In a recently released study of the social networks of more than 4,700 subjects who had been tracked for 20 years, researchers found that happy people tend to be linked to each other through relationships with family, friends and neighbors. Not only were there clusters of happy and unhappy people, those at the center of their networks seemed more likely to be joyful, whereas those on the fringes were more likely to be melancholic.
2. Surround Yourself With Happy People
The same study also demonstrated that happiness is contagious–you can even catch it from a friend of a friend. The researchers found that happiness removed by three degrees can make you more content than an extra $5,000. The same domino effect is true for unhappiness, as well, though the researchers believe negative feelings spread more slowly than positive ones.
3. Watch Less TV
A recent analysis of time-use data from the General Social Survey showed that while Americans enjoy watching television, doing it too often may lead to unhappiness. Dr. John P. Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland who conducted the research, found that unhappy people watch over 30% more TV per day than very happy people. No similar disparity was found in comparing all other activities, including sports, churchgoing and socializing.
4. Lead an Active Life
Not only do happy people watch less TV, according to a recent study, they also spend more time socializing with relatives and friends, attending church, reading the newspaper, working and even having sex. It’s difficult to tell whether or not these activities are a function of happiness or if the activities lead to happiness, but the study’s author, Dr. Robinson, says contentment is definitely linked to an active lifestyle
5. Manage Your Time Wisely
Surprisingly, research shows that Americans don’t feel any more stressed or rushed than they did in the 1980s, according to Dr. Robinson. But using time unwisely–having too much of it or not enough–was recently correlated with increased levels of unhappiness. Robinson, who conducted the study, found that 51% of unhappy respondents felt they had too much time, compared with 19% of those who felt very happy.
6. Find Ways to Cope
Unfortunate things happen in life, but that doesn’t mean they have to permanently diminish your mood. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, has studied happiness extensively and has found that developing an effective coping strategy is key to overcoming most troubles. There’s also no single way to cope, though she recommends trying to develop strengths you didn’t know you had–like the ability to manage a household budget in the midst of a financial crisis.
7. Set and Pursue Goals
Goal-setting has many benefits, says Dr. Lyubomirsky, also the author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. First, goals give us a sense of purpose. Second, they tend to cultivate self-esteem, since the sense of accomplishment can segue to feelings of confidence. Finally, they add structure to the daily routine of life, which Dr. Robinson’s findings on time-use revealed can be an important component of long-term happiness
8. Don’t Think Too Much
In her research on happiness, Dr. Lyubomirsky often encounters a behavior known as self-focused rumination (in other words, obsessing over the unknown), which many people believe might lead them to clarity or resolution. But according to studies conducted in the past 20 years, such behavior actually fosters biased thinking, impedes concentration and diminishes a person’s ability to solve problems. Breaking this habit can be tough, but Lyubomirsky recommends distracting yourself with engrossing activities.
9. Practice Gratitude
It sounds like a New Age mantra that has little grounding in science, but being grateful can change one’s mood, habits and health. A study conducted by Dr. Lyubomirsky required a group of 57 participants to write down five things for which they were grateful once a week. A second group of the same size did so three times a week. A third control group of 32 did nothing. Six weeks later, participants in the first group were happier, healthier and exercising more.
10. Experiment With Happiness
If the so-called secrets to contentment don’t exactly work for you, try another version or interpretation of the guidelines. You may not have the same success with a particular strategy as others do, says Dr. Lyubomirsky, because achieving happiness doesn’t happen in a uniform way. Instead, think of it as a sliding scale on which some methods work better, while others make little or no difference.
Dr. Lyubomirsky, who is also the author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, has spent much of her career trying to translate findings like ones above into reliable guidelines for those who want to enjoy the benefits of happiness, which have been shown to include increased productivity at work, higher incomes, stronger immune systems and even popularity. Read full article