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Research Reveals the Secrets of a Happy Life

Want in on the secret of a happy life? Get cozy with these 15 science-backed tips!

Research Reveals the Secrets of a Happy Life


Looking for the secret to a happy life? Wondering what gets better with age? At what age are people their happiest?

Read on for evidence-backed tips and tricks for a happier life, no matter your age. 

The Pillars of a Happy Life

You may hear the cliche phrase "Happiness is a choice" far more than you'd like. It can seem like a harsh saying when your circumstance is difficult or there are things going on in life that are out of your control. 

A beloved Harry Potter character once said, "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." Often, and the research supports this, happiness is found not in the absence of hardship but when one learns healthy ways to cope. 

The In-Between Times

Between the extremes lives a great potential for happiness. In other words, there are times when we are "happy" and times when we are "sad" that may be getting overlooked. 

Author and renowned traumatologist Paul Valent suggests in his book From Survival to Fulfillment that the struggle of humans is not life and death, but rather life and trauma. Life, he says, will require you to stretch under stress, and learning how to healthily heal can be the key to a happy life. 

What Science Says About Happiness

Science has a lot to say about happiness. Outside of research, happiness is what humans have been looking for in their individual lives since the beginning of time! 

It makes sense that as soon as humans could experiment on measures of happiness, they did. So, what does science say about happiness? 

The research that exists mainly shows three things:

1. Happiness is being adaptable
2. Happiness is achievable regardless of circumstance
3. Happiness begins with you

As cliche as these sayings may be, the science is there to back them. Evidence shows that happiness is an individual pursuit, and true happiness may look different than what you once pictured as the "ideal" situation. 

15 Secrets To Staying Happy 

There are way more than 15 ways to promote happiness in your life, but here are a few secrets to get you started. 

1. Understand What Needs to Be Filled

It may sound silly, but research shows over and over that the meaning of life starts with basic needs being fulfilled. 

If you feel like you have lost your way, try to define your basic needs. These can go beyond food, water, and clothing to more complex needs like connection, passion, and so on. 

2. Start With Self-Care

Self-care has become quite the buzzword lately, but the practice itself holds a lot of truth. As a form of self-fulfillment, self-care can include everything from taking time for work you enjoy to getting a pedicure or reading for leisure.

 Self-care can look different for everyone, so it is important to invest some time into what that might look like for you. 

3. Engage in Meaningful Movement

One uniquely valuable quote from the movie Legally Blonde comes from the beloved character Elle Woods when she says, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't."

It often insights a laugh, but it also holds some deep insights! Exercise, especially when you find an enjoyable method of movement that works for you, can increase the "happy" chemicals in your body. 

Many people say that even though they start a workout not wanting to do it, they often end up happy they got their body moving because of the instant mood boost. 

4. Strike a Work-Life Balance

People often compartmentalize work life and home life, but a balance between the two is what is needed. Often, your work life will blend into your home life, and vice versa.

Research shows that employees granted time off to address home problems not only tend to perform better at work, but they also have higher motivation and job satisfaction. It is important to consider what changes can be made in your workplace or work life to strike a better balance. 

5. Talk to a Therapist

While self-help and self-care can be a great starting point, research shows that therapy interventions are likely to increase happiness. In fact, successful interventions have been shown to improve development, health, and longevity. 

Much of this has to do with identifying behavior patterns and changing them to more productive approaches to the challenges life brings. You do not have to have a mental illness or feel like something is “wrong” to reap the benefits of therapy. 

6. Understand the Science of Happiness

Did you know that your genes can play a role in how happy you feel? According to research, up to 50% of happiness can come from our genetic “set point”, thought of as the metaphorical DNA "cards we were dealt."

Luckily, only 10% of happiness is thought to be linked to life circumstances. It can be empowering to explore the remaining 40% of the power you have to participate in intentional life activities that can boost your happiness. 

That means that even if 60% of what you experience in life is out of your control, you still have a 40% say in making it better!

7. Do Some Good In the World

Science shows over and over again that happiness is good for both you and the world. A ripple effect can occur, and research suggests that serving others can widen your worldview and help level your perspective. 

Seeing others and how they choose to move through difficult situations may illuminate your own way towards a happier life. 

8. Adapt and Adopt

Studies show that the ability to have "grit comes down to three pillars: 

• Perseverance of effort
• Consistency of interest
• Adaptability to situations

Grit is important in those moments when the current circumstances threaten your ability to be happy. Being able to adopt successful behaviors and adapt to life's situations can help you to be happy. 

Remember, happiness isn't he absence of roadblocks but rather the development of muscle to jump over that hurdle with better skill than before. 

9. Develop a Sense of Responsibility

From organizational culture to individual involvement, social responsibility creates a happier life. Social initiatives help people to find meaning and experience life a bit closer to the heart. 

