Despite deep cultural differences between nations, there is one attitude that makes all humans happy.
Simple habits for happiness include self-acceptance, giving to others, relating to people and appreciating the world.
There is a strong link between self-acceptance and happiness, despite the fact that it’s a habit not frequently practised, a survey of 5,000 people finds.
The survey carried out by the charity Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different.
For their survey, they identified ten everyday habits which science has shown can make people happier.
Habits for happiness
Here are the 10 habits for happiness, with the average ratings of survey participants on a scale of 1-10, as to how often they performed each habit:
- Giving: do things for others — 7.41
- Relating: connect with people — 7.36
- Exercising: take care of your body — 5.88
- Appreciating: notice the world around — 6.57
- Trying out: keep learning new things — 6.26
- Direction: have goals to look forward to — 6.08
- Resilience: find ways to bounce back — 6.33
- Emotion: take a positive approach — 6.74
- Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are — 5.56
- Meaning: be part of something bigger — 6.38
(You’ll notice that the first letters spell out the words GREAT DREAM.)
Self-acceptance for happiness
The survey showed that one of the largest associations between these habits for happiness and reported happiness was for self-acceptance.
This category, though, got the lowest rating for people actually performing the habit, with an average of only 5.56.
Top of the list of happy habits that people performed was ‘giving’.
In this category, one in six reported a 10 out of 10; just over one-third scored an 8 or 9; slightly fewer scored 6 or 7; and less than one in six (15%) rated themselves at 5 or less.
One of the psychologists involved, Professor Karen Pine said:
“Practising these habits really can boost our happiness.
It’s great to see so many people regularly doing things to help others — and when we make others happy we tend to feel good ourselves too.
This survey shows that practising self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness.
Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to fee happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”
Increase your self-acceptance
Here are three ways to boost your self-acceptance, as suggested by the researchers:
“1. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
2. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you.
3. Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are.”
It’s amazing how little you have to do to make yourself happier right now.
You can lift your spirits without a gym membership, wearing Lycra or even leaving the house.
For sedentary people, getting out of the chair is enough to improve happiness, research finds.
It turns out that very light activity is surprisingly effective in raising people’s level of well-being.
Mr Gregory Panza, the study’s first author, said:
“…simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being.
What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements.
Instead, our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light or moderate intensity physical activity.”
Light physical activity is equivalent to a leisurely walk.
The kind of walk that doesn’t make you sweat, breathe faster or even change your heart rate.
Moderate activity is walking fast enough to nudge up your vital signs for around 15 minutes.
Vigorous exercise is equivalent to going for a jog.
The study looked at 419 healthy, middle-aged adults.
The biggest gains in happiness were seen among those who were the most sedentary and then did some light or moderate physical activity.
People who sat around a lot had the most to gain.
Mr Panza said:
“The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being.
In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”
People doing vigorous activity did not see increases in their happiness.
This is the reverse of a recent study that found vigorous activity can actually decrease mental well-being.
Dr Beth Taylor, a study author, said:
“Recent studies had suggested a slightly unsettling link between vigorous activity and subjective well-being.
We did not find this in the current study, which is reassuring to individuals who enjoy vigorous activity and may be worried about negative effects.”
The study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology (Panza et al., 2017).
Peace of mind reflects the idea of harmony and balance both within the individual and with their environment.
Over four hundred studies including 50,000+ people reveal the best happiness techniques.
Positive psychological interventions work best, though, when done together — individually they have little effect.
These techniques work well for people in good health and those with physical and mental illnesses, the research found.
However, it is important to find the right technique that fits you.
Mr Joep Van Agteren, the study’s first author, said:
“During stressful and uncertain periods in our lives, pro-actively working on our mental health is crucial to help mitigate the risk of mental and physical illness.
Our research suggests there are numerous psychological approaches people should experiment with to determine what works for them.”
Unsurprisingly, psychological therapies are also effective at improving well-being, although techniques need to be fitted to people’s requirements.
For people with mental health problems, cognitive-behavioural therapy was effective.
For those who already have good mental health, acceptance and commitment therapy works well.
Stick at it
All psychological techniques require that people stick at them for a period.
Mr Matthew Iasiello, study co-author, said:
“Just trying something once or twice isn’t enough to have a measurable impact.
Regardless of what method people are trying out, they need to stick at it for weeks and months at a time for it to have a real effect.”
While seeking professional help is important, there are many things individuals can do to improve their well-being, said Professor Michael Kyrios, study co-author:
“Implementing such interventions can be done safely for individuals on their own or in a group format, either in person or online.
It is therefore potentially a cost-effective addition to current referral pathways and treatment methods.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour (Agteren et al., 2021).
Meaning in work is linked to happiness, job satisfaction, higher work engagement, greater career commitment and lower levels of depression and burnout.
The largest household panel survey reveals how parents raise happy children.
Children grow up happier when their mother is happy in her relationship.
Fully 73 percent of people whose mothers were ‘perfectly happy’ in their relationship say they are ‘completely happy’ with their family situation.
This is just one of the factors in a family that predicts which children grow up to be happier.
The others are: avoiding regular arguments and eating at least three evening meals together a week.
Arguing more than once a week with parents was linked to much lower levels of happiness among children.
The researchers also found that having no younger siblings was also beneficial for later happiness.
Older siblings, though, had no effect on happiness.
