Do you struggle with being happy? Have you been told many theories on what makes people happy? Are you unsure which ones to trust?
I struggled with these same issues for a lot of my life. Adults, teachers, and religious authorities gave me opinions on what brings happiness. I wanted to turn to something I could count on and trust: rigorous scientific testing. Surely there must have been strict, controlled experiments done to find out what makes a human happy.
I poured through many lectures, speeches, and books. When all hope was lost, I finally started stumbling on some books that were actually good. Rather than opinions and cherry-picked anecdotes or studies, they turned to studies done on tens of thousands of people. My favorite comprehensive book on the science of happiness is called The How of Happiness.
I wanted to share with you some of the biggest discoveries I learned from the book. These things saved me from depression and confusion. This will significantly help you live a happier life. Some of these will be shocking.
Here are 10 scientifically proven steps to happiness:
1. Material Things Don’t Bring Long-Term Happiness
One of the 10 proven steps to happiness is becoming aware of the fact that material things don’t bring long-term happiness. This was the most shocking and impactful thing I learned. Before I read this book, I was like most of the world: confused and unsure. They have tracked many people who made a lot of money. It turns out that the increase in happiness significantly decreases once basic necessities are met. There is still a small correlation, but the bang for your buck goes further and further down after you hit six figures.
I made it my mission to spread this message because 99% of people I meet believe this. It’s not entirely their fault. Modern society has burned this message into their heads to get them to buy things.
A lot of successful people practice gratitude. In podcasts or articles I consume, they often talk about it. I’m not sure if they really know why. It seems to me like they just do it because other successful people do it.
For me, I have a very specific reason I do gratitude exercises. Science has shown that they are one of the key ways you can increase your long-term sustainable happiness.
Examples of this include weekly volunteering or spending your own money on a stranger. I read the book that this has a huge impact on how you feel for that day.
Have an abundance mindset. Know that money will come back to you.
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” ~ Buddha
4. Savor The Moment
Savoring exercises are similar to gratitude exercises but more detailed.
When you’re grateful, you are appreciating what you have. When you are savoring something, you are marveling at how amazing it is to experience it.
Since I’m really into food and nature, I can easily appreciate the beauty of things by chewing slower or experiencing every leaf on a tree. Find what works best for you.
5. Practice Spirituality or Religion
This one is optional. Honestly, all these exercises are optional. I suggest you pick the ones that are best suited to you. If you aren’t religious but still want to maximize happiness, see if you can engage in any spiritual practices that feel right for you.
6. Do Cardio Exercise
Science has proven that if you do at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for a few months, your happiness levels will increase. It opens up your endorphines.
It has to be an exercise that engages your whole body and gets your blood pumping. My top recommendations include sports, running, jogging, swimming, or biking.
My favorite study has to be one that followed nuns throughout their life. They examined the daily journal entries that different nuns wrote. The ones who wrote in a positive manner lived much longer.
Most people, like myself, are naturally negative because we were programmed that way for survival. But times have changed. Being that negative is no longer as advantageous.
I recommend positive affirmation exercises and mindsets to reframe yourself.
By saying things at the start of the day and believing them, I have changed my attitude. My favorite is “TODAY WILL BE A GREAT DAY!”
If you’re really negative, start with something just slightly more positive and work your way there.
Long-term meditation can help you be more present.
You can also be more present by simply focusing on what you’re enjoying right now.
Most people are caught in the past or future. People are worried about what will happen tomorrow. Or they are constantly thinking about how someone wronged them in the past.
Forget everything and be in the moment. The best exercise I have found to rid myself of troubles is to turn on catchy music I like and force myself to dance to it. I’m usually alone so I don’t get embarrassed. I prefer catchy, pop, mainstream music but you may prefer something else. Do what suits you best.
Even when I am very sad, this helps brighten my mood. I have to physically force a smile on my face but it really helps. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor, did a TED talk that explained how changing your posture can change your psychology and hormones.
You can fake it until you make it to a degree.
9. Realize Happiness Is Independent of Wealth
At least 1 of every 4 people I meet seems to have this false idea that you can’t be happy without wealth. It’s kind of ingrained in society. However, you simply have to visit a poor neighborhood locally or a 3rd world country to see that this isn’t true.
There are plenty of poor people with nothing.
I don’t ignore wealth. I think it’s important to be able to pay for unexpected medical bills or your children’s tuition. Money is important.
However, realizing that you can be happy and fulfilled without wealth will free you. There are many rich people who are still bitter and unhappy. They have yet to internalize these things.
10. Make These Things A Habit
The big lesson I learned is that these happiness exercises I mentioned need to be formed into a consistent habit. You won’t see a dramatic increase in long-term happiness if you just do them once.
It will be tough, but it is so worth it. For example, work on 5 minutes of daily gratitude exercises. That small commitment will keep you from burning out and will help you turn it into a habit.
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your actions.” ~ Dalai Lama