Everyone strives to be happier, but the truth is some people are more successful than others at attaining happiness. Why? Most people think they know what they need to be happy. But the science of happiness reveals some surprising truths. Find out what research says about what you really need to find inner happiness below.

1. Put others first

When you choose to live selflessly and devote your time to making the world better for the people you love, your life gets better as a result. George Vaillant, an American psychiatrist and professor at the Harvard Medical School, is the director of one of the most revered longitudinal studies on happiness, the Grant Study. The study measured lifelong happiness of 237 Harvard students from 1939 to 1944.

After completing the Grant Study, Vaillant was able to come to one conclusion: “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” When you think about it, you realize that this statement is true. You build strong relationships by doing things for others and not expecting anything in return. Don’t take your relationships for granted. Make other peoples’ lives happier, and your happiness will follow suit.

2. Spend your time wisely

Time is the most valuable thing you have in this world, so treat it as such. One research study suggests that balancing your free time is one of the key ways to being truly happy. According to the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, these are the most common regrets people have:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The takeaway message here is clear: Focus your time and energy on things that serve to improve your life and the lives of those you love.

3. Choose thoughtful conversations over small talk

According to research, another thing you need to be happy is meaningful conversations rather than small talk. Researchers found that the happiest people spend less time alone and more time having thoughtful conversations than unhappier people. So even if you’re an introvert and you don’t like to spend time socializing, you may want to consider breaking out of your comfort zone to have some deeper conversations. This helps you uncover meaning in the things that are most important to you.

4. Take care of your health

It is commonly known that exercise is good for you, but it may also be a key to happiness. A 2012 research study showed that people who exercise are generally happier than those who don’t. Exercise not only helps you look better, it helps you feel better too. If you want to substantially increase your odds of living a longer, happier life, then start exercising and eating the right foods today.

5. Be willing to delay gratification

There’s a big problem with society today. It has created a generation of people who think that if they don’t make their first million dollars by age 30, they’re failures. This new “entitlement generation” wants instant gratification in everything they do. And it’s not just young people who are the problem. People now live in a world of instant rewards. That’s why one of the most important things you need to realize is this: Some rewards take a heck of a lot longer than you plan, and sometimes you don’t get what you want. That’s life. Failure and suffering are necessary for growth. Be willing to put in weeks, months and years of work to get what you want. The rewards will be much sweeter in the end.

6. Spend time outdoors

A team from the London School of Economics and Political Science polled 22,000 people and asked them to record their daily levels of happiness. The study revealed that participants reported they felt much happier outdoors in all-natural environments than they were in urban environments. They rated “being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon” as the perfect spot for happiness. Spending time outdoors helps you reduce stress, interact with others you love in a quiet, serene environment and get some exercise. All of these things are directly related to happiness.

7. Become an expert in something you love

If you still don’t know what you want to do with your life, here’s a good place to start: Identify the things that you absolutely love doing, then spend time becoming an expert at each of those things. The more you learn about the stuff you’re passionate about in life, the more opportunities and experiences unfold in your favor. Research shows that these experiences make us happier than having material possessions.

It can be a confusing world out there, and when we’re confused we’re not productive. 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at the Same Time

Featured photo credit: happy couple running on the beachvia Shutterstock

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