Dr Maria Iacovou, a study author, said:
“At a time when there is widespread political concern about ‘Broken Britain’, these findings show that family relationships and the happiness of parents are key to the happiness of young people.
Contrary to the popular belief that children only want to spend time playing videogames or watching TV we found that they were most happy when interacting with their parents or siblings.”
The conclusions come from a long-running UK study called ‘Understanding Society’.
It is the largest household panel survey in the world, which will follow over 40,000 households over a number of years.
These findings are based on a sample of over 10,000 men, women and children.
Dr Iacovou said:
“Together these findings reveal the complex influences of different family relationships on a child’s happiness.
Over the years, as Understanding Society follows the lives of families in the UK, we’ll build up an even better picture of how children’s lives are affected by all kinds of factors.
Understanding Society is really set to become a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the well-being of children.”
The study was published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) (Ermisch et al., 2011).
The ironic reason chasing happiness can make you feel worse.
The pursuit of happiness can make you unhappy when it makes you feel short of time, research finds.
People in the study who had the continuous goal of being happier, felt there was less time to achieve it.
Because of this shortness of time, they felt less happy.
In contrast, those who let happiness ‘just happen’ and were not pursuing it, did not feel the same rush and, consequently, were happier.
The researchers explain:
“Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit.
This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being.”
Feeling short of time is just one way the pursuit of happiness can backfire.
We can also force ourselves into activities we don’t really enjoy, spend too much money or simply overthink it.
For the research, sometimes people were given a goal of being happier.
Other times their normal levels of happiness seeking were tested.
Across four studies the researchers found that pursuing happiness could ultimately decrease it: whether it is in a person’s make-up or if they are given the goal.
It is a useful reminder that we all need time to stop and enjoy the fruits of our labours.
In the rush to be happy, we can find the goal is easily lost.
The researchers say:
“Because engaging in experiences and savoring the associated feelings requires more time compared with merely, for instance, buying material goods, feeling a lack of time also leads people to prefer material possessions rather than enjoying leisure experiences.
By encouraging people to worry less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal, successful interventions might just end up giving them more time and, in turn, more happiness.”
The study was published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Kim and Maglio, 2018).
Some people know how to enjoy themselves.
Indulging in short-term pleasures is just as important for happiness as self-control, a study finds.
While self-control is often recommended as the best route to happiness, enjoying yourself in the moment leads to long-term happiness, as well as reducing the chance of depression and anxiety.
Goals like learning a foreign language or getting fit can be rewarding, but sometimes we need to have fun.
People who find it hard to enjoy hedonistic pleasures because they are thinking about what they should be doing instead are missing out.
The new study comes in response to a focus in psychology on self-control.
Higher self-control has been linked to all sorts of positive outcomes, along with happiness.
Dr Katharina Bernecker, the study’s first author, said:
“It’s time for a rethink.
Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.”
For the study, researchers developed a questionnaire designed to test people’s capacity for hedonism.
People who are good at enjoying themselves in the moment tend to agree with statements like:
- “I often do what I feel like doing.”
- “I can follow my desires in the here and now.”
People poor at enjoying themselves agree with statements like:
- “Thoughts about my work sometimes prevent me from enjoying pleasant activities and moments.”
- “I often think about my duties even while I am enjoying a good moment.”
People poor at enjoying the moment tend to get distracted by intrusive thoughts about what they should be doing instead.
Dr Daniela Becker, study co-author, said:
“For example, when lying on the couch you might keep thinking of the sport you are not doing.
Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax.”
The results showed that some people find it hard to indulge in short-term pleasures.
They are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
None of which is to say that hedonism should be the sole aim of life, said Dr Bernecker:
“The pursuit of hedonic and long-term goals needn’t be in conflict with one another.
Our research shows that both are important and can complement each other in achieving well-being and good health.
It is important to find the right balance in everyday life.”
It can be hard work, though, enjoying yourself, Dr Bernecker said:
“It was always thought that hedonism, as opposed to self-control, was the easier option.
But really enjoying one’s hedonic choice isn’t actually that simple for everybody because of those distracting thoughts.”
One solution for those who find it hard to enjoy themselves is to to set aside specific times for enjoyment.
That way enjoyment is the sole aim of that period of time, hopefully reducing intrusive thoughts about other, more worthy, activities.
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Bernecker & Becker, 2020).
Study of more than 10,000 people reveals how the grumpiest people can be more happy today.
The key to being more happy is simply to move around a little more.
A little extra physical movement makes people appreciably happier, research finds.
Activities that can’t even be classified as exercise, but do involve moving around a little are enough to provide a boost.
Getting up from the desk to walk around a little is one good example.
Dr Jason Rentfrow, one of the paper’s authors, said:
“Our data show that happy people are more active in general.
However, our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness.
There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”
The results come from a study in which data from over 10,000 people’s smartphones was analysed.
People who moved about more were happier and people were happier in those moments when they moved about more.
Dr Gillian Sandstrom, a study co-author, said:
“Most of us don’t keep track of all of our movements during the day.
A person might track whether they went for a walk or went to the gym, but when asked, most of them probably wouldn’t remember walking from the desk to the photocopier, or from the car to the office door.”
Professor Cecilia Mascolo, another study co-author, added:
“This study shows how mobile and wearable technology really can allow social psychologists to perform large longitudinal studies as well as open a direct and permanent connection with the users for advice and intervention.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Lathia et al., 2016).