Happiness is one of those concepts we all seem to love to learn more about, but we are unwilling to take any big steps to increase it in our own lives. Some experts claim happiness can be found in a particular herb or a special diet, but there's little research to back up those claims.
What scientific research into happiness has shown us is that it can be increased in many different ways -- but you won't find the answer from a pill. Before you begin, you have to keep in mind that you control only about half of your happiness level. The other half is set by genetics, the situation and the environment.
1. Take a break from the material world.
While Madonna might worry that she's living in a material world, that's a choice open to all of us. Psychological research suggests that money won't buy you happiness. Once you obtain enough money to pay your bills, afford some shelter and transportation, you're pretty much set. The only two exceptions is if you give money away, or if it significantly improves your social rank. People who give money away appear to sustain greater levels of happiness over time than those who don't.
2. Your relationships go a long way to helping you be happy.
This isn't going to help you much if you're single, but if you're married, your relationship is a key component to your happiness level. Research has shown that strong social connections with others are important to our own happiness -- the more of these you have, the happier you will be. And while marriage is significantly correlated with increased happiness, it has to be a strong, healthy marriage in order for that to be true.
3. Trying to enjoy yourself will result in your least amount of enjoyment.
According to research carried out by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues, you're least likely to be happy when you're working at trying to be happy. Happiness occurs naturally, usually without much conscious effort. It's a side effect of living a balanced life -- giving time to your home life, your work or school life, and your hobbies and activities you enjoy doing. One of the other interesting findings from this research -- watching TV is one of the most soul-sucking and depressing activities most of us engage in. Goal-focused activities tend to increase our enjoyment levels of life.
4. Being a giving person and having gratitude matter.
Selfless people tend to be happier people. This is partially because of tip No. 1, but also because when you're focused on helping out others, you don't spend as much time evaluating and criticizing your own life or circumstances. Research has also shown that being grateful for everything you have in your life -- whether it be your health, your friends, your family, your significant other, a job, really just about anything -- helps you become a happier person. We can only speculate as to why, but it may be because gratitude reminds us of all the things that are good about our lives (since we too often only focus on what's wrong).
5. Focus on experiences, not stuff.
People who spend their time and money on doing things together -- whether it be taking a vacation to someplace other than home or going on an all-day outing to the local zoo -- report higher levels of happiness than those who buy a bigger house, a more expensive car, or more stuff. That's likely because our memories keep an emotional photograph of the experience, whereas the material things don't make as big an emotional imprint in our brains. So ditch buying so much stuff for yourself or your kids -- you're only buying artificial, temporary happiness.
Other tips to happiness include following your passion, finding your purpose and engaging with people in your life. And remember, a healthy body complements a healthy mind. Even simple exercise can help boost a person's mood, if only for a short while.
What has worked for you to help make your life more fulfilling and happier? Share in the comments below.