7 Happiness Habits, backed by science.
Although happiness is a timeless and universal human quest, only in recent years has research turned its focus on how happiness can be sustained and increased. Science has now confirmed that with certain practices we can change the neural pathways of our brain. Happiness is a set of skills we can learn through practice.
The research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with 50% of our happiness level coming from our genes and as much as 40% being accounted for by our intentional daily activities and the choices we make. (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005)
DAILY HABIT # 1: Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment, is increasingly recognized in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings.
The mind is highly trainable through various mindfulness practices like meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness practices in improving psychological well-being continues to grow. There are now nearly 500 scientific studies on mindfulness/meditation and the brain in the National Institute of Health’s PubMed database.
Anyone can stand to benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness — particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterized by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions.
More on the science-backed benefits of Habit 1, Mindfulness, Focus, Mindset:
Developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias – the tendency to cling to the negative things in our environment. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows. In fact, it only takes 21 days of writing down three things you are grateful for every day to begin reaping the benefits. Moral of the story? Count your blessings, daily, it has a measurably positive effect on our well-being.
More on the science-backed benefits of Habit 2, Gratitude, Appreciation, Love:
- Counting your blessings leads to heightened well-being, especially positive mood (See here and here and here and here )
- Gratitude leads to long-term happiness – not only increases positive emotions, but also sustains it (See here)
- Protects you from Stress & Negativity (See here)
- Reduces Materialism (See here) which is a good thing because materialism is linked to less happiness (See here)
- UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center archives on gratitude (See here )
DAILY HABIT # 3: Happiness is good for your health. And vice versa. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.
What’s more, if you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits: Exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, researchers said. People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals.
Taking care of your physical wellness may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.
More on the science-backed benefits of Habit 3, Body Wellness, Motivation, Self-Care:
- Six ways happiness is good for your health from The Greater Good Science Center (See here)
- A review of more than 200 studies found connection between happiness and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease (See Harvard review)
- How Happiness and health are linked, from the Harvard School of Public Health (See here)
- Stress and happiness (See here)
- Happiness and preventive health care (See here)
Research suggests that how we spend our time and resources is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending it on oneself. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”
More on science-backed benefits of Habit 4, Compassion, Giving Back, Altruism:
- Human altruism traces back to the origins of humanity (See here)
- Is Pure Altruism Possible? (See here)
- 3 Reasons Your Happiness is an act of altruism (See here)
- UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center archives on altruism (See here)
DAILY HABIT # 5: When Dr. Brené Brown conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection, a thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. To be clear, vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be your authentic self. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. When you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance to life, people will meet you there in that openness, allowing you to experience true connection.
Forgiveness is a byproduct of living authentically and vulnerably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error but rather a patient encouragement of growth. Practicing forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive, recent research shows that it has tangible benefits for ourselves as well. So the next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own happiness!
More on science-backed benefits Habit 5, Authenticity, Vulnerability, Forgiveness, Letting Go:
- Reduces tension, depression, anger, and stress. It is directly correlated with physical health and a stronger immune system. (See here)
- Emotional benefits of forgiving (See here)
- Improves connectedness and sustains relationships. (See here and here)
- UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center archives on forgiveness (See here)
DAILY HABIT # 6: Our busy lives often leave us stretched for time to connect with others, but science suggests that social connection should be tops on our to-do lists. Dr. Emma Seppala from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) says that when connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health, and even increase immunity and longevity.
Relatedly, happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those we are connected to. Science shows that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. In other words, happiness is contagious! This extends to the 3rd degree of contact (a friend of a friend of a friend).
More on science-backed benefits of Habit 6, Social Connection, Nature Connection, Empathy:
- Finding happiness is not a selfish pursuit, it is actually doing a favor to those around us (See here)
- Our brains are wired for connection to others (See here)
- We thrive when we connect (See here)
- Loneliness can be balanced with connection. You can even learn to be together and connected even when alone (See here)
- Connection helps us overcome stress (See here)
- Infographic on the Top 10 Scientific Benefits of Compassion (See here)
- UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center archives on empathy and compassion (See here and here)
DAILY HABIT # 7: Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. In fact, science has shown that, “The brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.” ~Shawn Achor, Harvard
What’s more, researchers have found that the type of work you do is key: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. As Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar says, “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.” In addition to seeking work imbued with a sense of purpose, scientists have discovered that people thrive in environments where their strengths are emphasized. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state or what famous psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to long-term meaningful goals.
More on the science-backed benefits Habit 7, Meaning, Purpose, Strengths and Soul:
- When we feel positive, our intelligence, creativity, energy levels, resilience and productivity rise. Dopamine, which floods the brain when we are positive, not only makes us happier, but also activates all of the learning centers of our brains. (See here and here)
- Finding a greater sense of meaning and purpose not only allows you to experience and enjoy life more fully, it helps you to live longer. (See here)
- Meaning or Happiness? A debate. (See here)
For a deeper dive into the science, check out our Content Partners at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.