Based on her research, Lyubomirsky has concluded that roughly 50 percent of happiness is determined by our genes and 10 percent by our life circumstance, but 40 percent depends on our daily activities. Here are some of the practices Lyubomirsky and other researchers have identified as ways to boost your happiness.
- Build relationships: Perhaps the dominant finding from happiness research is that social connections are key to happiness. Studies show that close relationships, including romantic relationships, are especially important, suggesting we should make time for those closest to us—people in whom we can confide and who’ll support us when we’re down.
- Give thanks: Research by Michael McCullough, Robert Emmons, Lyubomirsky, and others has revealed the power of simply counting our blessings on a regular basis. People who keep “gratitude journals” feel more optimism and greater satisfaction with their lives. And research shows that writing a “gratitude letter” to someone you’ve never properly thanked brings a major boost of happiness.
- Practice kindness: Research by Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues finds that people report greater happiness when they spend money on others than when they spend it on themselves, even though they initially think the opposite would be true. Similarly, neuroscience research shows that when we do nice things for others, our brains light up in areas associated with pleasure and reward.
- Give up grudges: Groundbreaking studies by Everett Worthington, Michael McCullough, and their colleagues show that when we forgive those who have wronged us, we feel better about ourselves, experience more positive emotions, and feel closer to others.
- Get physical: Exercise isn’t just good for our bodies, it’s good for our minds. Studies show that regular physical activity increases happiness and self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and can even lift symptoms of depression. “Exercise may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities,” writes Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness.
- Get rest: Research has consistently linked lower sleep to lower happiness. What’s more, a study of more than 900 women, led by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, found that getting just one more hour of sleep each night might have a greater effect on happiness than a $60,000 raise.
- Pay attention: Studies show that people who practice mindfulness—the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and external circumstances—not only have stronger immune systems but are more likely to be happy and enjoy greater life satisfaction, and they are less likely to be hostile or anxious. Pioneering research by Richard Davidson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and others has found that a basic eight-week mindfulness training program can significantly improve our physical and psychological well-being.
- Don’t focus on material wealth: After our basic needs our met, research suggests, more money doesn’t bring us more happiness—in fact, a study by Kahneman found that Americans’ happiness rose with their income only until they’d made roughly $75,000; after that, their happiness plateaued. And research by Richard Easterlin has found that in the long run, countries don’t become happier as they become wealthier. Perhaps that’s why, in general, people who prioritize material things over other values are much less happy, and comparing ourselves with people who have more is a particular source of unhappiness. It also suggests why more egalitarian countries consistently rank among the happiest in the world.