Job Satisfaction: These 10 Elements Ensure Satisfaction At Work

Job satisfaction is hard to find, but pay attention to these 10 factors and you’ll be well on your way to your dream job.

Job satisfaction is hard to find, but pay attention to these 10 factors and you’ll be well on your way to your dream job.

If some job satisfaction surveys are to be believed then as many as a third of us are considering a change of job in search of the dream that will provide satisfaction and happiness.

Clearly many are finding it hard to get that feeling of satisfaction from work that a dream job might provide.

Job satisfaction and happiness is important not just because it boosts work performance but also because it increases our quality of life.

Many people spend so much time at work that when it becomes dissatisfying, the rest of their life soon follows.

Everyone’s dream job is different but here are 10 factors that psychologists regularly find are important in how satisfied people are with their jobs.

1. Little hassles spoil a dream job

If you ask doctors what is the worst part of their jobs, what do you think they say?

Carrying out difficult, painful procedures?

Telling people they’ve only got months to live?

No, it’s something that might seem much less stressful: administration.

When thinking about a dream job, we tend to downplay day-to-day irritations, thinking we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

But actually people’s job satisfaction in a potential dream job is surprisingly sensitive to daily hassles.

It might not seem like much but when it happens almost every day and it’s beyond our control, it hits job satisfaction and happiness hard.

This category is one of the easiest wins for boosting employee satisfaction.

Managers should find out about those little daily hassles and address them—your employees will love you for it.

2. Fair pay and job satisfaction

Whatever your dream job, for you to be satisfied the pay should be fair.

The bigger the difference between what you think you should earn and what you do earn, the less satisfied you’ll be.

The important point here is it’s all about perception.

If you perceive that other people doing a similar job get paid about the same as you then you’re more likely to be satisfied with your job than if you think they’re getting more than you.

3. Achievement and employee happiness

People feel more satisfied with their job if they’ve achieved something.

In some jobs achievements are obvious, but for others they’re not.

As smaller cogs in larger machines it may be difficult to tell what we’re contributing and hard to think of it as a dream job.

That’s why the next factor can be so important…

4. Feedback boosts employee satisfaction

There’s nothing worse than not knowing whether or not you’re doing a good job.

When it comes to job satisfaction, no news is bad news.

Getting negative feedback can be painful but at least it tells you where improvements can be made.

On the other hand, positive feedback can make all the difference to how satisfied people feel.

It can turn a routine job into a dream job.

5. A dream job has complexity and variety

People generally find jobs more satisfying if they are more complex and offer more variety.

People seem to like complex (but not impossible) jobs, perhaps because it pushes them more.

Too easy and people get bored.

To be satisfied people need to be challenged a little and they need some variety in the tasks they carry out.

It sounds easy when put like that but many jobs offer neither complexity nor variety.

6. Control enhances job satisfaction

You may have certain tasks you have to do, but how you do them should be up to you.

The more control people perceive in how they carry out their job, the more satisfaction they experience and the more likely it fits the profile of their dream job.

If people aren’t given some control, they will attempt to retake it by cutting corners, stealing small amounts or finding other ways to undermine the system.

Psychologists have found that people who work in jobs where they have little latitude—at every level—find their work very stressful and consequently unsatisfying.

7. Organisational support

Workers want to know their organisation cares about them: that they are getting something back for what they are putting in.

This is primarily communicated through things like how bosses treat us, the kinds of fringe benefits we get and other subtle messages.

If people perceive more organisational support, they experience higher job satisfaction and are more likely to feel they are in their dream job.

Remember: it’s not just whether the organisation is actually being supportive, it’s whether it appears that way.

The point being that appearances are really important here.

If people don’t perceive it, then for them it might as well not exist.

That’s why great managers need a politician’s touch.

8. Keeping work and home separate

Low job satisfaction isn’t only the boss’ or organisation’s fault, sometimes it’s down to home-life.

Trouble at home breeds trouble at the office.

Some research, though, suggests that trouble at the office is more likely to spill over into the family domain compared with the other way around (Ford et al., 2007).

Either way finding ways of distancing yourself from work while at home are likely to boost job satisfaction (Sonnentag et al., 2010).

9. Honeymoons and hangovers

Job honeymoons and hangovers are often forgotten by psychologists, but well-known to employees.

People experience honeymoon periods after a month or two in a new job when their satisfaction shoots up.

But then it normally begins to tail off after six months or so.

The honeymoon period at the start of a new job tends to be stronger when people were particularly dissatisfied with their previous job (Boswell et al., 2009).

