What is the science of living a happy life? If this has been a question on your mind, you’re in luck! We’ve got some answers right here.
If you’re struggling to find happiness and improve your well-being, know that you’re not alone.
Plenty of people find it hard to be happy and don’t feel like they’re living a meaningful life. That doesn’t mean that the happiness you want is out of reach!
Let’s discuss the science behind your smile. We’re going to cover some brain chemistry, and tips for boosting your happiness. By the time we’re done, you’ll understand the science of living a happy life!
Is There A Science To Being Happy?
There is a scientific way to understand how our brains and bodies work to make us happy.
It all comes down to brain chemistry and the way our brains create emotions. When we experience positive emotions, it’s because our brains are releasing chemicals that make us feel good.
These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters work by sending messages between our brain cells. These messages tell our brain cells what to do, and they can affect our mood.
The Happiness Chemicals
There are four main happy chemicals that affect our mood and make us feel good. You can easily remember them with the acronym “dose”: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Each of these chemicals serves a unique purpose when it comes to feeling happy. Once you know about them, it’s possible to “hack” them, i.e. make small changes to boost your happiness.
We’ll discuss the happy chemicals below.
Dopamine is the brain’s “reward chemical.”
When you experience something pleasurable, dopamine is produced. Some stimuli that result in dopamine include getting a massage, listening to engaging music, and checking off an item on your to-do list.
Once dopamine is released, it sends a message to your brain that says, “This feels good! Do it again!”
This is why activities that result in dopamine make us feel happy and can even be addictive.
Oxytocin is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.”
Oxytocin is the hormone associated with love, intimacy, and close relationships. When you hug someone or experience any other physical touch, oxytocin is released.
This hormone makes us feel good and can even help reduce stress.
Serotonin is the “mood stabilizer.”
Serotonin is a hormone that helps regulate mood, sleep, appetite, and digestion.
A lack of serotonin is linked to depression. This is why many antidepressants work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.
Endorphins are sometimes called the “pain killer.”
Endorphins are released in response to pain or stress. They work by numbing the pain signals that are sent to the brain.
In addition to numbing pain, endorphins also produce a feeling of euphoria. This is why some people enjoy running or working out (for a “runner’s high“) even though it causes them physical pain.
Happiness Is A Habit
So, now you know a little about the chemicals responsible for making you happy.
You’re one step closer to understanding the science of living a happy life.
The next step involves building healthy habits that lead to more happiness.
Psychological Science-Backed Ways To Boost Your Happiness
To build habits that promote healthy practices, you need to address your physical health as well as your mental health. We know that can be difficult for a lot of people, which is why we’ve prepared this useful list.
The points on this list come from three highly influential professors in the field of psychology.
Professor Laurie Santos lectures psychology at Yale University and created the most popular classes in the history of the campus.
One of her most popular classes, ‘The Science of Well-Being,’ (now available here on Coursera as a free online course,) offers practical steps to improve your quality of life.
Dr. Elizabeth Dunn is a Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Dunn explores how time, money, and technology influence happiness.
Dr. Catherine A. Sanderson is Professor and Chair of Psychology at Amherst College. Her online course, ‘Positive Psychology – The Science of Happiness,’ discusses the ways that various factors of life influence happiness.
Let’s discuss the insights of these happiness experts. These are important for integrating positivity into your life!
So, without further ado, here is some of the latest science of living a happy life.
1. Beware The G.I. Joe Fallacy
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Knowing is half the battle”?
This originates from G.I. Joe, a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. G.I. Joe’s belief that “knowing is half the battle” was iconic but misguided.
As a fan of the show, Professor Laurie Santos named this fallacy after the character who popularized it. And it’s not an understatement to say that it’s popular, even if people don’t know where it comes from.
The idea that knowing how to do something is the same as being able to do it is false. In her Yale University course, she shows students the famous Müller-Lyer illusion.
The illusion shows two lines with arrowheads on either end that face inwards and outwards, respectively, on the two lines. While one line appears shorter, the two lines are actually the same length.
As Professor Santos points out, knowing that the lines are identical in length doesn’t stop our brains from seeing them as different.
She concludes that if you believe that “knowing is half the battle,” you’re setting yourself up to fail.
How can this impact our happiness? Well, knowing about a bias isn’t enough to overcome it.
Do you know that what you’re doing is wrong, but can’t seem to stop? A good example is wanting to quit smoking. Get help on board to lead a happier life. Sometimes, knowing isn’t enough, and you need an external positive influence.
You need to take action to move toward a happier life! Happiness is a habit that requires effort, attention, and consistency.
2. Take Care Of Your Body
It’s no secret that taking care of your body can have a positive impact on your overall happiness. Eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are all important factors in maintaining a healthy mind and body.
When you eat healthy foods, your mind and body get the nutrients they need to function properly. According to a recent study, a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants reduces the risk of depression.
Exercise is another important factor in keeping your mind and body happy. Exercising has many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure.
For mild to moderate depression, research shows that a half hour of physical activity is as effective as taking antidepressants. Exercise also releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.
Getting enough sleep is also crucial for overall health and happiness. Lack of sleep can lead to irritability, anxiety, and depression. It can also negatively impact work performance, memory, and immune function.
Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night by practicing good sleep hygiene. Professor Santos recommends banning your phone from your bedroom, dedicating your bedroom to sleep, and practicing a pre-sleep ritual.
By building routines that address your body’s needs, your body will take care of your needs in return. This isn’t some sneaky trick or life hack.
Rather, it’s how our bodies are designed to work.
3. Rewire Your Brain For Gratitude
If you want to live a good life, you have to improve your sense of well-being. Both Professors Santos and Sanderson recommend training your brain to focus on gratitude to improve your well-being.
Both offer methods you can use to rewire your brain to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude.
Professor Santos recommends starting a gratitude journal. The idea is to make you more mindful. This way, you can be happy with what you have.
When you find, remember, or recognize something you feel gratitude for, write it down. When you’re in a bad headspace, go back through the journal and read about all the things you appreciate.
Professor Sanderson suggests you partake in what she calls a ‘gratitude visit.’
This visit has you meeting up with someone from your past who improved your well-being. When you see them, tell them how grateful you are for how they made your life better.
Apart from making their day, gratitude visits put things into perspective and help you appreciate what you have even more.
Using these ideas, you’ll start to notice how much you have to be grateful for in your life and find that cultivating gratitude is one of the best tools for achieving happiness.
4. How You Show Kindness Can Lead To Greater Happiness
It won’t come as a shock to learn that giving to charity and helping others makes you feel good. Professor Dunn’s research has found that people who spend money on others are happier than when they spend money on themselves.
But Professor Dunn says that if you want to enjoy helping others, how you choose to do it matters.
There are three key ingredients to experiencing joy from giving: feeling connected, seeing the impact of one’s actions, and having a choice in whether or not to give.
Not everyone experiences happiness when donating money. It can feel impersonal, forced, or without a clear impact. For her friend, happiness came from starting an outreach program in a stigmatized low-income neighborhood.
In other words, we’re all capable of experiencing joy from the act of giving, but how we help others determines the amount of enjoyment we receive from doing it. You can watch her TED Talk here.
5. Don’t Fall Victim To Hedonic Adaptation
When you experience something, your mind eventually begins to get used to it and returns to a normal mood.
That’s a natural coping mechanism, but it can cause issues in the long term. Unfortunately, this phenomenon, called hedonic adaptation, applies to both the positive and negative things in our lives.
Hedonic adaptation causes people to seek out positive stimuli that they think will last longer, like a bigger house or a better job.
Professor Santos says that this reaction won’t result in more happiness. She recommends that we create routines and processes that prevent hedonic adaptation, rather than perpetuate it.
These routines and strategies help us savor our positive experiences so that we continue to enjoy their benefits.
The first strategy to build the habit of savoring is to tell others about your experience. By consciously thinking about the experience and explaining it, you absorb and internalize it.
The second strategy is to improve the experience by sharing your enjoyment with someone else. This involves physically displaying your excitement or enjoyment with them. This helps you feel and express your reactions, which helps you remember the experience.
These expressions help you to savor the experience, which helps the positive effects of it to last longer in your mind.
6. Avoid Comparing Your Progress And Success To Others
In the world of social media and online personalities, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one not managing.
Social media can harm your mental health because of misconceptions like this.
Professor Sanderson says that the lives of people are often a lot messier than carefully curated posts suggest. People often choose to share happy or positive moments rather than negative ones.
Nobody’s perfect, and it’s important to keep that in mind when thinking about your imperfections. It’s a lot easier to learn to love yourself when you aren’t setting unrealistic expectations.
Don’t buy into the myth that other people’s lives are perfect, and don’t feel bad if you don’t measure up. Work at your own pace, and set your goals according to your own life.
It’s important to remember that simply making progress is a step to success. Don’t set your expectations so high that you can’t hope to reach them.
Start with simple things, and take pride in your small wins along the way.
7. Strengthen Your Social Connections
Your relationships are one of the most important things to consider when practicing the science of living a happy life. The people around you have a massive influence on your experiences and mood. Therefore, for your well-being, make sure you’re choosing good people.
According to Professor Sanderson, a small number of high-quality friendships matters more than having a lot of connections.
That’s not to say that we all need to rethink our relationships with people and lower the number of friends we have. Instead, it’s important to make sure that we cultivate our relationships with those closest to us.
Make an effort to spend more time with your loved ones. There’s no need to go out and buy them expensive gifts or take them on grandiose vacations. You can show them you care by making time for them in your schedule, being present when you’re with them, and being there for them when they need you.
If you don’t have many close friends or family members, read this post about how to make friends as an introvert. Join a club or group that shares your interests, volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, or simply strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know very well.
Taking the time to invest in your relationships will pay off in the long run. Good relationships make us happier and healthier, so it’s well worth the effort.
The science of living a happy life isn’t easy, and it isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems.
But, the science of living a happy life does help you map out and navigate an overwhelming (and poorly signposted) world and find ways to increase your own happiness.
If you found the science of living a happy life useful, take a look at other articles from a little dose of happy. Our goal is to help you add a little dose of happiness to your day, every day.