5 Science-Backed Ways to Be Happy

Updated on December 3, 2018
Kaitlyn Lo profile image

Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

How can we lead happier lives?
How can we lead happier lives? | Source

Among the most elusive aspects of life is the chase for happiness. When we’re happy, we’re more productive, motivated, and are mentally and physically healthier. But what’s the secret to happiness when there are so many things, both big and small, that can make us happy? Yes, happiness is subjective, but here are a few universal things that science has found that are guaranteed to make us happier individuals.

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1. Move Your Body

According to a study published in “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor, patients suffering from depression were separated into three treatment groups: medication only, exercise only, and a combination of medication and exercise. The researchers found that while all three groups felt happier in the short-term, follow-up assessments six months after the study found that 38 percent of the medication only group and 31 percent of the combination group had relapsed, while the relapse rate of the exercise only group was only 9 percent!

In another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers found that people who exercised regularly reported feeling better about their bodies even when there were no visible physical changes. And when you feel better about your body, self-confidence naturally rises, and you may feel more empowered to reach your goals.

Exercise improves our mood and helps us feel better about our bodies.
Exercise improves our mood and helps us feel better about our bodies. | Source

2. Sleep

By now, it should be common knowledge that sleep helps our minds and bodies detox and repair themselves, so we’re refreshed to face a new day by the time we wake up.

But sleep does much more than just that. According to a study published in NurtureShock, when we’re sleep-deprived, we tend to remember unpleasant memories over more pleasant ones. During the study, sleep-deprived college students were given a list of words to memorize. The students were able to recall 81 percent of words that had a negative connotation like “cancer,” but only remember 31 percent of positive or neutral words like “sunshine.”

Another study also found that sleep-deprived individuals were more sensitive towards negative emotions like fear and anger. But when the participants were allowed to nap before completing their task, they became more sensitive to positive expressions and emotions instead.

If we slept more, maybe we can be as happy as this kitten looks.
If we slept more, maybe we can be as happy as this kitten looks. | Source

3. Help Other People

This may seem counter-intuitive, but research has proven time and again that philanthropy and being kind to others makes us feel better about ourselves and enriches our lives.

A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that participants who were prompted to recall the last time they made a purchase for someone else or a purchase they made for themselves reported feeling significantly happier after remembering buying something for someone else than when remembering buying something for themselves. On top of that, the happier they felt, the more likely they were to spend on someone else in the future.

So spending money on other people makes us happier, but it seems spending time on others also does the trick.

A German study on volunteering examined how the lives of volunteers were affected when their volunteering opportunities were lost. The researchers found that, compared to the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, ex-volunteers reported feeling lower life satisfaction.

Giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves and improves our life satisfaction.
Giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves and improves our life satisfaction. | Source

4. Live Close to Your Workplace

No one likes being stuck in close quarters with dozens of grouchy strangers twice a day. Even if you can drive to work in your own car, wasting hours sitting in rush hour traffic every week just to get to and from work can be a serious downer.

According to a study from the University of West England, an extra of just 20 minutes of commuting every day has the same adverse effect on job happiness as receiving a 19% pay cut. With every extra minute of commute, job satisfaction goes down and overall stress increases.

No one likes sitting through rush hour traffic twice a day just to get to and from work.
No one likes sitting through rush hour traffic twice a day just to get to and from work. | Source

5. Practice Gratitude

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating. In a study where participant wrote down or consciously took note of things they were grateful for every day, they all reported improved moods and heightened feelings of well-being.

Another study published in the Journal of Happiness found that writing just one letter of gratitude per week increased participants’ level of happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing symptoms of depression.

If you’ve never consciously practiced gratitude before, there are many ways to go about it. You can choose to keep a journal to write a different gratitude list every day, share with a friend or loved one a few good things that happened every day, or even just saying a heartfelt “thank you” when someone helps you.

Practicing gratitude helps us adopt a more optimistic mindset and is proven to boost our mood.
Practicing gratitude helps us adopt a more optimistic mindset and is proven to boost our mood. | Source

References and Further Reading:

1. Bergland, C. (n.d.). Sleep Loss Disrupts Emotional Balance via the Amygdala. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201512/sleep-loss-disrupts-emotional-balance-the-amygdala.

2. Loudenback, T. (2017, October 23). Study: Adding 20 Minutes to Your Commute Makes You as Miserable as Getting a 19 Percent Pay Cut. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/business-insider/study-reveals-commute-time-impacts-job-satisfaction.html.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 KV Lo

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      • Babu Mohan profile image

        Mohan Babu 

        4 days ago from Chennai, India

        Everything you said is relevant. I can practice almost everything in your list except the good sleep part. I am seeing some improvement in my sleep after quitting sugar. I fully agree with you on the need for exercise. I feel lot better after I do some physical exercise. Yet I am guilty of not being regular on my exercise schedule.

      • thedinasoaur profile image

        Dina 

        10 days ago from California

        Ah, you have such a clever way of approaching topics. It's great. Here, I felt like the article was going to go one way and then you surprised me. For instance, sleep and exercise are often at the forefront of the advice people get. But, I was surprised to see the other components of this article. Thank you for writing about this topic. Just curious: would you feel inclined to talk more about developing a gratitude practice? I am having trouble sticking to it.

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