“The good life is best construed as a matrix that includes happiness, occasional sadness, a sense of purpose, playfulness, and psychological flexibility, as well autonomy, mastery, and belonging.”– Robert Biswas-Diener
The pursuit and the accomplishment of a state of happiness is a major goal for most people. It would be an understatement to say that being happy is very important to most of us.
But, as with many other fields, there is a lot of information out there on what we should do to make us happy.
Happiness, at least in part, is a personal quest and everyone needs to find out what makes them happy. Still, there are several universal guidelines for happiness applicable to many people.
Research in positive psychology and behavior attempts to uncover some of those reasons that make people happy. It seeks to find how they can thrive and experience well-being in their life.
Instead of a focus on what is going wrong, Positive Psychology studies what is going right and how that can be applied in our lives.
Some people do not like articles of happiness that instruct but do not show any evidence of why that might be. This research-backed post is for you if you are skeptical of “guru advice” happiness posts and yearn for scientific data.
In this “hot off the research press” post, I am highlighting some of the most recent studies done on Happiness.
Many of these studies were published in 2015, and some in 2014. Some of these results might surprise you, but some of them might just confirm what you knew all along or has been found in the past.
“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”- Martin Seligman
Let us get started!
#1. The Relationship between Happiness and Prosocial Giving: Give to become Happy or Happy to Give?
The study (2015): The Happiness of Giving: Evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel That Happier People Are More Generous in The Journal Of Happiness Studies.
In this study, the authors studied the possible bi-directional relationship between happiness and giving.
Past Research has shown that giving to a charitable cause that supports a social purpose creates a warm glow. This giving includes the giving of time or money.
Andreoni in 1990 called this the “theory of warm glow.” The warm glow causes the donor to have psychological benefits.
The authors say that the “warm glow” is the feelings of warm pleasure that a socially charitable person experiences.
This benefit to the donor is a direct result of the process of giving. Previous Studies have shown this prosocial and other-directed spending behavior causes elevated happiness levels. This was in comparison to spending money on the self.
The authors ask if the opposite question that happy people are more likely to give is true? The fact that happy people give more has also been shown by studies in the past.
The results of the study show that indeed happiness and giving are positively related as expected.
But what is even more interesting is that the authors show that the path from being happy first and then giving is more strong that the opposite.
We already know that giving causes a warm glow of happiness and satisfaction.
But, the opposite idea that happy people are more likely to contribute socially, a matter of previous debate, is more likely.
The reason why this study is relevant is because it digs into the bidirectionality of the relationship between happiness and giving. I also wonder if this creates a full circle between happiness and giving with both of them being related like links in a chain.
It is also relevant because it reconfirms what is important to individual happiness.
The authors substantiate the existing data that job status, health, and family were important to determine a person’s happiness.
An exception that they point out is that donor’s levels of happiness were weakly correlated with increasing income. The authors also found that with increasing age of the donors, the path of happiness and giving was stronger.
“As Ball and Chernova (2008, p. 498) state, ‘money does buy at least some happiness, but having more than others around you matters more to happiness than simply having more.’ Overall, it is not surprising that the domains of family and health greatly affected respondents’ happiness.”
Prosocial giving is great to cultivate a warm feeling of well-being and happiness.
Happy people are emotionally better equipped to give.
Family, Job status and health are all important factors for happiness.
As studies have shown in the past, income contributes to happiness to a certain point. But beyond a limit, happiness does not correlate with increased income.
Either way, happiness and giving seem to be strongly related.
“In the depths of midwinter I finally learned there was an invisible summer”– Albert Camus
#2. Does Abundance Have a Price In The Savoring Of Future Experiences?
In a 2015 study, How a Wealth of Experiences Impoverishes Savoring, authors Jordi Quoidbach, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Michel Hansenne and Gaelle Bustin looked at the downside of an abundance of experiences. The study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The immediate reaction that we have when we hear of abundance is that we want more of it. While that is a great pursuit, there might be a downside and it is best to become aware of that.
In this study, the authors looked at the idea that an abundance of life experiences that are desirable are less likely to make people enjoy simple pleasures.
They found that when people visited more countries, they were less likely to enjoy and savor a future trip to a nice but not an exotic destination.
I find this result fascinating because it seems to me that people get primed to compare past destinations with future ones. And sometimes pleasant but simple destinations may simply not match up.
Why is this important? We need to know and understand that having a bunch of abundant and incomparable experiences can take away from the savoring of more simple and ordinary experiences.
When we realize this, we can allow the simple experiences to be stand-alone and not as a comparison to the past.
The authors also conducted a field experiment to a popular tourist attraction. In this experiment, people were made to feel either well traveled or less well traveled or less worldly.
Astonishingly, people who were well traveled or felt well traveled spent substantially less time in their visit. People primed to feel less traveled seemed to savor and spend more time on the experience.
