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Last Updated on November 4, 2022

How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy

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How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy

For every person, happiness looks different. It could be being content with who you are, having a solid group of friends who are willing to accept you, or having the ability to follow your wildest aspirations.

No matter how you define true happiness, a happier, more contented existence is attainable. You can get there by making a few adjustments to your daily routines.

If you have ever wondered how to be happy with yourself, understand that habits and how you look at life play a significant role. No one can be happy all the time, but one can try and learn to be.

The following are some scientifically proven ways one can be happy in life. Remember that everyone’s happiness and method for being happy slightly differ. You’ll discover what method works for you with time and effort.

How to Be Happy: 16 Ways Backed by Science

1. Do What Brings You Meaning

In his book Meanings of Life, author Roy F. Baumeister speculates that we avoid discussing or thinking about meaning because it is uncomfortable.

Our lives may be meaningless, or our goals may be unachievable if we take a closer look at ourselves and our lives. However, having a purposeful intention can help you be happy in life by drawing your focus on the things that are most important to you, such as your loved ones, faith, career, and many other aspects of your life.

It allows you to cut ties with people or activities that aren’t aligned with your values. Staying motivated is essential to set and accomplishing short and long-term goals when things get tough.

It also, and perhaps most importantly, gives you a sense that your efforts are having a positive impact on the world.

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” -Viktor Frankl

Many affluent people experience unhappiness despite how much money, respect, or fame they have because of one big reason—meaninglessness. Ultimately, happiness stems from meaning.

2. Add More Exercise to Your Routine

Exercise causes the production of feel-good endorphins, which make you happier after a workout or even just a short trip to the store. I’ve never encountered somebody unhappy after exercising!

The University of Toronto did a great job and analyzed no less than 25 research studies.[1] The conclusion was that physical activity does help to keep depression at bay.

The best study I’m aware of was one that assigned three groups of depressed people to a regimen of antidepressants, physical activity, or a combination of the two. It is unsurprising that all three groups were happier than before, but did this happiness last?

The exercise-only treatment group had an exceptionally low relapse rate of just 9 percent six months later. However, the other two groups had relapse rates between 38 and 31 percent, meaning that nearly a third of them were once again depressed.

If you find yourself too busy to fit in exercise in your day, try this to get started: 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

3. Positive Thinking Affects Your Performance

 “Happiness is the precursor to success.” – Shawn Achor, researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Seems like a pipe dream? Well, according to author Shawn Achor, you can anticipate 10% of your long-term happiness if you are fully aware of all the variables that influence it. These variables include stressors, hassles, successes, economic conditions, relationships, and so on.

How you interpret the outside world makes up the remaining 90%. With positive thinking, you can attain up to 30% more energy, creativity, and productivity. The key is to think positively today, rather than waiting till you are well-off and well-known.

4. Dump Your Negative Thoughts

Some people struggle greatly to overcome negative thoughts because it overpowers them.

A University of Madrid study found that writing your negative thoughts down on a piece of paper and then destroying it was effective in ridding these thoughts from the mind.[2] They advise you to burn, tear up, or dump the paper in the trash!

Physically getting rid of them does help to lessen their damaging effects. Psychologists advise doing this frequently.

5. Treasure Your Experiences More Than Your Possessions

Thomas Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell University, has conducted extensive research on why it is preferable to value special memories and enjoyable experiences over the goods we acquire.

There are many reasons for this, as outlined in his study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.[3] The initial joy we feel when buying and taking possession of that new automobile, TV, or computer can be destroyed by comparing and looking at better items after purchase.

However, cherishing experiences is not nearly as harmful. They are unique, ours, and they bring us longer-lasting delight. We should always try to travel somewhere new or go hiking.

6. Write Down Why You Are Grateful

Feeling and thinking about things you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up is a terrific method to increase happiness.

Research on our brain shows that we tend to always focus on the negative things of life like worries, tragedies, failures, and discontent. Negativity is the default position.

“We’ve got this negativity bias that’s a kind of bug in the stone-age brain in the 21st century.” – Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist.

That is why it is important to concentrate on positive things. Specifically, to identify our reasons for gratitude. Here are a few concepts on how to achieve this:

  • When you wake up in the morning, mentally recite three things for which you are thankful
  • Keep the list nearby to remind yourself periodically
  • If you want to, use Facebook or Twitter. It’s helpful to remind your audience that this genuinely works
  • Thank a coworker for assisting with a project or task by calling or buying coffee
  • Consider helping someone or volunteering a few hours each week

But is there any scientific proof that this actually works? Check out this link to see some of the numerous studies on gratitude and its many benefits.

