Happiness is something that everyone is striving for, and people have studied it for decades. This includes the surprising science of happiness, which is a term that came about in the late-1980s. Yes, happiness has been studied from a scientific point of view, with results that may surprise some people. From these studies come terms such as the word “flow,” as well as an expansion of the term “positive psychology.”
A Brief History of the Science of Happiness
In the 1950s, the term “positive psychology” was coined and became the basis for the emphasis on not just psychological afflictions but also on human potentialities. In other words, psychology tried to look at the patients not just in terms of their afflictions, but also on their ability to improve these impairments on their own.
You can think of positive psychology as being a subset of the science of happiness. The latter encompasses much more, of course, including how exercise affects psychology conditions and much more. Even social media’s effect on happiness is included under the science of happiness.
From Buddha to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to Abraham Maslow, psychologists and philosophers throughout the centuries have studied what makes people happy. In fact, major philosophers and thinkers from East and West have studied it, so studying what makes people happy is nothing new.
Just what has scientific study proven to us about happiness? Most of it has resulted in specific actions and thoughts that have been proven to increase happiness in an individual. Indeed, there are numerous habits that happy people have which undoubtedly would increase the happiness of others as well. Here are 7 of those habits:
#1: Acts of kindness. Many people think of acts of kindness as strictly volunteer work, but it involves more than that. Reaching out to a person in need is easier than you think because those people are all around us. Whether it’s through a group or club or you do it on your own, acts of kindness go a long way in increasing the amount of happiness you experience on a daily basis.
#2: Flow. If you’ve never before heard the word “flow,” it is easy to figure out what it is. Finding your flow is a lot easier than you think, and it is a type of intrinsic motivation because it doesn’t rely on external rewards. Choose a goal and go after it with all your heart. Choose something that is challenging but something that you have a lot of passion for, and the journey itself will make you happy.
#3: Discover what your strengths are. Everyone has strengths, and one of the findings when studying the surprising science of happiness includes discovering what your strengths are. More important, it includes using those strengths to improve your life.
Whatever your virtues and strengths are, use those to make the most out of your life, which will naturally increase the amount of happiness you experience.
#4: Establish relationships. Relationships do your heart more good than just about anything else. This doesn’t mean you have to have a large group of friends. In fact, some people actually prefer to have only a few close friends and not a big group of them. It also helps your heart because you have someone to share your thoughts and feelings with, which is a good source of self-therapy for most people.
#5: Get moving. Regular physical exercise works wonders on your emotional well-being. It is especially beneficial to those suffering from conditions such as depression. Exercise releases endorphins that naturally make people feel better psychologically, which is proof that the mind-body connection is real. Eating better in addition to exercise will make these results even more beneficial.
#6: Enjoy a spiritual awakening. Everyone has a spiritual need, but you don’t have to go to church or belong to a certain religion to feed that need. There is a strong connection between spiritual and religious practice and the amount of happiness you enjoy.
A simple belief in a higher power or getting more in tune with nature can fulfill that spiritual need, and it goes a long way in making your happiness long-lasting.
#7: Hope, gratitude, and mindfulness. It should come as no surprise that people who feel more gratitude towards the things in their life feel a lot happier day after day. Grateful people are more positive people and have many more positive emotions than people who show no gratitude. They also have a greater sense of belonging and less depression and stress.
What Is Happiness?
The term “happiness” conjures up a lot of images in most people’s minds, but there are things that happiness is and things that it is not. Happiness is usually a combination of two things:
- How good you feel on any given day
- The overall satisfaction you feel for your life
Although most people have their own definition of happiness, these concepts are accepted by scientists as the two things that are necessary if you wish to be happy. In addition, happiness is made up of the following components:
- 50% is determined at birth; that is, it is innate
- 40% is controlled by your actions, behaviors, and thoughts
- 10% is determined by the circumstances around you
If you study these components, you will easily understand why your thoughts and behaviors are so important to your happiness. After all, with only 10% of your happiness attached to your specific situation, it is becoming more difficult to use that as an excuse for your unhappiness. The 40% that is directly related to your behaviors, thoughts and actions is an awfully important part of the equation.
Studies have also shown that people get used to their circumstances over time, so the circumstances do not play a large role when it comes to people’s overall happiness. In fact, you can think of happiness as a skill that you build up over time, because that is exactly how it works.
What Happiness Isn’t
There are also aspects that should not be associated with happiness. Indeed, happiness is not:
- Ignoring the negativity in the world
- Feeling great psychologically every minute of the day
- Having a lot of money so that you want for nothing
- A final destination
Rather, one of the things that you learn when you research the surprising science of happiness is that happy people don’t expect to be happy all the time. They merely learn to accept what they cannot change and concentrate on techniques to increase their level of happiness. This results in their being happier more often than they are unhappy or upset about something.
The Mind-Body Connection
When you feel better physically, you feel better emotionally. It’s just that simple. Because happier people tend to take better care of their bodies, they reap the benefits of being healthier both physically and emotionally. Overall, happy people:
- Live longer than unhappy people
- Have fewer episodes of cardiovascular disease
- Heal faster when they have physical injuries
- Have better immune systems
- Are more likely to eat healthier than those who are not as happy
- Have more intense, closer relationships with others
- Are more likely to volunteer and donate to charitable causes
- Are problem-solvers and more productive when they’re at work
- Volunteer and help others more often than unhappy people
Since the mind and body are so deeply connected, improving your physical health always benefits your emotional health as well, and vice versa. People who are emotionally stable and happy are more likely to participate in a healthy diet and regular exercise. Once you’re connected both physically and psychologically, you are bound to be happy all the way around.
