Why are some people happier than others? Is it money? Possibly. Their personality? Their outlook on life? All good theories, but although man has been searching for the key to happiness for centuries, no one's really thought to leave the search to science -- at least not until very recently.
In the past decade or so, social scientists have been quietly zeroing in on exactly what makes us positively giddy. And it's all finally starting to come together.
Here are the top 10 habits that are scientifically proven to make you happier.
1. Make daily lists/updates of short-term and long-term goals
In 1932, an Austrian psychiatrist named W. Beran Wolfe summed up his life philosophy by saying, “If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.” Turns out, Wolfe was right. This idea of keeping busy, setting goals and committing to them does improve happiness. Find a happy man, and you will find a project.
2. Plan out your meals for the week
While it’s fairly well known that certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can bring you down, your food and mood do share a complex relationship. Unfortunately, scientists haven’t quite identified exactly which are directly correlated with which, especially over the long term. That being said, planning your meals is still an important way to ensure that you’re getting the right mix of micro and macro nutrients to avoid any ill-advised deficiencies.
3. Schedule your vacations two months in advance
Vacations are a great way to kick back, relax and let all the troubles of the world fade away -- at least that’s the idea, right? According to a 2010 study that followed 974 Dutch vacationers, going on a vacation doesn’t improve your happiness at all, at least not after you’ve returned. But the benefit lies in the weeks leading up to your vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for a full eight weeks. So by scheduling vacations -- even minor trips -- often and well in advance, you’ll always be looking forward to your next adventure.
4. Plan out your social activities four days in advance
Okay, it may sound like a bit of a stretch, but planning your social activities in advance will let you better target specific factors that influence happiness. Allow us to explain. Aside from just socializing and nurturing your relationships, you may choose to spend some time with some of your more positive friends or you could plan an activity where you help a friend in need. Nurturing relationships, cultivating optimism and performing acts of kindness have all been linked to improving happiness.
5. Try one new hobby every three months
Hobbies are a great way to lift your spirits. Not only does a new hobby give you a chance to set and commit to goals (a key determinant of happiness), but hobbies also offer the opportunity to make new friends and socialize (another important determinant of happiness). By diversifying your hobbies to include larger social activities and more personal, intimate projects, you’ll be able to address both the external and internal factors that determine happiness.
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6. Take a nap
We all need a little time to unwind, but for many of us, that time doesn’t come until the very end of our day. Unfortunately, that’s just not good enough. Research continues to grow in support of short naps, whether to sharpen the mind or improve your mood. Although timing will always be an issue and napping isn’t always an option, trying to squeeze a short nap into your day, even every other day, will make you a happier man -- unless you're caught sleeping on the job.
7. Unplug to relax
If a quick nap isn’t possible, your next best bet is a mental break. “Unplug” and go for a walk, listen to music, meditate, or try some deep breathing exercises -- anything to give your mind a chance to unwind. Meditation, for example, has been shown in a number of studies to reduce stress. By including some method of relaxation into your daily routine, you’ll be sure to stay refreshed, rejuvenated and revitalized.
8. Get sunlight every day
Even just a few generations ago, our ancestors were outside much of the day, soaking up the sun as they worked the fields. Nowadays, however, the typical working man or woman may see less than 30 minutes of sunlight each day (in the winter). Unfortunately for all of us, there are piles of evidence that point to how the weather affects your mood. In fact, there is an entire disorder relating to the lack of sunlight during the winter, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The good news is that any bright light, not necessarily sunlight, can help to break the spell. Although there’s no definitive rule of thumb, many experts recommend at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight or bright light to help break out of the funk.
9. Have regular sex
As if we needed to tell you, sex makes you happy. But what you may not know is it’s more valuable than, of all things, money in that regard. Back in 2004, after analyzing survey data on 16,000 people, Dartmouth researchers studying the health benefits of sex found that increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week led to an increase in happiness equivalent to that generated by an additional $50,000 in income to the average American. If only there was a way to successfully communicate this information to wives everywhere, huh? It may not be exactly clear whether more sex directly equals more happiness or if happier people just tend to have more sex. Either way, though, it’s hard to imagine many people frowning during the dirty deed.
10. Treat exercise as a non-negotiable
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, fight disease or simply boost happiness, exercise should almost always be on the table. In fact, it might just be the single most important activity to improve your health. It therefore follows that you should treat it as a non-negotiable. Sure, you might skip the gym from time to time, but generally speaking, you should be including both structured (e.g. cardio training) and non-structured (e.g. taking the stairs) activities into your daily routine. In the long run, no pun intended, you’ll thank us -- with a large smile upon your face.