Happiness begins from the inside out. You can’t purchase happiness at your local department store, you can’t order it online, and you can’t order it for dessert in a restaurant with a cherry on top. Happiness and other positive emotions play an even more important role in health than previously thought, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine by Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Professor Sheldon Cohen. The study confirms the results in which Cohen and his colleagues found that people who are happy, lively, calm or exhibit other positive emotions are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a common cold virus than those who report few of these emotions.
Try these 6 ways to increase your happiness.
1. Spend more money on experiences and less on material goods. That is, spend your dollars on leisure activities–vacations, adult-education classes, concert tickets–instead of on more “stuff.” Experiences stay with you but possessions break, go out of style and have no emotional connection.
“The problem with many purchases is that they tend to just sit there,” said Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. “They don’t keep on providing varied positive experiences. Hence, many purchases tend to be only quick fixes.”
2. Don’t be afraid to share your money generously. Giving money or gifts strengthens social bonds. Social connections amplify happiness and activate the brain areas associated with receiving rewards.
A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves (despite participants’ prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier). Happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, saw similar results when she asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks.
Trade out many small pleasures for one large one, especially if money is limited. The buzz that comes from a large purchase wears off relatively quickly.
3. Trade out many small pleasures for one large one, especially if money is limited. The buzz that comes from a large purchase wears off relatively quickly. As Ashley convincingly states in her blog,
“Whatever it is, I’ve had a hard time reminding myself that spending money doesn’t make me happy. I think the clothes I buy will make me happier. The storage bins, the throw pillows, perhaps a bottle of nail polish. And while it’s true for a day, it doesn’t bring me real, lasting happiness. It gives me a bit of a happy high.
I have to remind myself that I have four garbage bags full of clothes I’m not wearing. That having less junk and more space in my house makes me happier and is better for the planet and our budget. Marketing and advertising are phenomenally effective on me – I convince myself that purchases can make me happier, thinner, prettier, more successful, and more calm. Here’s the thing: If I am not already working towards those things on my own, no amount of money spent at Target is ever going to make me happier, thinner, prettier, more successful, and more calm.” (1)
4. Delay consumption, prolong anticipation. Looking forward to an event is an enormous primary source of pleasure, even if the event itself disappoints.
Delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later on. (2) A person’s ability to delay gratification relates to other similar skills such as patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation. Delayed gratification leads to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.
5. Happiness is found in the little things. Happiness is often shaped by the “uplifts” of daily life, and unhappiness by the irritations, more than by major life events.
The philosopher Nietzsche, in a rare moment of deep stillness, wrote, “For happiness, how little suffices for happiness!…the least thing precisely, the gentle thing, the lightest thing, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a wink, an eye glance—little maketh up the best happiness. Be still.”
Find the little things that take your breath away and make you feel calm inside. Incorporate more of the wonders of nature into your life and let those enjoyments fill your soul. The memory of a sunset will do you more good than a five star meal.
6. Pay close attention to the happiness of others. Research suggests that the best way to predict how much you’ll derive pleasure from something is to see how much others have enjoyed it.
New research from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego suggests that happiness is influenced not only by the people you know, but by the people they know.
The study showed that happiness spreads through social networks, sort of like a virus, meaning that your happiness could influence the happiness of someone you’ve never even met.
“We have known for a long time that there is a direct relationship between one person’s happiness and another’s,” Fowler tells WebMD.
“But this study shows that indirect relationships also affect happiness. We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends’ happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.” (3)
By enhancing your happiness you are supporting your immune system and the health of your heart.
“People who are usually happy and enthusiastic are less likely to develop heart disease than those who tend to be glum,” Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center wrote in the study in the European Heart Journal.
“Davidson’s team said one possible reason for the link between happiness and heart risk could be that people who are happier tend to have longer periods of rest or relaxation, and may recover more quickly from stressful events and not spend as much time “re-living” them. Their observational study was the first to show an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary heart disease.” (4)
Put these 6 ways to work and you’ll be on your way not only to a happier and healthier heart, but to a more fulfilling life, too.
(2) Carducci, B. J. (2009). “The psychology of personality: Viewpoints, research, and applications.” John Wiley and Sons, p. 443.
- Kac Young , a former television director and producer, has earned a Ph.D. in Natural Health and is a Doctor of both Clinical Hypnotherapy and Naturopathy. She is the author 10 books. Heart Easy is a system of nutritionally sound, delicious meals that promote heart health, long life and taste great. Traditional recipes are turned into heart healthy meals that anyone can make. The health results are outstanding.
While earning her Ph.D. in Natural Health and a Doctorate in Naturopathy, she completed 36 courses in nutrition from Baylor University.
She also earned a doctorate in Clinical Hypnotherapy. Her practice includes, weight control, smoking cessation, behavior modification, stress reduction, past-life regression, meditation training and phobia management. Her books include: “Heart Easy, The Food Lover’s Guide to Heart Healthy Eating,” “Discover Your Spiritual Genius,” “Feng Shui the Easy Way,” “Dancing with the Moon,” “21 Days to the Love of Your Life,” “Gold Mind,” “Cheese Dome Power,” The Path to Fabulous,” “The Quick Guide to Bach Flower Remedies” and “Supreme Healing.”