Happiness doesn’t just fall into your lap – it’s not like finding a winning lottery ticket. Yes, some people are born with a happier temperament than others, but if you’re not one of them, there is a lot you can do to increase your happiness. A lot of “happiness-increasing” behaviors relate to lifestyle, like exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in meaningful work. And one of the most significant actions you can take is to increase your social interactions – with family, friends, and even strangers.
So, if you want to a happier life, here are some things you can do:
1. Simply spend time with others: People are social creatures, so simply being with others often leads to feeling happier. This simple observation has led Chuck McCarthy, an actor in Los Angeles, to “walk people” for a living. The Guardian UK reported that McCarthy has said that he is hired not just to walk with people who are friendless, but also those who can’t coordinate time with friends or have jobs that leave them feeling isolated. While a sense of deep connection is important, just having someone to chit-chat with is also important.
2. Expose yourself to a broad network of people: Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found evidence that happiness spreads through social networks. One person’s happiness not only makes their friends happy, but it also spreads to that person’s friends, and those people’s friends. In addition, the effect of this lasts up to a year! However, it works best with people who live close by – for instance, you will be more affected by a next-door neighbor than someone who lives down the road. It’s also important to note that sadness does not spread as much as happiness (so, your happiness does not depend on staying away from people who are sad).
3. Smile at others as you go through your day: When you smile at others, they very often smile back at you. Research has shown that not only do people often mimic the facial expressions of others, but they also tend to feel the emotion that goes with that expression — in the case of smiling, this means happiness. So when others smile back, you will also probably feel happier.
4. Be kind to others: It feels good to be good to other people. To support this self-evident idea, there is some evidence that being habitually altruistic raises dopamine levels in the brain. This leaves people feeling calmer, having greater self-worth, and being generally happier.
Practically speaking, you might find the results of research by Sonja Lyubomirsky to be enlightening. It showed people who do all of their acts of kindness in a single day benefit more than those who do small acts through the week. That said, you can still get a “boost” from being occasionally generous.
5. Express gratitude: Research has shown that expressing gratitude tends to make people happier. So, you might want to consider thanking your spouse, keeping a gratitude journal, writing a thank-you letter to a friend, or even just being mindful of your gratitude for others.
6. Use technology to connect: While excessive time on the computer or social media has led many to feel unhappy and lonely, it can also be used to help people feel happier. One study has shown that taking selfies and sharing them with friends can make you happier. Another study has shown that receiving personal posts or comments on Facebook often makes people happier. The takeaway seems to be that consciously using social media to connect personally with friends can make you happier.
Whatever you do to try to bring happiness into your life, make sure that you reach out to the world of people around you. Those connections – both superficial and deep – can brighten your mood and improve your life.
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Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.