A sense of abundance or a sense of endowment is created by being or feeling like a world traveler. This can act against our enjoyment of more unremarkable destinations and experiences.
Accumulation of an abundance of life experiences might prime us to savor future events less.
Instead of comparing to a past abundant experience, it is best to savor even the simple pleasures and events that are currently happening.
If we feel like a beginner or we feel less well traveled, we are able to open up and enjoy the experience more. This might be involved with enhanced curiosity.
“Happiness is not out there for us to find. The reason that it’s not out there is that it’s inside us.”- Sonja Lyubomirsky
#3. Can We Smell Happiness?
The (2015) study: A Sniff of Happiness by Jasper H. B. de Groot, Monique A. M. Smeets, Matt J. Rowson, Patricia J. Bulsing, Cor G. Blonk, Joy E. Wilkinson, and Gün R. Semin in Psychological Science.
The authors investigated the relationship between happiness and smell.
Previous research has been conclusive about the relationship between happiness, vision and hearing mimicry.
We feel more happy when we see happy smiling people or hear things that are happy through a process of mimicry.
I believe that some of these mechanisms involve the “mirror neurons” that get fired up in us when we see the happy experiences of others. These neurons possibly simulate the happiness through a process of mirroring and mimicry. This in turn makes us happy and hence the phrase “laughter is contagious.”
The author set out to find out if smell has an effect on people’s levels of happiness. They explain that this can happen through chemosignals. In fact, it is a fact that chemosignals transfer negative states between people.
“As chemosignals are a known medium for transferring negative emotions from a sender to a receiver, we examined whether chemosignals are also involved in the transmission of positive emotions. Positive emotions are important for overall well-being and yet relatively neglected in research on chemosignaling, arguably because of the stronger survival benefits linked with negative emotions.”
Sweat samples were collected from consenting subjects in either a happiness inducing, fear inducing or a neutral stimulus. The stimulus consisted of corresponding film clips.
Sweat samples collected on small pads were placed in vials marked with numbers. Consenting receivers smelled a whiff of the pads in a random manner.
The results of the study show that exposure of body odor from happy subjects made the receivers, you guessed it, more happy.
Researchers measured facial expression and perceptual processing style, both which pointed to happiness. Sweat from fearful or neutral subjects did not have the same effect.
They finish with:
“Happiness benefits the individual on multiple levels, as it restores the damaging impact of negative emotions on the cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune systems (Steptoe, Wardle, & Marmot, 2005) and broadens attention to inspire creative ideas (Fredrickson, 2001). Humans are a social species with the capacity to share these positive effects, using not only modalities such as vision, hearing, and touch, but also—as this exploratory study indicates—the sense of smell.”
Looking at and hearing happy people can make us happy by mirroring and mimicry.
Remember that odors can also make us happy, angry, sad or experience emotions. Perhaps this is why smell is a powerful trigger, either new or from the past.
Happiness and happy states increase attention to creative ideas and also enhance health.
Share and interact with people who can share happiness through sight, sound, touch and also smell.
“Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals.”― Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
#4. Does Physical Activity Increase Happiness?
The 2015 Study: Don’t worry, be happy: cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries by Justin Richards, Xiaoxiao Jiang, Paul Kelly, Josephine Chau, Adrian Bauman and Ding Ding in BMC Public Health.
It is well known that mental health disorders have an inverse relationship with physical activity.
But what about physical activity and positive mental attitudes and happiness? While we know that exercise and activity can make us feel great, what does the research suggest about the kind and quantity of activity?
The authors say:
“Happiness is an example of a positive construct of mental health that may be promoted by physical activity and could increase resilience to emotional perturbations. The aim of this study is to use a large multi-country dataset to assess the association of happiness with physical activity volume and its specificity to intensity and/or activity domain.”
11,637 people across 15 EU countries participated in the study. There were differences based on countries and socio-demographic factors as expected.
People most likely to feel and report feeling happy were:
- Those who had educational achievements reported more happiness.
- Students reported being happier.
- 86% of people who were very physically active reported being happy.
There was a positive relationship between physical activity level and happiness.
- Moderately active people were at a 29% higher odds of being happy than inactive people.
- Those who were very active were at a 59% higher odds of being happy when compared to inactive participants.
- Participants reported a 2% higher happiness odds for every additional hour of walking in a week.
- In contrast, vigorous physical activity brought 3% increase per hour increase of the odds of being happy in a week.
The authors found that the increase of the volume of physical activity brought about higher levels of happiness in participants.
The intensity of the activity did not seem to make a huge change with only small effects. There were not significant differences in males and females.
Interestingly, happiness was most strongly associated with a lot of domestic activity and also some vocational activity.
The authors mention older studies had similar results.
