The Scientific Pursuit of Happiness

Portrait of a senior man in the backyard at home

The pursuit of happiness is perhaps one of humanity’s oldest goals. There are countless books, articles, podcasts, and documentary films about how to be happy. Still, research on happiness continues. Here’s a few things that science has found out so far:

Happiness can be learned, but we must work at it.

Researchers from the University of Bristol in England found that students enrolled in the “Science of Happiness” class experienced an improvement in their mood over the course of the class. But the boost in wellbeing only stuck around as long as the students continued to practice the evidence-based techniques they learned in class. These techniques included journaling, meditating, practicing gratitude, and exercising regularly.

“It’s like going to the gym—we can’t expect to do one class and be fit forever,” explained Professor Bruce Hood, author of the study. “Just as with physical health, we have to continuously work on our mental health, otherwise the improvements are temporary.”

Happiness doesn’t cost much.

As the saying goes, “Money can’t buy happiness.” It may be tempting to disagree with the adage, especially if your pockets have been empty before. But a study by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology in Barcelona showed that in indigenous communities around the world, people live happy lives with very little monetary resources. Almost 70% of these communities reported no monthly income, but self-reported moods that were better than those of wealthier communities.

“The strong correlation frequently observed between income and life satisfaction is not universal and proves that wealth—as generated by industrialized economies—is not fundamentally required for humans to lead happy lives,” says Victoria Reyes-Garcia, senior author of the study. 

When we give, we get.

When you spread happiness and joy, it comes back around—science proves it! Researchers gave cupcakes to a group of strangers in a park, with the option of keeping the cupcake or giving it away. The people who gave their cupcake away reported a higher increase in mood than the scientists expected—and so did the people who received the random act of kindness.

“It turns out generosity can actually be contagious,” said University of Texas professor and research Amit Kumar. “Receivers of a prosocial act can pay it forward. Kindness can actually spread.”

And speaking of science…

Experiencing awe while thinking about the latest scientific findings or pondering our place in the universe is just as beneficial to our wellbeing as practicing religion. Researchers call it the “spirituality of science” in a study conducted by the University of Warwick in England. So go ahead, experience wonder at the latest images from the space telescope, surprise a friend with a gift, think about all that you are thankful for, and reap the rewards of the science of happiness.

Source: IlluminAge

Categories: Blog Post


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