“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be,” said Abraham Lincoln. As it turns out, the president wasn’t too far off from what scientists would themselves conclude a century and a half later. Indeed, in recent years, we’ve learned that happiness is far more than something which all men have an equal right to pursue. Happiness is a human function. But how do we find happiness? Is the pursuit of happiness never ending or is it right in front of us? Is happiness rooted in psychological science?
It is human nature to be seeking happiness and a healthier well being each day. We are innately driven to seek out activities, both physical and mental, that promote positive emotions within us and create a happy life for us and our people. I mean, why wouldn’t we want more happiness? However, many of us overthink what it takes to find happiness in one’s life. The simplest of things, and the most fascinating of things, can help one achieve greater happiness. A meaningful life may not be as far away as you think. Below are 30 fascinating facts about happiness, according to science.
Doing a good deed triggers a high in the brain.
Have you ever noticed how elevated your mood becomes after you do something nice for someone else? Perhaps life satisfaction can actually be found in others, not just ourselves. Studies have shown that when we do something like hold the door for a stranger, donate to a charity, or bring a meal to a friend, our brain triggers feelings of reward. Like with any other high, these feelings then encourage the brain to put more good and positive emotions into the world.
If you want to be happy, spend time with other happy people.
A study published in the British Medical Journal asserts that happiness is contagious! People who spend time around other happy people find that they themselves experience more positive emotions. Social relationships and healthy relationships improve happiness for everyone involved.
Sleep contributes greatly to our happiness.
Interestingly, the amount of sleep we receive can have a huge effect on our overall happiness and well being. A study which observed a large group of college students found that those who were sleep deprived had a harder time registering and remembering positive ideas, but an easier time remembering negative emotions and ideas. Specifically, the sleep-deprived students later remembered 81% of the negative words they had been told during the study, but only 31% of the positive words.
The world’s happiest people feel a sense of community.
Cultural factors can place a big role in human happiness. Research that was done around the globe found that the world’s happiest children lived in Mexico, Spain, and Brazil — places in which close family relationships tend to be prioritized. Mexico also ranked first among countries with the “most satisfied people,” and second for “most optimistic people.” Along the same lines, 74% of people who attend a church service at least once per month reported being “very happy,” while only 26% of those who never attend church could say the same. This concept is especially interesting in poor countries. Happiness studies show that it is how you spend your days not how much money you have that dictates life satisfaction and greater happiness.
Your politics could be to blame for your unhappiness.
The Pew Research Center conducted the same survey in both 2006 and 2008 and found that those who are politically Conservative tend to be happier than those who describe themselves as politically liberal. Interestingly, Democrat Barack Obama was president during the time of both polls. The research center ultimately hypothesized that the biggest factors separating the two groups in terms of happiness were income, religion, and ideology.
Happiness keeps the doctor away.
According to the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” As it turns out, happiness is pretty darn good for our physical health, too. According to a research study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, people who routinely exhude positive emotion are less likely to come down with the common cold. Additionally, our stress hormone cortisol levels are drastically lowered which improves our health as well. Exactly what goes on in the body to cause such a phenomenons isn’t yet clear, but it sounds like a mighty good reason to wake up each day with a smile.
Listening to music can boost your mood.
Want to feel happier? Turn the radio on! According to a 2013 research study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, listening to “happy” (i.e. positive, upbeat) music can have a positive affect on our moods. A similar study done the same year and published in Science further explained why this is. When we hear a song we especially like, or when we hear a new song and decide we like it, the brain’s reward system kicks into gear.
A happy baseball player lives longer.
If you think that’s an oddly specific claim, then consider this: In one especially fascinating study, researchers examined hundreds of baseball players’ rookie baseball cards to measure the width of the players’ smiles. Interestingly, the researchers found a correlation between a player’s smile and his longevity as a professional athlete. Those with the biggest grins went on to live an average of seven years longer than the players who either didn’t smile, or who smiled only a little. Happiness measures itself in swings, who knew?
Fortunately, you don’t have to play baseball to enjoy a longer life.
Luckily, it’s not just happy baseball players who live longer. In one famous study, researchers compared the lifetime lengths of Catholic nuns to autobiographical essays they had written upon entering their convents decades earlier. The researchers found that those who had included happy memories and an overall feeling of contentment lived 7-10 years longer than those who did not document such positivity. In a study done in 2011, researchers interviewed 4,000 adults in England about their overall happiness. It was concluded that those who reported feeling happier were 35% less likely to die over the course of the next five years.
Being happy can lead to better heart health.
For a study done in 2008, researchers studied the heartbeat interval of 76 patients thought to have coronary artery disease. Interestingly, those participants who described themselves as being “happy” or “extremely happy” exhibited a healthier heart rate pattern on the day they were tested. Another decade-long study include talking with 2,000 people about their day-to-day feelings at work. Ten years later, the same people were re-evaluated. Interestingly, those who had originally been evaluated as “joyful,” “happy,” and “excited” were found to have been less likely to develop coronary heart disease. These studies seems to confirm the long-held theory that happiness can positively affect heart health.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
Our amazing bodies have a built-in painkiller, and that built-in painkiller is happiness. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology observed a number of female patients suffering from chronic pain and arthritis. Amazingly, the study concluded that when those patients experienced happiness, excitement, and laughter, their pain decreased significantly.
Being outdoors can increase our happiness.
A research study published in Global Environmental Change found that people are happier outdoors than they are indoors. Okay, maybe that isn’t so surprising. What is surprising is that while conducting their research, those heading the study found that people are happiest outdoors in warm weather and near water. Sounds like a good excuse to book that beach vacation!
Happy people are more likely to have happy children.
