Happiness can’t be bought. Yet if we could, everyone in the world would line up to buy it. While the source of happiness has been studied for decades, it still remains a mystery. No one can share with you how you can personally lead a happy life, because getting to happiness is different for each person.
I’m fascinated and obsessed with delivering happiness to others, and it’s one of my top indicators of success. It’s why I’m constantly researching which habits, actions, and methods can make someone happier.
I’ve done the hard work and curated 10 science-backed, simple ways you can be happier today.
1. Spend time with your loved ones – family and friends.
I’m fascinated with spending as much time with old people (I’m talking 80 to 90 years old), and absorbing the wisdom they’ve gained over the past century of their lives. The one question I always ask is, “what is the one thing you would do differently, or more of, if you had twenty more years to live?” Without a doubt, the most consistent answer I get back is, “spend more time with my family and loved ones.”
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. It’s never “make more money”, “work longer hours”, or “travelled more for work.”
According to a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics, your relationships are worth more than $100,000:
“Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.”
This goes to show that spending that extra few hours with your friends and family is worth far more than spending it trying to get more work done. Choose how you spend your time wisely, and most importantly who you spend it with.
2. Start a task you’ve been putting off
We all know the consequences of procrastinating, but we still do it anyways. Our brain naturally seeks immediate satisfaction because that’s what releases dopamine (feel-good hormones), which is why we’d rather check our Facebook and Instagram notifications versus going to the gym or learning a new language.
But procrastination can strip our happiness away. A study done at Carleton University showed that:
“the measure of depression were significantly correlated with scores on the measure of procrastination. This positive correlation indicates that the more depressed we are, the more we report procrastination, and vice versa. Self-regulation is a key factor related to both procrastination and depression. Showing up is half the battle.”
Another way to beat procrastination is by using a method called the Zeigarnik Effect. It was established by a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (left side), who noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders evaporated from their memory.
It was proven again in 1982 by Kenneth McGraw, where he had participants start to complete a really tricky puzzle; except they were interrupted before any of them could solve it and told the study was over. Despite this nearly 90% carried on working on the puzzle anyway.
The point here is that if you want to defeat procrastination to be happier, you have to just start. We constantly get students who stress about what dialect they should learn in Spanish, when they have yet to learn the basics.
Take the small step forward by just starting. Our brains will naturally take care of the rest. If you want to learn more, we’ve written extensively about how to stop procrastinating.
3. Learn something new
We’ve established that happiness and fulfillment is all in the mind, not external factors. Education has been widely documented by researchers as the single variable tied most directly to improved health and longevity. And when people are intensely engaged in doing and learning new things, their well-being and happiness increases as well.
What’s most surprising is that education has shown to predict how long we live. In a paper published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they cited research that 25-year-olds with some college education in 1980 could expect to live another 54.4 years, on average, whereas 25-year-olds with high school degrees had life expectancies of another 51.6 years, or nearly three years less. A similar study in 2000 – only 20 years later – found that the life-expectancy gap between those with some college and high school graduates had increased to seven years.
Does this mean you have to pay thousands of dollars to head back to school? Absolutely not.
Jacquelyn James, the director of research at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, states that “what’s important is that we continuously find things to do that light up our lives.” This is why we’re not surprised that many of our students at Rype are 25 and over, with some of our most successful students being over 50 years old.
Once we realize that the brain, like the muscle, needs to exercise and that continuous learning and education is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and longevity, it’s up to us what we want to learn. For some of us, it could be finding new ways to use our current skills, while for others, it could be learning how to speak Spanish.
Most people see meditation as a way to increase your focus and stay calm. But it can also increase your happiness.
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.
Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.
Richie Davidson, a PhD at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks’ brain activity read-outs. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remained higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.
You don’t need to be the Dalai Lama to gain the benefits of meditation. Anyone can do it. Check out this quick video by Gabriel Bernstein on how you can start meditating.
5. Get moving
20 minutes of exercise a day keeps the doctor away?
New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds wrote in his book, “The first 20 minutes”, that the first 20 minutes of moving around provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk – all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.
In another interesting study cited in, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different.
The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!
“But I’m too tired to exercise..” I’ve said this countless times myself, after sitting on my chair working for eight hours. But whenever I’ve managed to get to the gym, I came back with more energy than ever.
“A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise,” says researcher Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia exercise psychology laboratory, in Athens, Ga. “But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.”
Because no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, exercise actually increases energy levels and fights fatigue.
6. Sleep more
Are you tired reading this? Go to sleep! OK… maybe after you read this. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:
“Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.”
In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”
But that doesn’t mean you need more of sleep. An analysis of the lifestyles of some 4,000 adults found that the happiest of the lot get an average of 6 hours 15 min of uninterrupted, quality sleep each night. According to another study by Cornell University, happy people tend to sleep better as well.
It’s a loop: resolve to get more quality sleep, become happier, sleep even better!
7. Give Back
If giving to yourself isn’t giving you the happiness you want, try giving to others.
Shawn Anchor states that:
“…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.”
There have been some amazing companies that have built giving back into their business model, including Sevenly, Warby Parker, and many others. It’s also why Rype has partnered up with Pencils of Promise to donate a portion of our profits to build schools in developing nations around the world, like Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Laos.
There’s something about leaving our home town, and taking a plane across the world to meet new friends, discover new cultures, and escape our comfort zones.
We start to see a side of the world that we never knew about – the beautiul and the ugly – and we can start off fresh with a blank state. If you don’t have the luxury of traveling at a moment’s notice, this study shows us that just the act of planning for a vacation can boost our happiness.
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.
9. Put down your phone
In the social media world we live in today, it’s easy to compare ourselves to the lives that other people are “supposedly” displaying on Instagram or Facebook. A study by Kent State University surveyed more than 500 students and found that frequent cellphone use was associated with lower grades, higher anxiety, and reduced happiness.
“It’s likely that people spending more time on devices have less frequent contact with live social networks, and may be more vulnerable to social comparison that leaves them with a sense of emptiness,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. “And anxiety may be due to the ‘I don’t want to miss out on anything’ effect – seeing everyone else’s social calendar makes it difficult to stay present in their own lives.”
This is also called the “FOMO” effect (Fear of Missing Out). A simple way to prevent this is to just put down your smartphone once in awhile. You can use extensions like Facebook Newsfeed Eradicators to prevent yourself from being distracted (and find some interesting quotations once in awhile).
10. Find your flow
Have you ever had time fly by because you were being so immersed? Scientists call this “flow.” What is unique about flow versus ordinary happiness is that flow is an active experience that you create, not one that was created by outside influences.
How do you know what will achieve flow? You must fulfill three requirements. It must be your own choice, it has to be something you find pleasant, and it has to be difficult enough to require skill but not so challenging that you can’t be successful in the task.
Flow is what helps you find fulfillment in your life. So it’s probably a good time for you to start learning a new language, taking a cooking class, or maybe even finding a new career path to explore.
What have you tried on this list that brought happiness? Is there anything we missed?