So, hangovers from the last job tend to produce more intense honeymoons in the next job.

10. Job satisfaction comes with age

Some of us are more easily satisfied (or dissatisfied) than others, no matter how good (or bad) the job is.

To misquote a famous cliché: You can’t satisfy all the people all the time.

Still, some jobs do seem better suited to certain types of people.

A lot of work has been done on person-environment fit but because jobs vary so much it’s difficult to summarise.

One generalisation we can make, though, is that people get more satisfied with their jobs as they get older.

Perhaps this is because the older people are, the more likely they are to have found their dream job.

There’s little evidence for this but I’d certainly like to think it was true.

On my darker days, though, I tend to think it’s because young people have sky-high expectations (which are soon dashed) and older people have learned to live with their lot, however uninspiring it is.

Why can’t we all be satisfied at work?

When you look at this list of what makes for a satisfying job, you might wonder why everyone can’t have one.

With a little thought, most of the predictors of satisfaction can be provided.

The answer is probably quite simple.

Organisations pay lip-service to keeping their employees satisfied, but many don’t really believe it makes a difference.

What this research shows is that it can make a huge difference.

If you’re a manager looking to improve satisfaction at your workplace then start with point number 1: find out about people’s little hassles and address them.

It might not look like much but people will really appreciate it.


The Surprising Benefits Of Prioritizing Positivity In Your Daily Life (M)

Trying too hard to be happy can backfire, but a study reveals a strategy that works.

Trying too hard to be happy can backfire, but a study reveals a strategy that works.

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Smiling: 10 Hidden Benefits Beyond Happiness

Smiling has many more uses that just displaying happiness: here ten ways to use them to your advantage.

Smiling has many more uses that just displaying happiness: here ten ways to use them to your advantage.

People are always smiling, especially in groups, but it doesn’t just signal that they’re happy, far from it.

We use smiling for specific social purposes because they can send out all sorts of signals that can be useful for us.1

Here are ten ways smiling can be used to our advantage by sending out messages about our trustworthiness, attractivity, sociability and more.

1. Smiling for trust

In a world where everyone is out for themselves, who should we trust?

One signal that suggests we are trustworthy is smiling.

Genuine smiling sends a message that other people can trust and cooperate with us.

People smiling are rated higher in both generosity and extraversion and when people share with each other they tend to display genuine smiles (Mehu et al., 2007).

Economists even consider that smiling has a value.

In one study by Scharlemann et al. (2001) participants were more likely to trust another person if they were smiling.

This study found that smiling increased people’s willingness to trust by about 10 percent.

2. Smiling for leniency

When people do bad things they often smile when they are caught.

Is this to their benefit?

According to a study conducted by LaFrance and Hecht (1995), it can be.

We treat people who’ve broken the rules with more leniency if they are smiling afterwards.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a false smile, a miserable smile or a real felt smile, they all work to make us want to give the transgressor a break.

This seems to work because we find people who are smiling after breaking the rules more trustworthy than those who don’t.

3. Smiling helps recovery from slip-ups

Did you forget to buy your partner an anniversary present?

Has an important client’s name slipped your mind?

Have you accidentally kicked a small child?

If you’ve tripped on a social banana, embarrassment is your go-to emotion.

The function of embarrassment is to get us out of tight social spots (Keltner & Buswell, 1997).

Embarrassed smiling involves looking down and sometimes we emit a silly little laugh.

This is designed to elicit fellow-feeling from other people so they think less of the slip and forgive us more quickly.

So embarrassed smiling helps us get out of jail free(ish).

Once again, the power of smiling.

4. Smiling to avoid feeling bad

Sometimes we smile both because it’s polite and so that we can avoid feeling bad afterwards.

Like when someone enthuses about how they saved a small amount of money with a coupon they found down the back of the sofa.

It hardly seems to warrant smiling but you muster one anyway because it’s polite.

In one study people were asked to remain stony-faced after hearing someone else’s good news (LaFrance, 1997).

They felt bad afterwards and thought the other person would think worse of them as a result.

So we nod and smile politely because otherwise we’ll regret it afterwards.

Women, though, seem to feel this smiling pressure at the happy news of others more than men.

5. Laugh off the hurt

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation.

Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis.

Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

A word of warning: smiling at upsetting things may work but it doesn’t look good to others.

When Ansfield (2007) had participants viewing distressing videos, those who smiled felt better afterwards than those who didn’t.

But people who smiled at distressing images were judged less likeable by others.

6. Smiling for insight

When we’re nervous our attention tends to narrow.

