Feeling a little blue lately? A handful of recent research suggests you’re not alone.
Thankfully, there may be something — or several things — you can do about it.
Researchers have known for decades that certain activities make us feel better, and they’re just beginning to understand what happens in the brain to boost our mood.
A study published in the journal Nature on July 11 found that when people were given the option of spending money on themselves or another person, those who spent it on someone else had more activity in a brain area linked to the subjective feeling of happiness.
Move to Norway.
Ok, moving to Norway might not make you happy, but people who live there are some of the happiest in the world, according to the World Happiness Report, a ranking compiled by an international team of economists, neuroscientists, and statisticians to measure global well-being.
According to the ranking, people in the happiest countries trust their governments and businesses, see themselves as free to make life decisions, and say they have good social support.
Set realistic goals.
If you like to make to-do lists, listen closely: When setting your goals, it’s better to be specific and set goals you know you can achieve. For example, instead of setting a goal like “save the environment,” try to recycle more.
That example was tested on a group of 127 volunteers in a 2014 study. The first group was provided a series of specific goals like “increase recycling,” while the second group had broader goals like “save the environment.” Even though the second group completed the same tasks as the first group, the people in the second group reported feeling less satisfied with themselves than the first group. The people in the second group also reported a lower overall sense of personal happiness from completing their goal, the scientists reported.
Make time for friends.
Spending time with friends may promote greater happiness than spending time with family, at least according to a recent study.
For the study, researchers used an app called the Mappiness app to determine how much happier people were when they were with their friends, parents, and children.
The app sent alerts asking people how happy they felt — on an 11-point scale from “not at all” to “extremely” — throughout the day. By analyzing over 3 million submissions from more than 50,000 volunteers, the researchers discovered that on average, people experienced an 8% increase in happiness when they were with friends, compared to a 1.4% increase with parents, and just a 0.7% increase when they were with their children.
You’ve probably heard that smiling can make you feel happier. But the important thing is that the smile must be sincere. If you fake it, you might make yourself more unhappy, according to a 2011 study.
The study examined a group of city bus drivers over a period of two weeks. They found that employees who put on a fake smile for the job were in a worse mood by the end of the day. But drivers who genuinely smiled as a result of positive thoughts actually reported being in a better mood by the end of the day. So when you smile, make sure to mean it!
It’s one thing to get upset over an injustice you suffered, but it’s another thing to hold on to that emotion long-term. That’s called a grudge, and it can easily consume you.
The reason grudges are bad for your happiness is that the negative emotions associated with those feelings eventually give way to resentment and thoughts of revenge. This leaves little room in your emotional repertoire for anything else, like happiness, according to the Mayo Clinic. What’s more, decades of research have linked the simple act of forgiveness to better overall heart health, less psychological stress, improved physical ability, and longer life.
That’s why it’s always better to forgive and move on than hold a grudge.
A 2004 study suggested that increasing the amount of intercourse you have from once a month to once a week gives the same amount of happiness as receiving an extra $50,000!
But beware: more sex doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness, according to a report published in 2015. The researchers of the latest study found that couples who were asked to have more sex for the study reported that the sex was not enjoyable and did not make them happier.
The researchers therefore concluded that sex will only lead to happiness when a couple is having it for a meaningful reason. The frequency is less important than the purpose behind the act.
Be a realistic optimist.
People who have the positive attitude of optimists paired with the rational outlook of realists tend to be more successful and happy, according to psychologist Sophia Chou.
That’s because so-called “realistic optimists” have the perfect blend of personality types to succeed. Unlike idealists, they are willing to face challenging situations with a clear view of reality, but will use creativity and a positive outlook to try to solve the problem.
Get your hands dirty.
Breathing in the smell of dirt may lift your spirits, according to a study that found that a bacteria commonly found in soil produces effects similar to antidepressant drugs.
The harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, stimulated the release of serotonin in the brain after it was injected into mice. Low levels of serotonin is what causes depression in people.
In a human test, cancer patients reported increases in their quality of life when they were treated with the bacteria.
The findings “leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt,” lead author Chris Lowry of the University of Bristol said in a statement.
Avoid eating lunch at your desk.
Sad desk lunch can be a real downer. Scientists from the University of Sussex measured the happiness of employees after they ate lunch in different locations, and found that people were happiest about their work when they ate lunch on the beach. They were least happy about work when they ate at their desk.
Getting outside in the sun was key to staving off misery — people who ate in parks had a more positive attitude about their jobs than those who chowed down at a restaurant or at home.
Hone your favorite skill.
Working hard to improve a skill or ability, such as learning to drive or solving a math problem, may increase stress in the short-term, but it makes people feel more content in the long run, a 2009 study reported.
“People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well. And what’s striking is that you don’t have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well-being,” co-author Ryan Howell said in a statement.
Be patient — happiness tends to increase with age.
When it comes to happiness, older people seem to know something that the rest of us don’t. A number of studies have found that older people tend to be some of the happiest around.
The reason why, however, is still a mystery to scientists. Chances are, it’s a combination of factors: One study in 2013 suggested that because older people are more experienced, they’re therefore better at dealing with negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Another more recent study suggested the cause could be that older people are more trusting, which comes with a number of healthy psychological benefits that lead to happiness.
Whatever the reason, if you’re not happy right now, you can rest assured that your chances of happiness in the future are good.