10 science-backed ways to be happier

Smiling, happy woman

Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull shares 10 ways you can intentionally improve your happiness levels.

Do you ever look at someone else’s life and think they have it so much better than you? Or maybe you feel like things often don’t go your way, or that you have very little control over how happy you feel.

It is all too easy to compare our lives to others and get stuck in our heads replaying our own problems, but the truth is that we have far more control over our happiness than we probably realise.

40 per cent of  your happiness is in your control

Research by psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky indicates that when it comes to our happiness, around 50 per cent is controlled by our DNA, a genetic set point, if you like.

Surprisingly, only around 10 per cent of our happiness is influenced by our circumstances such as where we live, whether we are single, married or divorced or our income level.

In fact, research shows once our needs are met, for the likes of food and accommodation, those who have a lot more money and might appear to have life easier, are actually no happier.

Likewise, lottery winners have a ‘happiness high’ for a while but, over time, this can fade, even in a multimillion-dollar house with fancy car and a heated pool.

A staggering 40 per cent of our happiness is controlled by what is referred to as our ‘intentional activity’ – actions we can take ourselves. And the good news is, these often don’t cost money. Actions such as exercising, expressing gratitude, helping others, savouring life’s pleasures or spending time with people who make you feel good, are all examples of happiness-boosting activities.

While the effects will vary from person to person, the takeaway point is that we have more control over our level of happiness than we might think.

Focus on what you can control

We need to stop fighting with the things we can’t control and focus our attention on the things we can.

Also, it is important to remember that when we think about happiness, it is more about experiencing joy, contentment and positive well-being rather than thinking we need to become people who are smiling and positive every minute of the day.

Negative emotions play an important role in our lives and need not be feared. Challenging situations happen, and it is very normal to feel sad and down at times, but how long we stay in these states can be helped.

10 ways to increase your happiness

Here are 10 intentional activities that you can easily apply every day that can help improve both your level of happiness and overall well-being.

  1. Watch light-hearted comedy shows that make you laugh after a tough day.
  2. Organise regular catch-ups with friends or family who make you feel positive and upbeat.
  3. Have walking meetings at work, rather than sitting in a dark boardroom.
  4. Sit down and eat lunch every day away from your computer and mindfully enjoy it.
  5. Start your day with a cup of tea and write down five things you are grateful for, before you open your emails.
  6. If a problem arises, look at the best-case scenario for the outcome rather than just the worst case.
  7. Offer to help in your local community or volunteer.
  8. Give money to charity.
  9. Commit to a minimum of 15 minutes exercise every day, even if it is only a slow pace.
  10. Write a letter to someone who needs cheering up or send some flowers. Or maybe send a card to someone expressing your gratitude for their support – who doesn’t love receiving mail?

What could you try to intentionally improve your happiness?

First published: May 2021


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