We stop noticing what’s going on around the edges and only see what’s right in front of us.

This is true in both a literal and a metaphorical sense: when nervous or stressed we’re less likely to notice ideas that are at the edge of our consciousness.

But to gain insight into a problem, it’s often precisely these peripheral ideas we need.

Cue a smile.

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically.

When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

So smiling really can help give us a burst of insight.

7. Smiling for sex

A woman’s smile has a magical effect on men, over and above eye contact.

One study examined how men approached women in a bar (Walsh & Hewitt, 1985).

When a woman only established eye contact with a man, she was approached 20 percent of the time.

When the same woman added a smile, though, she was approached 60 percent of the time.

When men smile at women, though, the effect is less magical.

While smiling increases women’s attractiveness to men, it doesn’t work so well the other way around.

Indeed there’s some evidence that men look more attractive to women when displaying pride or even shame, than when they look happy (Tracy & Beall, 2011).

Less smiling makes a man look more masculine.

8. Smiling to hide what you really think

Psychologists used to think that a genuine smile never lies.

Fake smiling involves only the mouth, while real smiles—called Duchenne smiles by psychologists—reach up to the eyes.

Research, though, suggests that 80 percent of people can fake the crinkly eyes central to a Duchenne smile (Krumhuber & Manstead, 2009).

So, smiling can be used to hide what we really think, but it’s still not easy to fake a real smile because they have to be timed correctly.

A key to a trustworthy smile is that it has a slow onset, i.e. it takes about half a second to spread across the face.

One piece of research has found that in comparison to a fast onset smile (about a tenth of a second to spread), slow onset smiles are judged more trustworthy, authentic and even more flirtatious (see: A Slow Smile Attracts).

9. Smiling to make money

We’ve already seen that economists have calculated the value of a smile, but can a smile make us real cash-money?

Apparently the broad smile of a waitress can: Tidd and Lockard (1978) found smiling waitresses made more in tips (there’s no study on waiters).

More generally people in service industries, like flight attendants or those in entertainment and hospitality are effectively paid to smile at customers.

But, watch out, a constant mismatch between felt and displayed emotion—called emotional labour by psychologists—can be exhausting, possibly leading to job burnout.

Smiling may make money, but it can also be draining.

10. Smile and (half) the world smiles with you

One of the simple social pleasures of life, which goes almost unnoticed because it’s automatic, is when you smile at someone and they smile back.

As you’ll have noticed, though, not everyone does smile back.

Hinsz and Tomhave (1991) wanted to see what proportion of people would respond to a smile aimed at them with their own smile.

Their results suggest around 50 percent of people reciprocate.

In comparison almost no one responds to a frown with their own frown.

Smile for longevity

If none of these studies can coax a smile out of you then consider this: people who smile more may live longer.

A study of pictures taken of baseball players in 1952 suggests those smiling outlived their non-smiling counterparts by seven years (Abel & Kruger, 2010).

Now there’s a reason to smile.


1There are also all sorts of cultural and gender differences in why and how we smile.

Women generally smile more than men, although this still depends on the situation.

Across cultures, Russians smile the least and Americans the most.

American smiles, though, tend to be more ‘fake’, i.e. involving mainly the mouth rather than both the mouth and the eyes.

→ Find out more about what dilated pupils means.


These Are The Place That Make You Feel Happy

Picturesque, bright areas with broad views allow the mind to restore itself — and make you feel happy.

Picturesque, bright areas with broad views allow the mind to restore itself — and make you feel happy.

People are happier in more beautiful environments, research finds.

That doesn’t just mean nature: people are also happier in characterful areas of towns and cities.

Towers, churches and cottages can make people as happy as ponds, paths and rivers.

Beautiful scenes — whether natural or man-made — allow the mind to recover, according to one prominent psychological theory.

Picturesque, bright areas with broad views help the mind to restore itself.

The finding builds on a previous study that found people also feel healthier in more beautiful places.

Dr. Chanuki Seresinhe the study’s first author, said:

“We find that people are indeed happier in more scenic environments, even after controlling for a range of variables such as potential effects of the weather, and the activity that an individual was engaged in at the time.

Crucially, we show that it is not only the countryside with which we see this association: built-up areas, which might comprise characterful buildings or bridges, also have a positive link to happiness.

Therefore, this research could be useful for informing decisions made in the design of our towns, cities and urban neighbourhoods, which affect people’s everyday lives.”

Study of places that make you happy

The results come from a study involving over 15,000 people who rated almost one million photos for beauty.