Plus, as mentioned above, corporate social responsibility programs help enhance work-life balance and improve measures of employee happiness. 

10. Savor Life Lessons

A recent study that asked adults to write down valuable lessons they had learned about growing older found that these people had greater positive perceptions of aging. 

Aging is one inevitable circumstance of life, but your perception and intentional acts can create a happier aging environment. 

11. Think Holistic, Whole-Person Health

You don’t want parts of your life to be healthy, right? Instead, strive for improvement of the whole picture. 

In the recent publication The Handbook of Wellness Medicine, authors Tom and Nora Hutchinson share that “Wellness and happiness are products of the relationship of the whole person to life”.

 Instead of viewing health as a byproduct of happiness, begin to embrace the idea that happiness is a byproduct of a healthy life. 

12. Embrace Different Beliefs

It doesn't take a therapist to tell you that beliefs can be stubborn. Challenging negative or unhelpful beliefs that have been internalized over time can seem overwhelming at first, but it can be worth the work and increase happiness. 

How to shake engrained beliefs? Therapy and meditation are shown to be helpful in this effort.

13. Promote a Growth Mindset

Nourishing ideas of abundance and growth can help create a happy view of the future. A growth mindset is defined as a view of happiness that is malleable (or capable of being changed or adaptable).

From health to job satisfaction, a growth mindset can help increase happiness and well-being. 

14. Give Gratitude

Studies show that being grateful can actually make you happier. Who knew? 

Something as simple as saying "thank you" more or writing down three things you are thankful for at the beginning or end of the day can make life more meaningful. Gratitude is a low-cost (or even a free practice) that has the potential to increase well-being. 

15. Be Mindful 

Mindfulness is another word that has been tossed around in today's media. At its core, mindfulness helps nuance your view of happiness. 

In other words, being more mindful can help you understand the details of what makes for a happy life.

The Last Word On the Secrets of a Happy Life

As you can tell, happiness may be made of simple things, but it is a complex thing to understand. In essence, happiness requires creating a space and time in your life to decide what "happy" means for you individually. 

Luckily, research is helping us to better understand the science of happiness along the way. 

References:

Datu JAD, McInerney DM, Zemoitel-Piotrowska M, Hitokoto H, Datu ND. Is Grittiness Next to Happiness? Examining the Association of Triarchic Model of Grit Dimensions with Well-Being Outcomes. J Happiness Stud. 2021;22:981-1009.

Davies J. New Evidence That Therapy Can Make You Happier. NAUTILUS. Published July 1, 2021. https://nautil.us/new-evidence-that-therapy-can-make-you-happier-9833/#:~:text=By%20%E2%80%9Cintervention%2C%E2%80%9D%20the%20researchers,development%2C%20health%2C%20and%20longevity

Dhillon M, Srivastava G. Assessing the effectiveness of gratitude in enhancing happiness: An eastern perspective. Int J Soc Sci Rev. 2019;7(3):381-384. 

Espasandin-Bustelo F. Ganaza-Vargas J. Diaz-Carrion. Employee happiness and corporate social responsibility: the role of organizational culture. Employee Relations. 2021;43(3). 

Gondek MJ. Zamoyska’s Conception of Work as a Method of Self-Fulfillment.International Étienne Gilson Society. Published October 2021.

Hutchinson TA, Hutchinson N. Wellness and whole-person care. The Handbook of Wellness Medicine. Published 2020.

Ienuso JF. Satisfaction with Work-life Balance, Autonomy Need Fulfillment, and Autonomous Motivation Among Full-time U.S. Employees. Grand Canyon University. Published 2020.

Kim J, James JD. Sport and Happiness: Understanding the Relations Among Sport Consumption Activities, Long- and Short-Term Subjective Well-Being, and Psychological Need Fulfillment. J Sport Manag. 2018;33(2):119-132. 

McQuald M. The Scientific Secret to Happiness. Psychology Today. Published November 25, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/functioning-flourishing/202111/the-scientific-secret-happiness.

Smith JL, Bryant FB. Enhancing positive perceptions of aging by savoring life lessons. Aging Ment Health. 2017;23(6):762-770.

Tongeren DRV, Burnette JL. Do you believe happiness can change? An investigation of the relationship between happiness mindsets, well-being, and satisfaction. J Posit Psychol. 2018;13(2):101-109. 

Valent, P. (1998). From Survival to Fulfillment: A Framework for the Life—Trauma Dialectic (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315784533

Ünal, ZM. Will to Live: The Fulfillment of Needs for Meaning and Its Relation to Meaning in Life.  İstanbul Gelişim Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi. 2020;7(2): 364-380.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on July 25, 2022.

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