Although happiness is a timeless and universal human quest, only in recent years has research turned its focus on how happiness can be sustained and increased. Science has now confirmed that with certain practices we can change the neural pathways of our brain. Happiness is a
set of skills we can learn through practice.
The research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with 50% of our happiness level coming from our genes and as much as 40% being accounted for by our intentional daily activities and the choices we make.
Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment, is increasingly recognised in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase selfawareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings. Anyone can stand to benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness – particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterised by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions
Research has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety and depression. Developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias – the tendency to cling to the negative things in our environment. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows. Moral of the story: Count your blessings, it has a measurably positive effect on our well-being.
Happiness is good for your health. And vice versa. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of stress, disease and shorter lifespans. What’s more, if you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits: Research shows that exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep are good.
People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviour because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals. Taking care of your physical wellness may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.
Happiness and altruism are intimately linked – doing good is an essential ingredient to being happy and happiness helps spur kindness and generosity.
Research suggests that how we spend our time and resources is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated with trust, pleasure and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending it on oneself.
Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness.
A psychologist conducted thousands of interviews to find out what lies at the root of social connection, and a thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. To be clear, vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be your authentic self. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. When you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance to life, people will meet you there in that openness, allowing you to experience true connection.
Forgiveness is a byproduct of living authentically and vulnerably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error but rather a patient encouragement of growth. Practising forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive, recent research shows that it has tangible benefits for ourselves as well. So the next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own happiness !
Our busy lives often leave us stretched for time to connect with others, but science suggests that social connection should be tops on our to-do lists. The findings of a study conducted in the United States says that when connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health, and even increase immunity and longevity. Relatedly, happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those we are connected to. Science shows that through practising happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. In other words, happiness is contagious!
Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. In fact, science has shown that, the type of work you do is key: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.” If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state and the leisure activities lead to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to longterm meaningful goals.