The data was combined with reports of people’s happiness in different places that was gathered from an iPhone app called ‘Mappiness’.

With this app, people report their happiness multiple times a day.

The results showed that people were happier when they were in more beautiful places.

Dr Seresinhe said:

“According to Attention Restoration Theory, scenes requiring less demand on our attention allow us to become less fatigued, more able to concentrate, and thus perhaps even less irritable.

Such restorative settings have often been associated with nature, and in contrast, one can imagine that a bustling urban setting such as Times Square in New York might demand our full attention.

However, we find more picturesque streets with broad views and fewer distractions might also function as restorative settings.

Settings that are more beautiful may also hold our interest for longer, thereby blocking negative thoughts.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Seresinhe et al., 2019).

Schopenhauer’s Extreme Self-Help for Pessimists

Schopenhauer was such an extreme pessimist that he thought we live in the worst of all possible worlds and happiness is an illusion.

Schopenhauer was such an extreme pessimist that he thought we live in the worst of all possible worlds and happiness is an illusion.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was such an extreme pessimist that he thought we live in the worst of all possible worlds and happiness is an illusion.

This is what makes it surprising that he wrote a best-selling book containing a self-help section.

And yet he did.

Although calling it self-help is somewhat misleading; the main aim of his advice was really reducing misery.

Yup, old Arthur was full of fun.

Schopenhauer’s advice is interesting because it is so incredibly contrarian.

Pessimists, though, will recognise a kindred spirit when they hear his views of people and the world we live in.

Perhaps his recommendations for living have the potential to be useful for those who would normally run a mile from advice on how to be happy.

Schalkx and Bergsma (2007), in an article published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, argue that it is possible to evaluate Schopenhauer’s advice by comparing it with modern psychological findings on life satisfaction.

To do this they first examine Schopenhauer’s advice, which can be split into three parts.

First are his general rules for life, second, how we should manage our relationship with ourselves and, third, how to manage our relationships with others.

General rules for life

In short the key to making life bearable for Schopenhauer was simply this: extremely low expectations.

This piece of advice flows naturally from Schopenhauer’s philosophical position.

Like Greek philosopher Epicurus, Schopenhauer thought that happiness was the absence of pain, frustration and dissatisfaction.

He was a kind of extreme hedonist (see my post on Epicurus for the meaning of hedonism here).

We live, thought Schopenhauer, in the worst of all possible worlds, constantly on the brink of destruction.

Our will, or our desires, are continually demanding things from the world that cannot always be satisfied.

And so we are continually frustrated.

Even when our desires are satisfied it will only be brief.

This satisfaction will then lead to an increase in our desires and, ultimately, to boredom when our desires are finally exhausted.

Life, then, is suffering (an idea well-known to Buddhists).

The answer for Schopenhauer was not to seek happiness, but to try and get through life with the minimum of suffering.

His goal was for a bearable life.

Our relationship with ourselves

Here are some practical suggestions Schopenhauer put forward for managing ourselves:

  • Live in the present, making it as painless as possible.
  • Make good use of the only thing we can control, our own minds.
  • Our personality is central to our level of happiness.
  • Set limits everywhere: limits on anger, desires, wealth and power. Limitations lead to something like happiness.
  • Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if we’re responsible.
  • Seek out solitude, other people rob us of our identities.
  • Keep busy.

Our relationship with others

For Schopenhauer relationships with others are mainly sources of stress and hurt.

As far as he was concerned true friendship is a near impossibility.

As a result his advice is mostly aimed at protecting us from the inevitable damage other people will cause us:

  • People are selfish: they are easily flattered and easily offended. Their opinions can be bought and sold for the right price. Because of this friendship is usually motivated by self-interest.
  • Behaving with kindness towards others causes them to be arrogant: therefore other people must be treated with some disregard.
  • Displaying your intelligence makes you incredibly unpopular: people don’t like to be reminded of their inferiority.
  • Truly exceptional people prefer to be on their own because ordinary people are annoying.
  • Accept that the world is filled with fools, they cannot change and neither can you.

It’s no coincidence that Schopenhauer spent 27 years living alone except for a series of poodles called Atma and Butzas as his only form of company.

(For a modern version of Schopenhauer, watch the character ‘Greg House’ in ‘House M.D.‘, or, for sci-fi buffs, Marvin the Paranoid Android).

What Schopenhauer got right

Nowadays, of course, psychological research tells us a lot more about the conditions of happiness in the modern world.

So how does Schopenhauer’s advice stack up?

