The secret to joy is simpler than you might think -- and it requires nothing more than an intention to be happy. Simply trying to be happy can actually boost your well-being, according to two experimental studies recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.
Researchers Yuna L. Ferguson of Knox College and Kennon M. Sheldon of the University of Missouri found in two experiments that you can actually think your way to bliss.
In the first experiment, 167 college students listened to Copland's "Rodeo," which is considered "happy" music. They were divided up into two groups: One was instructed to make a conscious effort to feel happier, while the other group was "asked to avoid exerting a conscious effort to increase their mood and to relax and passively observe their natural reactions instead," researchers wrote in the study.
Researchers found that the study participants who were instructed to try to feel happy, in addition to listening to the happy music, experienced the most elevated moods after listening to the music.
'This demonstrates that the combination of intentions and proper method is important in raising positive mood," they wrote in the study.
The second experiment took place over a longer period of time, and involved having 68 college students listen to various types of "positive" music over the course of two weeks. Similar to the first experiment, researchers split the participants into two groups: one was told to focus on being happier while the other wasn't told to make a decided effort to try to be happier. Again, the group of people told to focus on making themselves happier reported greater boosts in well-being than those who weren't given such instructions.
Trying to be happy, the research suggests, could be an effective way to achieve the numerous health benefits that come with greater well-being and a more positive life outlook. Happiness has been associated with improved physical and mental health, greater relationship satisfaction, lower rates of disease and increased longevity.
Conversely, sustained anger and other negative emotions can take a significant toll on physical and mental health. A 2012 University of Granada study found that a pessimistic or fatalistic attitude toward the past, present or future is associated with lower quality of life and a more negative perception of a person's own health.
But the researchers also found that good intentions alone are not enough to boost happiness -- they must be supported by other activities that support positive well-being. Couple your desire for happiness with research-backed positivity-boosters like exercise, sleep and social interaction to elevate your mood and improve your outlook on life.
"While we may not be able to change our genetic makeup or specific life circumstances," the study's authors conclude, "we may be able to direct our intentional behavior in such ways that are beneficial to our well-being."