7. Practice Mindfulness

What does being mindful mean? It simply means that you focus on the current moment, give it all your attention, and accept it without judgment. The psychology and medical fields are now seeing a rise in this phenomenon. It can improve mood, lower stress levels, and enhance the quality of life when practiced regularly.

By focusing on the present, you can enjoy good feelings and other bodily sensations like touch and smell. Think about how happy they make you feel. It is quite successful at helping people let go of the past and stop worrying about terrifying possibilities for the future.

8. Don’t Forget Your Beauty Sleep

After conducting numerous studies, researchers arrived at the conclusion that lack of sleep greatly increases your tendency to be negative. This particular study is fascinating.

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The hippocampus, the area of the brain that processes our happy thoughts, was the focus of the researchers’ attention. This function begins to sag, and negative thoughts creep in far more than usual when we are sleep deprived.

Researchers gave sleep-deprived students a list of words to remember to demonstrate this.

When it came to the positive or neutral terms, they were only getting about 31 percent of these accurate. However, they scored highly on all the negative phrases (81 percent). Dr. Robert Stickgold has conducted similar experiments on sleep and memory.[4]

Now you know why people are always in a bad mood when they do not get enough sleep.

9. Dedicate a Little Time to Helping Others

Although it may temporarily improve happiness, buying bigger homes, vehicles, and phones do not have long-term positive impacts on people’s overall happiness. It is short-lived.

Researchers have found that when we dedicate a little time or money to helping others, there is a significant effect on our own happiness.[5]

10. Focus on Your Strengths

Are you courageous, curious, or open-minded? How are you utilizing these talents to enhance your and others’ lives? These are important questions because people generally are happier when they focus on their strengths rather than their flaws.

One of the best methods for achieving happiness and improving the world is to reach our full potential by making the most of our talents.

11. Let Go of Grudges

Do you know how much mental and physical energy it takes to hold onto a grudge? To get a little idea of this, try to empty your mind of your anger towards people who have hurt you. Do this for only a few seconds, and you’ll be able to tell that there’s a massive difference in how you feel.

Grudges are heavy and rob you of happiness. Sure, you will always get hurt by some people, with some being so terrible that it’s not so easy to forgive and forget. However, you would have to learn how to let go of this no matter what.

That doesn’t mean you have to be friends with everyone, especially those who are a threat to you. It only means that you shouldn’t hang on to the grudge in your heart so much that it weighs you down. Instead, focus on the possibility of having a much brighter future.

12. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Many people waltz through life believing that they are competing with others. This stops them from feeling genuinely fulfilled. They begin to think that they can never be enough, and this dissatisfaction wipes the smiles off their faces.[6]

The only person you should compare yourself to is your previous version. That will tell you if you’re doing much better or have been in the same spot for a while.

See someone who loves to travel around the world? Suddenly, you’re interested in doing that as well, even though you’re terrified of flying and constantly uncomfortable when you leave your comfort zone.

That’s just you trying to achieve someone else’s goals and dreams, not yours. Live at your own pace, knowing precisely what you want.

Remember: You can’t achieve true satisfaction when you’re always trying to mirror others.

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13. Spend Some Time With Good Company

Of course, it’s okay to enjoy your company every once in a while. Some alone time is necessary to meditate and listen to yourself. However, this is much different from being a loner.

Even if you don’t enjoy being surrounded by many people, you can make the best of this by finding an excellent spot that doesn’t choke you up so much. It could be a quiet space at the park where you get to engage in a bit of people-watching.

An even better idea is to hang out with the people who matter to you. Bonding with your loved ones helps you realize that there are still people out there who genuinely care about you and want you happy all the time.

Whether it’s planning an adventurous day out with your friends or just simply talking with them, it’s much better than spending every single day cooped up indoors all by yourself.

14. Don’t Be Materialistic

Materials can be easily destroyed, stolen, or broken. Thus, holding onto them and becoming emotionally connected to them can never lead to a positive outcome. Avoid being emotionally attached to anything or anyone if you value your own serenity.

According to science and research, those who invest more in materialistic things tend to experience fewer positive emotions, and higher levels of anxiety and may fall into substance abuse and depression.[7]

It is just like filling up your online shopping basket, thinking the material objects in the cart will bring you happiness, not realizing that they will only provide fleeting pleasure.

15. Create Better Habits

Happiness is a choice you make; it is not a gift from the universe. Rather, it is a state of mind that you cultivate. Making positive life changes can be difficult.