Schalkx and Bergsma argue that a couple of Schopenhauer’s self-help principles do indeed stand the test of time.

1. Don’t seek wealth

Good, well done Schopenhauer, more money doesn’t necessarily equal more happiness.

2. Personality is crucial

Again, tick, well done Schopenhauer. As much as 50% of our happiness levels are genetically preset.

What Schopenhauer got wrong

Unfortunately for Schopenhauer, that’s all the good news.

The rest, when compared to modern findings, was often wrong:

1. Don’t seek status

Probably wrong. Studies often find correlations between higher status and higher levels of happiness.

2. Avoid people

Definitely wrong. Social bonds are highly correlated with happiness.

3. Don’t get married

Probably wrong.

Like Epicurus, Schopenhauer wasn’t a fan of marriage, or living with a partner.

But modern research shows that living with someone probably makes us happier – it certainly doesn’t do us any harm, on average (Bergsma, Poot & Liefbroer, 2008).

4. Avoid problems

Mostly wrong.

Setting goals and following our dreams both involve dealing with the world and overcoming problems.

Having very low expectations and avoiding trouble probably result in failing to achieve.

Research finds that goal-setting and facing and overcoming problems are associated with happiness.

Does Schopenhauer’s advice benefit the extreme pessimist?

As you’ll have gathered, Schopenhauer was the kind of chap who always thought the glass was half-empty.

Modern psychology shows that pessimism has some negative consequences, for example having lower well-being and being seen in a negative light by others.

On the other hand optimists have all sorts of advantages, like faster recovery from negative events.

But as Schopenhauer pointed out, people are different and, to a certain extent, we’re stuck with the way we are.

So while Schopenhauer’s approach might not suit the ‘average’ person, perhaps it might suit people who are like Schopenhauer?

This question is difficult to answer mainly because, in the light of modern research, Schopenhauer’s advice about being distrustful and avoiding other people is completely counter-intuitive.

Indeed, Schalkx and Bergsma argue that most of Schopenhauer’s advice probably isn’t much good, even for other people like him.

Do the opposite

Like Epicurus, though, we have to give Schopenhauer a certain amount of latitude because we are taking his advice out of its historical context.

Nevertheless when we compare his advice with modern psychology, most of it is misguided.

The few points that he does get right are mainly in the section on our relationships with ourselves.

We’re probably better off doing the exact opposite of what Schopenhauer recommends, pessimist or not.

→ Related: Confucius On Happiness: How To Live A Good Life


The Happiest People Earn This Much Money

The amount of income that makes people happiest.

The amount of income that makes people happiest.

The maximum income for optimal happiness is between $60,000 and $75,000 per year, research finds.

Any more than that is associated with falling levels of happiness — perhaps because, above this level, the sacrifices are not worth it.

The researchers also asked people about their satisfaction with life.

Life satisfaction involves evaluating our lives in comparison to goals and to other people; whereas happiness refers to daily levels of positive feelings.

The ideal income for the optimum level of life satisfaction is higher at $95,000 per person.

However, life satisfaction also began to drop once a person earned more than $95,000 a year.

Andrew T. Jebb, the study’s first author, said:

“That might be surprising as what we see on TV and what advertisers tell us we need would indicate that there is no ceiling when it comes to how much money is needed for happiness, but we now see there are some thresholds.

It’s been debated at what point does money no longer change your level of well-being.

We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being.

Again, this amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families.”

The results come from a Gallup World Poll of 1.7 million people in 164 countries.

Incomes in different countries were adjusted to take into account the purchasing power of the local currency — but the results are expressed in US dollars.

Mr Jebb said:

“…there was substantial variation across world regions, with satiation occurring later in wealthier regions for life satisfaction.

This could be because evaluations tend to be more influenced by the standards by which individuals compare themselves to other people.”

The drive to earn more money could also be hurting their happiness and life satisfaction, Mr Jebb said:

“At this point they are asking themselves, ‘Overall, how am I doing?’ and ‘How do I compare to other people?’

The small decline puts one’s level of well-being closer to individuals who make slightly lower incomes, perhaps due to the costs that come with the highest incomes. These findings speak to a broader issue of money and happiness across cultures.

Money is only a part of what really makes us happy, and we’re learning more about the limits of money.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour (Jebb et al., 2018).

Happiness: 18 Activities To Make Yourself Happy Today

Happiness is boosted by activities like thankfulness, spending on others, making plans, using signature strengths and happy daydreams.

Happiness is boosted by activities like thankfulness, spending on others, making plans, using signature strengths and happy daydreams.

Happiness is an emotion that activates the whole body.

