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Seven things scientists say will make you happy

Which of these seven steps to happiness will you take first? 

3 January 2017
3 minute read

Woman looking happy

Psychologist and author Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests in her book The How of Happiness that 50% of happiness is genetically determined, 10% is due to life circumstances and 40% is the result of your own state of mind. Since there’s not much you can do about genetics and you’re probably already trying to improve any life circumstances that don’t bring you joy, we took a look at the seven things that have been scientifically proven to improve your state of mind and make you happier!

1. Get regular exerciseEveryone knows that exercise is good for your body, but did you know that getting the heart rate up and the muscles working is actually good for your brain as well? Scientific research has shown that not only does working out immediately lift your mood but that a regular exercise routine also plays a significant role in preventing depression.

Remember, regular exercise doesn’t have to mean an hour at the gym pushing weights – it can just be a brisk walk around the block during your lunch break.

2. Get enough sleepWe all know that a lack of sleep can affect mood. And science bears this out. Studies by the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects who were sleep deprived reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted. The good news is that as soon as the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.

While for some insomnia is the cause of lack of sleep, for many it’s just a case of time management, cutting out their afternoon caffeine and removing distractions like iPads and cell phones from the bedroom. If you prioritise your sleep, you’ll probably find that your mood improves considerably.

3. Get a pet!Multiple studies have shown that having a pet can improve both the owner’s mood and their health. Obviously, this only works if owning a pet won’t add to your stress, but generally speaking, people with furry friends are less stressed, visit doctors less frequently and are physically fitter as well.

Before you rush out and buy a cuddly kitten or a puppy, be sure that you can afford the costs of food and care, and have the time to give your pet the companionship and exercise it needs.

4. Work on your relationshipsEarlier this year, the director of a 70-year-long Harvard study into happiness, delivered a TED talk outlining his findings. According to Ted Waldinger, the fourth director of the study, the single greatest predictor of happiness is having a long-term, supportive life partnership. Quality relationships with other people were also important.

“It might be something as simple as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together – long walks or date nights or reaching out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years,” said Waldinger.

5. Relive your happy memoriesIt turns out that your brain doesn’t distinguish between living an experience and remembering or visualising it. A study carried out by the University of Chicago showed that athletes who visualised shooting perfect basketball throws improved their scores by almost as much as those who actually practised.

So if you want to improve your mood, visualise in as much detail as possible a happy event from your past – your brain won’t know the difference! Visualisation is such a powerful tool that Harvard-trained happiness researcher Shawn Achor even incorporated it into his 23-minute happiness workout.

6. Do something nice for someone elseA study by the University of Oregon showed that when participants who paid their taxes were also allowed to allocate a small portion of these taxes to a local food bank, the pleasure centres in their brain lit up on magnetic imaging. These are the same parts of the brain that light up when basic needs like food and comfort are met.

Doing something nice for someone else, or providing another person with something that they sorely need, has benefits for the giver as well as the recipient.

7. Practice meditation and mindfulnessIn our modern lives, we tend to be rushed off our feet and stressed. This takes its toll on our mental health and happiness. Scientific studies have shown that people who practise mindfulness – either through meditation or by actively focusing on the present moment and nothing else in their lives – reduce their stress levels and improve their moods considerably.

If you’ve never tried meditation before, here’s a beginner’s guide.

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