet can recall gloomy memories just fine.
Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods. And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.
|Is your wife home? - Yeah, she's in there.|
…while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
|But those Kennedys keep dying all the time.|
He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how the men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:
|Rebeccah, Erika, Isaac, Johnny, and Brennen (Spencer Finnley/BasileiaClothing.com)|
|Get outside into the relative warmth.|
Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…
This is pretty good news for those worried about fitting new habits into already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that could easily fit it into a commute or lunch break.
A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:
Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.
The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C.
6. HELP others: 100 hours a year is the magic number.
|Each one teach one according to ability.|
Going back to Shawn Achor’s book, he says this about helping others:
…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities -- such as concerts and group dinners out -- brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.
The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this topic:
|Friends vs. partners (Spencer Finnley/flickr)|
feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; in the near future.
Spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. What about spending time on other people? A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:
Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g., sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.
In his book , University of Pennsylvania Professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:
…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
7. SMILE: It can alleviate pain.
|Turn the frown upside down, Smiley.|
A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts -- such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital -- improve their mood and withdraw less.
Of course, it’s important to practice “real smiles” where we use your eye sockets as well as our cheeks and mouths. It’s very easy to spot the difference:
|A is a fake forced smile, whereas B includes the eye sockets as is more convincing|
According to UK site PsyBlog, smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:
Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested (Johnson, et al., 2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks that required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.
|Not warm enough? Plan a trip to the tropics.|
In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.
Author Shawn Achor has some information on this point as well:
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.If [one] can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar -- even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.
9. MEDITATE: Re-wire the brain for happiness
|Meditation for Dummies available|
In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make us happier in the long-term:
Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. Research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.
The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.
10. GRATITUDE pays: It increases happiness and life satisfaction
sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or partner, to going out of our way to show thanks when others help us.
In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods improved just from this simple practice:
|We were born to mature. Ripening means being alive (Martine Franck/magnumphotos.com).|
|The joyful nuns of Plum Village (Quest4pce)|
Researchers, including the authors of the study, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and better remember the happier ones and less so the negative ones.
Other studies have discovered that as we age, we seek out situations that will lift their moods. For instance, we prune social circles of friends or acquaintances who bring us down. Still other research finds that older adults learn to LET GO of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater well being.