Happiness literally fills the whole body with activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig (see: What Happiness Feels Like).

Happiness doesn’t just feel great, it also benefits the body, right down to its instructional code.

Happier people have a stronger expression of antibody and antiviral genes that are responsible for fighting off infectious diseases and defending the body against foreign materials.

Here are 18 activities, habits and ideas that science has proven can make you happier.

1. Mentally subtract something good from your life

People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done.

But what about the good things that did happen that might not have?

Say you’d never met your partner or friend or got that job?

What would life be like without some of those things we take for granted?

Thinking about what might not have been can be tremendously powerful for happiness if used in the right way.

Counter-factual thinking can create meaning in life and, and can increase satisfaction with what you have (Koo et al., 2008).

So, mentally subtract something good from your life to really appreciate it.

2. Send a thankful message

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps us enjoy what we have.

Evoke it right now by sending an email, text or letter to someone who has helped you in some way.

Thank them for what they have done for you, however small.

It’s easy and quick and one study has found that practising gratitude can increase happiness 25%.

Another found that just three letters over a three-week period was enough to reliably increase happiness and life satisfaction (Toepfer et al., 2012).

3. Spend money on someone else

Money can make you happy but only if you use it in the right way.

One of the easiest ways is by spending it on others.

So, why does spending on others increase your happiness?

It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves.

It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy.

It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships.

And, people with stronger social ties are generally happier.

So, buy a friend a present today or take them out to lunch.

You’ll feel good about it, I promise.

4. Get some exercise for more happiness

Exercise is the number one strategy that people use to feel better, increase their energy levels and reduce tension.

It doesn’t have to be a marathon; a simple walk around the block will do the trick.

We all know it’ll make us feel better to get out and stretch our legs, but there are always excuses to avoid it.

If you’re at home, make time for a trip that doesn’t involve the car and does involve your legs.

If you’re in the office, make sure you get out for a walk at lunch-time instead of eating sandwiches in front of the computer.

5. Music brings happiness

Number two on the list of the best happiness strategies is listening to music.

Music can influence mood in many ways but most people rate its power to manage our positive moods as the top reason they love music.

We particularly like the fact that it can make our good moods even better.

Even sad music can bring pleasure as many people enjoy the contradictory mix of emotions it creates.

6. Make plans for happiness

Remember those childhood days leading up to Christmas when you couldn’t wait to rip open your presents?

The pleasure in anticipation was just incredible.

Research on the psychology of happiness shows that anticipation can be a powerful positive emotion.

We enjoy looking forward to things much more than we enjoy looking back on them afterwards (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).

So, make a plan now and try to always have something to look forward to, however small.

It will make you feel more happiness

7. Happiness is making plans with friends

The best types of plans for happiness are with friends.

It’s not just that you’ll have the pleasure of anticipation; it’s also that you’re keeping the friendship alive.

One study of 8 million phone calls has found, not exactly surprisingly, that when people call each other back, their friendships are much more likely to survive (Hidalgo & Rogriguez-Sickert, 2007).

The power of friendship on happiness is much greater than money.

Researchers have calculated that you’d have to earn £85,000 ($130,000) more a year to make you as happy as if you saw friends or relatives on most days of the week (Powdthavee, 2008).

So, not only is staying in touch with friends good, but it’ll save you a lot of effort trying to earn more money at work.

8. List 3 good things that happened today

At the end of the day, before you go to bed, spend a few minutes thinking about three good things that happened today.

They don’t have to be that amazing; just three things that made you feel a little better.

You can also think about why they happened.

In one study in which people carried out this exercise, their happiness was increased, and depressive symptoms decreased, fully six months afterwards (Seligman et al., 2005).

If you’ve done some of the things mentioned here, then you’ll already have at least three things for your list.

9. Signature strengths help increase happiness

Simply put signature strengths are things you are good at.

Whatever it is, people usually feel more happiness when they do things at which they excel.

Think about things that you are good at: it could be social skills, physical skills, sporting skills or anything really.

It could be making someone laugh or giving someone a helping hand.

Then take some time during the day to use that skill.

When people practice their signature strengths it makes them happier.

10. Enjoy a happy daydream activity

If you’re less of a doer and more of a dreamer, then this activity is for you: have a happy daydream.

Over the course of the day our minds tend to wander a lot, but directing that mind-wandering in a positive way can be very beneficial.

In this research on life-savouring strategies, positive mental time travel was found to be one of the most effective.

In the study people thought back to times in their lives that gave them pleasure; moments filled with success, love and friendship.

