Happiness 2

Happiness Part 2 – Ways to Increase Happiness

Seven ideas about how you might increase happiness.
(770 words)
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If you read the previous article about happiness, you’ll know that we each have an average level of happiness that we tend to return to after good or bad experiences. However, there are ways we can be happy more often and spend more time being happy. Here are seven ideas from happiness experts about how you might do that, some of which might even change your average happiness level.

1. Other people.
A study at Harvard University found that, for most people, good relationships are important for health and happiness. The 75-year study by Robert Waldinger showed that people who are more connected to family, friends and community are happier, healthier and they live longer. However, it’s not just connections with people we are close to that increase our well-being.

Psychologist Laurie Santos explains that the small daily interactions we have with strangers, such as a chat with a shop worker or the person sitting next to us on the train, seem to really increase our positive emotions. She adds that we might avoid these interactions as we think they will be awkward, but our ideas here tend to be wrong – you will increase your happiness if you interact more with people you randomly meet, she says.

2. Healthy habits.
Healthy habits are also good for our day-to-day happiness, according to Santos. Many things that are beneficial for our physical health, like exercising, getting enough sleep and eating well, are also beneficial for our mental health, she says. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt adds that it’s a good idea remove noise from your life, especially if it is intermittent, and reduce the time you spend travelling to work, especially time spent in traffic. Both noise and commuting can have a lasting negative effect on your level of happiness, he says.

3. Work towards a goal, any goal.
Making progress towards a goal can be good for our happiness, something Haidt calls the progress principle. When we achieve our goals, the happiness we feel often doesn’t last very long, he says, but we do get a lot of pleasure from taking steps towards our goals. More meaningful goals will likely be more rewarding, but Haidt suggests choosing any goal and working towards it as a way of increasing happiness, an idea that might be especially useful if you are feeling stuck.

4. Get more flow.
Flow is an idea from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. It describes positive mental states in which you are fully focused and fully engaged in whatever you’re doing. It’s often experienced when playing sports, sometimes called being in the zone, but Mihaly believes that we can experience it in many areas of life if we are fully engaged in something that has the right level of challenge, clear goals and instant feedback. He says that flow can lead to more happiness and make everyday activities more enjoyable.

5. Be kind.
As well as making the world better, being kind to people actually increases our own levels of happiness. When we are kind, our brains release chemicals that make us feel good, creating something that’s known as a ‘helper’s high’. Focusing on others like this might be especially helpful when we’re not feeling good, according Laurie Santos, and it may have long-lasting benefits for our happiness. Psychologist Tara Brach argues that doing things for others is one technique that can retrain our brains to be more positive.

6. Enjoy the good things more.
Another technique Brach recommends is what she calls savouring, which means trying to fully enjoy things that are good. If we can pause to take in beauty and good things for 20 to 30 seconds, it changes our biochemistry, she explains. Professor Susan Whitbourne also believes that we can train our brains to get more out of positive experiences. When something is good, if you focus on and intensify the good feelings and make them last as long as possible, it can change you at a deeper level, and good times can last longer and be more frequent, she says.

7. Change your mind.
Haidt believes that if you want to change your normal level of happiness, you need to change your thoughts, and he suggests three ways you might do this. Cognitive therapy, a talking therapy that focuses on changing the way you think, is one way. Taking antidepressant medication if you are depressed is another. And the third is practising meditation, which he says can train your mind to not react to the ups and downs of life. Tara Brach adds that meditation practice can help us to get to an unconditional happiness, something she calls ‘happy for no reason’.

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Sources and links from Happiness Part 2

– Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk about the Harvard study of Happiness.
– Most information from Lauris Santos came from her Happiness Lab podcast. In this episode she talks about talking to strangers and doing things for others. She talks about healthy habits as a guest on this episode of Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast. 
– The information from Jonathan Haidt came from his book The Happiness Hypothesis (Goodreads link).
This is a Goodreads link for Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, and this is his TED Talk.
– Here are two talks by Tara Brach about changing our brains to be happier: part 1 and part 2
Psychology Today article by Susan Whitbourne about increasing enjoyment of positive experiences. 
Image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

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