5 research-backed tips on boosting your happiness
Ask people what they ultimately want from life and many will say that they want to be “happy”. But happiness can often seem elusive. So here are five science-based pointers on how to be happier.
1. Understand that happiness is to do with attitude as well as circumstance
Yes, your circumstances will have an impact on your happiness. For example, experiencing an illness or experiencing conflict at work may reduce your happiness. And getting a promotion or receiving a cash windfall may boost your happiness. But in truth, such events often have only a temporary effect on your happiness. Instead, learning to develop an optimistic outlook will help you to retain or boost your happiness no matter what your circumstances may be.
2. Boost your optimism
Studies show that it is genuinely possible to boost your optimism. for example, a study led by Maastricht University researcher Madelon Peters found benefits from something called the Best Possible Self writing exercise.
(These instructions are adapted from Peters’ study:) If you would like to give it a go, simply invest 15 minutes writing about how you would ideally – but realistically – like your life to turn out. Begin by spending a minute imagining yourself some years in the future after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing most of your major goals in life. Think about what your life would look like and then write about all of the different aspects of your life.
And yes, that’s all there is to the exercise. Various groups of researchers have shown that this method measurably boosts optimism. So why not give it a go?
3. Aim to pursue meaning as well as happiness
Research shows that meaning and happiness are not always the same thing. For example, going out to a party or receiving a compliment from a friend may make you happy for a short span of time. But doing something meaningful such as helping out an unwell friend or working hard to master a new skill may provide more lasting effects on your happiness.
Some people make the mistake of pursuing joy and short-term happiness through partying and other hedonistic activities. But such pleasures can often be short lived. Many of the truly happiest individuals find a healthy balance between hedonistic activities and more challenging, worthwhile, meaningful activities.
4. Be grateful for what you have (not forever searching for what you have yet to have)
I used to have a client, an entrepreneur, who wanted to make £5 million. By this, he meant that he wanted to have 5 million pounds in cash in the bank.
Within just a handful of years, he achieved his goal. But he wasn’t happy. Because he changed his mind and decided that he needed to have £10 million in the bank before he could allow himself to be happy. And this was on top of houses and apartments in Singapore, Dubai and London.
Happiness is very much to do with attitude. And if you forever compare yourself to people who have more than you, you can significantly reduce your happiness. On the other hand, studies show that if you remind yourself occasionally to be grateful for what you have, you can allow yourself far more peace of mind.
5. Calm your sometimes unruly, emotional mind
Happiness means different things to different people. But many people would agree that they would be happier if only they could experience less self-doubt, anxiety or worry in their lives.
Thankfully, a massive wave of research suggests that practising mindfulness for as little as 10 minutes a day can be quite beneficial. Studies have shown that even a single 10-minute session of mindfulness can have effects on parts of the brain that are measurable. And in the longer run, you only need around eight weeks of regular mindfulness participation to experience all sorts of psychological benefits, including improved happiness.
You can try this quick 5-minute mindfulness technique if you like. Or, download a guided mindfulness audio track that I recorded to go alongside of my Confidence 2.0 book – it is entirely free, but you may need to register on the website.