The mind may try to fight back by travelling back to past embarrassments or failures, but keep it locked into a happy daydream for the best boost.

Go on, sit back and have a little daydream…

11. Pull together for happiness

What has happened to people’s happiness all around the world as they’ve faced recent crises?

How have they coped with job losses, less money coming in, the sense of despair and lack of control over a nightmare that seems to have no end?

One answer is: some have pulled together.

Data from 255 metropolitan areas across the US found that communities that pull together — essentially doing nice little things for each other like volunteering and helping a neighbour out — are happier.

Social capital has a protective effect: people are happier when they do the right thing.

12. Act like an extrovert

Acting like an extrovert — even if you are an introvert — makes people all around the world feel more happiness (Ching et al., 2014).

The findings come from surveys of hundreds of people in the US, Venezuela, the Philippines, China and Japan.

Across the board, people reported that they felt more positive emotions in daily situations where they either acted or felt more extroverted.

Participants in the study were told to act in an outgoing way for 10 minutes and then report how it made them feel.

Even amongst introverts — people who typically prefer solitary activities — acting in an extroverted way gave them a boost of happiness.

13. Enjoy ordinary activities

With increasing age, people get more pleasure out of everyday activities.

A recent study asked over 200 people between the ages of 19 and 79 about happy activities they’d had that were both ordinary and extraordinary.

Across all the age-groups in the study, people found pleasure in all sorts of activities; both ordinary and extraordinary.

But it was older people who managed to extract more happiness from relatively ordinary activities.

They were happier spending time with their family, from the look on someone’s face or a walk in the park.

Younger people, meanwhile, defined themselves more by extraordinary activities.

14. Become less materialistic

The reason that materialistic people are less happy is that a focus on what you want — and therefore don’t currently have — makes it more difficult to appreciate what you already have.

A study found that materialists also feel less gratitude which, in turn, is associated with lower levels of life satisfaction.

The study quotes the words of Greek philosopher Epicurus, who said:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

By law, all credit cards should have this quote across the front in fluorescent pink.

15. Work on your relationships

Relationships have stronger associations with happiness than academic achievement, according to research.

Whilst strong social relationships in childhood and adolescence are associated with happier adults, the associations with academic achievement were much lower.

It seems that all the education in the world won’t necessarily teach you much about what it means to be happy, in either the emotional or philosophical sense.

Stronger relationships, though, tend to boost happiness.

16. Make concrete goals for happiness

Surprisingly, people are often wrong about the type of goals that will make them happiest.

Research finds that certain concrete goals for happiness work better than abstract goals.

The study found that acts performed in the service of a concrete goal (making someone smile) made the givers themselves feel more happiness than an abstract goal (making someone happy).

By thinking in concrete ways about our goals for happiness, we can minimise the gap between our expectations and what is actually possible.

17. Happiness from mundane moments

Mundane, everyday experiences can provide unexpected joy down the line, new psychological research finds.

In one study, 135 students were asked to create a time capsule at the start of the summer which included:

  • a recent conversation,
  • the last social event they’d attended,
  • an extract from a paper they’d written,
  • and three favourite songs.

At the time, they also predicted how they’d feel about these items when they opened the capsule three months later.

Despite being relatively mundane, the students significantly under-estimated how surprised and curious they would be when they opened it.

The study is a reminder of how we tend to undervalue the happiness we can get from everyday events.

So, why not make a little time capsule today?

18. The six domains of happiness

One theory, put forward by Professor Carol Ryff, suggests there are six domains of human growth important to happiness:

  1. self-acceptance,
  2. the establishment of quality ties to other,
  3. a sense of autonomy in thought and action,
  4. the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values,
  5. the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life,
  6. continued growth and development as a person.

Pay attention to these six domains of happiness — particularly where there is a lack — and do what you can to address them.


What Happiness Feels Like Physically In The Body

The physical sensation of happiness and other emotions revealed by study mapping bodily emotions.

The physical sensation of happiness and other emotions revealed by study mapping bodily emotions.

Unlike thoughts, the emotions don’t live entirely in the mind, they are also associated with bodily or physical sensations.

For example, when we feel nervous, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’.

Thanks to a psychology study, though, we now have a map of the links between bodily emotions and bodily sensations.

Body maps of emotions

Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants and then got them to colour in a body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity (Nummenmaa et al., 2013).

Participants in the study were from both Western European countries like Finland and Sweden and also from East Asia (Taiwan).

Despite the cultural differences, they found remarkable similarities in how people responded.