Researchers at University of Minnesota conducted a fascinating study in which they observed multiple pairs of identical twins. They found that at any one time, approximately 50% of the twins’ happiness had a genetic correlation. Ultimately, the study concluded that our happiness, and by extension other feelings, are partially inherited.
‘Stop and smell the roses’ is actually really good advice.
Interestingly, a study done by Rutgers University found that floral scents trigger the brain and increase feelings of happiness. Specifically, those in the study who were exposed to the smell of flowers were three times likelier to exhibit feelings of happiness than those who were not exposed.
Those who are paid by the hour are usually happier.
Though it might come as a surprise, those who earn an hourly wage are generally happier than those who receive a salary. At least, that is what a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin concluded. Though nothing could be proven, the researchers who conducted the study hypothesized that it could be because hourly employees tend to be more aware of just how long it takes to earn their money, and therefore are able to value their time better than their salaried peers.
Marriage makes us happier — well, most of us.
Studies have shown that, in general, married individuals are happier than their single peers. This is pretty surprising, but what’s even more surprising is that this is true in almost every single country around the world. One notable exception? That would be Ireland.
Money isn’t everything.
The science behind happiness is full of surprises, and this is one of them. According to a study found in the Journal of Socio-Economics and highlighted in Fast Company magazine, people would overwhelmingly choose to have relationships (either friendships or romances) in lieu of $100,000, if their happiness depended upon their choice.
Dress for the way you want to feel.
Countless studies have shown that colors can have an effect on our moods. For example, a 2010 study published in BMC Medical Research Methodology concluded that when we wear bright colors, such as yellow, the effect on our mood is positive. Conversely, wearing darker colors, especially gray, led to likelier feelings of moroseness, anxiety, and depression.
Happiness is a natural stress reliever.
It’s well documented that stress is not good for us, but fortunately, it seems that happiness can counteract the negative effects stress has on our bodies. In a 2009 study, researchers took a group of college students majoring in psychology and interviewed them one-on-one in soundproof rooms with a videotape. The first questions asked whether or not the students felt certain feelings, such as excitement, pride, and happiness. Then the students were asked difficult mathematics questions, and told their professor would be evaluating their responses. Over the entire course of the interview, the students’ heart rates were monitored via an EKG machine. Interestingly, while all of the students exhibited stress upon having to answer the math questions, the researchers found that those students who had reported themselves as “happy” during the first part of the interview had heart rates that recovered faster and more easily from their stress.
Want to be happier? Get off Facebook.
Now that social media has been around for awhile, its effects on society and our individual lives are becoming better understood. For example, it’s been found that people who spend the most time on sites like Facebook describe themselves as having less self-esteem, fewer positive emotions, and fewer true friendships than do those who limit their time on social media, or who don’t have it at all.
Certain foods incite happy feelings.
Though the effects aren’t permanent, certain foods have been found to incite temporary euphorias. Chicken, milk, and nuts all contain tryptophan. When we consume tryptophan, our brains begin to produce serotonin, a chemical known for inciting feelings of happiness. Similarly, eating chocolate spurs the brain into releasing endorphins, chemicals that make us feel happy.
Deciding to be happy is a big part of overall happiness.
As we mentioned in the intro, Abraham Lincoln famously stated, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” As it turns out, the 16th U.S. president knew what he was talking about. Modern-day researchers have found that our general happiness levels are about 50% genetic, 40% choice, and only 10% circumstantial.
Petting dogs makes us happy, but is that really so surprising?
You probably already know that petting an adorable dog or cat makes you happier, but do you know why? Studies have found that when we are around animals, our brain releases oxytocin. Known also as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin instantly gives us feelings of happiness and contentment, while also lowering blood pressure and reducing stress levels.
Some jobs are happier than others.
In 2015, Forbes magazine published an article declaring both the happiest jobs and the least happiest jobs. Perhaps surprisingly, the top three happiest jobs are school principal, executive chef, and loan officer. Meanwhile, the jobs deemed least happy are security officer, merchandiser, and salesperson.
Your general happiness is tied to your sex life.
According to an article published in Time magazine, researchers have found that “sex once per week is the optimum amount for maximizing happiness.” Unfortunately, couples can’t exactly boost their happiness levels by having sex more than once per week, though the researchers did find that those who reported sex fewer than once per week also admitted to being less happy.
Puberty ruins everything, including happiness.
According to Shape magazine, a girl’s general level of happiness plummets at age 11, around the same time she begins to experience puberty and fluctuating hormone levels. Fortunately for everyone around her, the same girl’s level of happiness begins to rise and stabilize by about age 16. Want to give your teen daughter the best shot at happiness? Eat dinner with her. Studies have shown that children who eat dinner with their families are much more likely to be healthier, more successful, and of course, happier.
Hearing another person laugh may trick us into feeling happy.
Studies are currently being undertaken to prove this theory popular amongst neuroscientists. Researchers believe that when we hear another person laugh, triggered mirror neurons then fool our brains into thinking that we had actually been laughing ourselves.
Carpe diem — you won’t regret it.
There’s a reason so many people have adopted this famous Latin phrase as their personal motto. It makes us happy! According to researchers, people who choose not to do something feel regret longer and at a more intense level than do those who do something, yet fail at it.
Disciplining your children is doing them a major favor.
There have been dozens of studies done on children and their future happiness. In one particularly interesting study, researchers found that children who learn self-discipline at a young age are much more likely to become happy and successful later in life. Preschool-aged children who learn the tough lesson of delayed gratification often have high levels of success, intelligence, and happiness further down the road.
Fake it ’til you make it.
No, really. Scientists have found that people who pretend to be happier will actually begin to feel happier. Just forcing yourself to smile brings about happier feelings eventually.