A study in Korea in 2014 showed that in a random sample of 1,530 people from 30 to 69 years old, those who exercised five times a week for 30 minutes reported feeling happier.
A 2011 study in Chile of students aged 17 to 24 showed that students more likely to be happy performed daily physical activity.
A 2011 study in Norway of 13-18 year olds also showed that physical activity significantly enhanced happiness.
Of course, as always, please take responsibility for your health and consult your health care provider before making any significant changes to your activity level, especially of you have a medical condition.
Increase physical activity slowly to experience elevated levels of happiness.
More physical activity but not increased intensity can increase levels of happiness but be mindful of increasing activity in your life.
Domestic and even vocational physical activity are great for enhancing happiness. So the next time you have a chance to sort and sweep your home over sitting on the couch, take it.
“People want to be happy, and all the other things they want are typically meant to be a means to that end.” ― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
#5. Does Adversity In the Past Make For Better Savoring Of Little Pleasures In The Current Moment?
The Study (2014): From Tribulations to Appreciation: Experiencing Adversity in the Past Predicts Greater Savoring in the Present by Alyssa Croft, Elizabeth W. Dunn, and Jordi Quoidbach in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Research studies have shown that moderate amount of adversity had surprising benefits linked to it.
For example, people who experienced adversity in the past had greater life satisfaction and fewer post traumatic stress. They also had lowered amounts of functional impairment and global distress.
In this study, the authors investigated the relationship between adversity and the capacity of people to savor the little pleasures of life.
Data from 15,000 participants suggests that people who had overcome moderate adversity were able to better savor the little pleasures of life.
People who had experienced adverse events like divorce or the death of a loved one and who had emotionally dealt with them showed this increased savoring.
As expected, people who had not yet dealt with the adversity and were still struggling with the event did not show the same enjoyment and savoring of positive events.
The authors say:
“Thus, perhaps people who have overcome more adversity in the past are better at savoring life’s small pleasures, which in turn could promote greater life satisfaction.”
If you have experienced adversity in the past, be happy that you may be better tuned to enjoy the small things of life.
If you are going through the adversity, remember that you may experience an upside by greater savoring of small pleasures of life. It is best to give time to yourself to come to emotional terms with the adversity before moving on.
“By activating an expansive, tolerant, and creative mindset, positive feelings maximize the social, intellectual, and physical benefits that will accrue.”– Martin Seligman
#6. Do Weak Social Ties Contribute to your Well-Being?
Study: Social Interactions and Well-Being, The Surprising Power of Weak Ties by Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn. (2014) in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Studies have traditionally focused on the thriving well-being and happiness benefits of deep and meaningful connections and relationships. In this study authors ask what about the weak ties or the acquaintances?
The authors ask you to imagine your day beginning with getting some coffee and greeting your regular coffee shop barista.
At work, perhaps you run into an old colleague and chat with them for a little while including your plans for the weekend.
Then you head off to your yoga class where you exchange greetings and small talk with the girl who has a different color hair every time you see her.
While walking home, you stop and chat with a regular who is walking his dog Wilbur.
What is the point of this exercise? The authors say that even though all these interactions are not important in your life but a day without them may feel a little empty.
Previous research has shown that interactions with weak ties are in fact quite important for well-being.
These weak tie interactions are characterized with lower emotional intensity, lesser intimacy and lower frequency. Perhaps, that is the reason why we ignore them as being important to our possible well-being.
Research has also shown that people feel more positive effect in social activities when compared to non-social activities.
This study found that students who experienced increased weak interactions with acquaintances reported enhanced happiness levels. They also had stronger feelings of belonging when compared to others who experienced less.
In general, students felt more belonging and happiness after classes in which they had the opportunity to interact with a larger number of classmates.
Including all the daily interactions, both strong and weak ties gave similar results.
Students reported that they experienced greater happiness and feelings of belonging on days when they had greater than normal weak interactions.
They also reported more happiness and belonging than those students who had less weak tie interactions.
The study found that these results were also applicable to community members. People who had greater weak tie interactions than the average felt a greater sense of belonging.
On days that these weak interactions were the most, people reported the highest feelings of belonging.
Points To Ponder:
Peripheral members of social interaction play an important role in subjective well-being, happiness and belonging.
Having more weak tie interactions increase social and emotional well-being.
When we interact with the local barista and the friendly grocery store clerk, we are doing more than just being friendly. We are also increasing our levels of happiness and belonging. We are decreasing feelings of isolation through an increase of weak tie interactions.
Do not underestimate the importance of weak tie interactions with acquaintances.
The authors suggest:
“So, chat with the coffee barista, work colleague, yoga classmate, and dog owner—these interactions may contribute meaningfully to our happiness, above and beyond the contribution of interactions with our close friends and family.”
Now over to you. Please let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you. What other kinds of posts would you like to see on LYG?