In fact, studies have shown that rather than having intense spikes of happiness now and again, it is healthier overall for you to be moderately happy day in and day out. In other words, keeping it steady is the key to happiness.
Don’t Start Participating in the Negative
If you feel yourself getting happier, don’t stop what you’re doing because it’s working. If you don’t want to destroy that newfound happiness, stay away from the following things:
- A lack of friends or close relationships
- Holding grudges and not letting go of resentment
- Continuously comparing yourself to others
Indeed, studies have shown that “keeping up with the Joneses” is actually counter-productive to your happiness. Regardless of where you get status-wise, there are always going to be people who have more. Because of this, it is better not to get into the negative pattern of always wanting what someone else has.
In addition, contrary to what many people believe, suffering adversity can actually make you a happier and stronger person. People who have never experienced any adversity are generally not as happy as those who have experienced it. Coming through an adversity makes you stronger, which in turn makes you happier and more self-confident.
Making it through an adversity helps people:
- Feel better about the future
- Shape their true identities
- Become more resilient
- Cope better with all types of stressors
The saying, “only the strong survive,” therefore, must be a realistic one.
Country by Country – National Happiness
Every year, reports come out about how happy certain countries are as a whole. When it comes to the surprising science of happiness, it is a shock to some people that there are aspects to whole countries being happier. On a national level, people are happier when they:
- Are more generous and compassionate
- Have the freedom to make their own life choices (e.g., marriage)
- Have higher per-capita GDP
- Have a lot of social support
- Have a healthy life expectancy
- Have a bigger sense of freedom
Of course, there are other components that increase an entire country’s level of happiness. The opportunity for a good education, good governance of the people, a good basic standard of living, ecological and cultural diversity, physical health, and overall psychological health are a few of these.
Many of the above components are subjective, to say the least. Nevertheless, they are used year after year in determining the gross national happiness, or GNH index, of over 150 countries around the world.
Each year, a new report comes out listing the countries in order of happiness. For several years now, the top countries have been Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and the Netherlands.
Happiness by the Week
Part of the research that went into the surprising science of happiness resulted in ways that happiness can be sustained. With this concept, you concentrate on a specific task each day of the week. These are activities that increase your happiness over time. They consist of seven specific activities – one for each day of the week – that include:
#1: Mindfulness. This involves concentrating on the here and now without judgment. Often used to enhance meditation, mindfulness can increase self-awareness, reduce stress, and help you manage any painful feelings or thoughts you might be having. To be successful, concentrate on focus and mindset.
#2: Overall wellness. In this step, you concentrate on healthy eating, regular physical exercise, self-compassion, and motivation. Once again, taking care of your physical health always results in a happier, more psychologically fit you.
#3: Freedom. You cannot have true freedom without concentrating on things such as forgiveness, letting go of the past, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability does not mean you are weak; it simply means you allow yourself to be authentic in every way possible. This, in turn, results in a true and worthwhile connection with other people.
#4: Soul searching. You have to have a sense of purpose to be truly happy. This means participating in meaningful activities on a regular basis. Concentrate on your soul, your strengths, the true meaning of your life, and your purpose.
#5: Count your blessings. Be grateful. Appreciate things. Love people and things. When you concentrate on the good things that have happened on any given day, your positive thoughts naturally increase. Counting your blessings every single day greatly improves your overall well-being.
#6: Thoughtful actions. You have to have compassion and the willingness to give back to be truly happy. If you want to release those endorphins and increase your happiness, you can do it by giving to others and being more altruistic.
#7: Get social. On this day, you will concentrate on connecting with nature, involving yourself in more social activities, and working to increase your empathy. When you connect with others in a social way, it increases longevity, immunity, and both physical and mental health.
As you can see, there are certain components that are necessary if you want to be happy, and these aren’t relegated to just one or two items. Physical, emotional, and spiritual components all matter, and remember that only 10% of your happiness is controlled by how well you handle the current circumstances. That means that 90% of it involves internal components.
Additional Tips for Increasing Your Level of Happiness
Everyone is different, and even though there are tips that are applicable to most people, there are still other tips that can help a different set of people. If you’re interested in even more tips that can increase your level of happiness, keep reading.
- Don’t take rejection personally: everyone experiences rejection periodically; the trick is not to let it keep you down for too long or affect what you’re going to do next
- Remember that money doesn’t buy happiness: this has been proven by research, which says blue-collar workers are just as happy as people who are rich
- Commit yourself to success: whatever you decide to do with your life, remember to take commitment seriously; you won’t accomplish anything without a deep sense of commitment
- Always have a Plan B: when you decide to do something with your life, you have to remember that it may not work out for you in the end; this is why having a backup plan is crucial
- Don’t multitask: contrary to popular belief, you can burn yourself out with too much multitasking; you simply shouldn’t do too much at one time
- Balance work and life: all work and no play – well, you’ve heard the saying; life works out best when you have a healthy balance between life and work
- Make sure you travel: travelling expands the mind and lets you see that your town or country isn’t the center of the universe; it also helps you appreciate what you have at home
- Concentrate on your growth: personal growth is important to happiness, and it helps you achieve your goals and grow both physically and emotionally
- Don’t give up: whatever you plan to do, stick to it and don’t give up; keep working at it until your goal is accomplished
Just what are the surprises in the surprising science of happiness? Well, most people are surprised by at least some, if not all of the findings that have been discovered by scientists when determining what makes for a happy person. Happiness requires working hard in several areas, including both your physical and emotional life.
The components involved for a happy life are not that shocking, however. In fact, most of them are common sense. It’s just that most people have never taken the time to study and therefore learn how to improve their level of happiness, but it is a lot easier to do than you think.