Though it’s a long and arduous process, its rewards outweigh its difficulties. We can build a solid foundation for achieving our goals of attaining happiness by cultivating and reinforcing positive habits in our daily lives.

The truth about why it’s so hard to break out of old routines is simply the fact that it is a routine; human beings are creatures of habit. Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit the basic structure of habits consists of a cue (trigger), a routine, and a reward.

For example, stress can be your cue to engage in your routine of smoking a cigarette, which rewards you with a surge of nicotine to relieve your stress.

Duhigg teaches that the key to turning bad habits into good ones is to figure out how to change the routine. Rather than smoking, you can go for a nice walk or meditate to achieve the same stress relief.

If your habits are not making you healthier and happier, that means you may be automatically spending almost half your day doing things that make you unhappy.

16. Get Rid of Negative Emotions With Affirmations

What do you do when negative thoughts creep into your mind? Negative thoughts creeping into your mind will inevitably happen every once in a while, but your response to these thoughts will determine if you can live a happy life.

An excellent way to respond to negative thoughts is through words of affirmation. When you practice positive affirmations, it helps in increasing your feelings of self-worth.

You can start each day with words of affirmation. Stand in front of your mirror and repeat sentences like, “I am living my best life” or “I will have an amazing day.”

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If you find it challenging to come up with words of affirmation on the spot, write them out the night before. Write at least five positive affirmations that resonate with you and repeat them first thing in the morning.

Bonus: 3 Steps to Stop Fearing Sadness

Pain, sadness, anger, fear, guilt, frustration – they are not to be feared. You should not be scared of negative emotions. They are to be processed, accepted, understood, and moved through to a better emotion.

You don’t need to fight your emotions. This 4 step process will help you move from negative emotions to positive ones faster:

Step 1: Hear How You Feel

Don’t try to hide from the way you feel. In my experience, clients that do this end up confronting the thing they were hiding from. It tends to be the thing that is holding them back the most.

The difficulty arises when you don’t have someone to work with to help you achieve this, and that allows you to keep hiding from what you truly feel.

Step 2: Understand How You Feel

Understanding how you feel can work out why you feel that way. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was there a cause?
  • An aggravating factor?
  • An emotional vampire?
  • An action?

I have a client I started working with last year who said they dreaded February.

“It goes too fast!” they lamented, adding, “January is too long, and then February flies by, and you feel depressed that the year is going so fast and that you’ve still got so much to do!”

When we worked on this together, they could see how ridiculous this thought was.

If you are lucky enough to live for 70 years, that’s 70 Januarys you will hate — 2,170 days of your life feeling unhappiness. About 8.5% of your life will be sad just because of the name of a month – and that’s before we add February.

The realization that a month helped create an emotion before anything had even happened helped this client appreciate their feelings.

Step 3: Accept It

Acceptance is a huge part of achieving and attaining happiness. It leaves room to move on to the next thing.

Step 4: Ditch It

Seeing a process unfolding before you makes it much quicker to decide to ditch it. Negative feelings are not permanent, and you can move them back to happiness. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion, just bad results you get when you hang on to it.

Pain is part of happiness; it’s on the opposite end of the scale. Think of all the emotions that are considered negative or bad and ask yourself:

“Can you have one without the other?”

How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy

Take Action

Recommended actionable tasks to benefit immediately
5 Actions
How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy
Say Positive Affirmations: With positive thinking, you can attain up to 30% more energy, creativity, and productivity. Look in the mirror daily and practice saying positive affirmations or things you are grateful for.
How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy
Write It Down: Research on our brain shows that we tend to always focus on the negative things of life like worries, tragedies, failures, and discontent.  Keep a journal, write every time you experience happiness, and reflect on it often.
How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy
Get More Sleep: Lack of sleep greatly increases your tendency to be negative. Make sure you’re getting at least eight hours of quality sleep.
How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy
Practice Gratitude: According to science and research, those who invest more in materialistic things tend to experience fewer positive emotions and higher levels of anxiety. Focus on practicing gratitude and creating memories with loved ones instead.
How To Be Happy: 16 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy
Cultivate New Healthy Habits: According to the book The Power of Habit, the basic structure of habits consists of a cue (trigger), a routine, and a reward. Cultivate new habits to replace unhealthy ones, like meditating or walking, to replace smoking as a stress reducer.

Final Thoughts

These methods are all known to increase happiness, according to science. If you believe that you have too many obligations and that it is too late to live a different life, reconsider! Living a better and more fulfilled life is never too late.

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Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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