Here are the body maps for six basic emotions. Yellow indicates the highest level of activity, followed by red. Black is neutral, while blue and light blue indicate lowered and very low activity respectively.

The authors explain:

“Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate.

Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”

What happiness feels like

It’s fascinating that happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig.

Along with the basic emotions, here are the body maps of six more complex emotions:

The stand-out emotion here is love, which only just fails to reach down into the legs, but lights up the rest of the body with activity very successfully.

The three centres of activity are head, heart and err…

The study’s lead author, Lauri Nummenmaa, explained:

“Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states.

This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities.

Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”

Image credit: Body maps courtesy of Aalto University

Authentic Life: How To Be Real By Martin Heidegger

Use philosopher Martin Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy on how to live an authentic life and how to be real.

Use philosopher Martin Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy on how to live an authentic life and how to be real.

Feeling anxious is the price we pay for an authentic life.

So said Martin Heidegger, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century.

Heidegger also thought people should live authentically by accepting death, experimenting with life by exploring all its possibilities and taking responsibility for their actions.

As well as being a philosopher, Heidegger was also a kind of early positive psychologist on how to be real.

Positive psychologists ask how we can live an authentic life by working on our strengths and improving daily experience.

Heidegger believed that becoming better is a choice we make ourselves, which is the first step to authenticity.

Here are six of the main points from Heidegger’s philosophy that bear on how we can live an optimal life.

  1. Be an existentialist.
  2. Live an authentic life.
  3. Avoid the inauthentic.
  4. Anxiety is the price for authenticity.
  5. Escape guilt.
  6. The limits to freedom.

1. Be an existentialist

Martin Heidegger was an existentialist philosopher.

This means he was interested in the meaning of human existence.

He wanted to place the human being at the centre, focusing on our ability to feel, choose and be individuals.

He was reacting against rationalist philosophers like Hegel and Kant who downplayed the importance of thoughts and feelings.

Heidegger said that people and the world in which we live are inseparable.

Without the world, people would not exist and without people, the world would not exist.

He used the word ‘Dasein’, which literally means ‘to be’ (sein) ‘there’ (Da).

Human existence is something special to Heidegger.

We are in a constant state of change: we have to choose what to accept and reject, how to expand and evaluate what is around us.

Human beings choose the nature of their existence.

2. Live an authentic life

Heidegger said it was vital to live an authentic life in order to be real.

An authentic life involves coming to terms with the fact that all of us will one day die.

With that knowledge accepted, we can get on with building meaning in our lives.

An authentic life involves becoming all that we can become.

Martin Heidegger (above)

The certainty of death brings urgency to the search for our individual potential.

We must explore all of life’s possibilities in order to become the most authentic version of ourselves.

An authentic life is exciting.

Here is a quote from Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

That is how to be real.

3. Avoid the inauthentic life

The inauthentic life has pretence at its heart — it is a fake life.

Inauthentic people pretend they are not going to die, which reduces their urgency.

One way of being inauthentic is by living a conventional, traditional life that simply follows society’s rules.

Inauthentic people give up on the freedom that is given to them and let others make their choices.

A sign of an inauthentic individual is often saying things that one doesn’t actually believe or that doesn’t reflect one’s inner feelings.

4. Anxiety is the price for authenticity

One of the main barriers to leading an authentic life is that it provokes anxiety.

The reason is that freedom involves accepting responsibility for one’s actions.

If one is truly free and living an authentic life, one cannot blame genetics, circumstances, parents or anyone else for our choices.

That means that we must take responsibility for our actions.

This is a key problem at the heart of existentialist philosophy: we cannot be truly free without taking responsibility.

To be authentic, for Heidegger, means experimenting with life, trying different things to see what happens.

The unknown creates anxiety, as well as being the path to authenticity — it is the price we have to pay for trying to be real.

5. Escape guilt with an authentic life

Given the anxieties linked to living an authentic life, most people are not fully authentic.

Most people give up at least some of their freedom in order to minimise anxiety.

This generates guilt: the feeling of regret at violating our own standards.

The only way to escape from this guilt is to try and live more authentically.

6. The limits to an authentic life

Although Heidegger believed strongly in personal freedom, he recognised that it had limits.

We are each constrained to some extent by our circumstances, including our upbringing, culture and personal characteristics.

He accepted, then, that anyone cannot become anything they want, however hard they try to be real.

Rather, we can become better, given whatever we start with.

Becoming better is a choice which we make ourselves and this is the first step to authenticity.

Read on…

Find out what these other philosophers had to say about how to be real: