TIME psychology

Here Are 7 Things That Will Make You Happier in 7 Seconds, According to Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Take a nap. Studies show we can process negative thoughts just fine when we’re exhausted — but not the happy ones.
  • Hug someone. Corny? Maybe. But it works.
  • Work on a hard problem that makes you think. Studies show if your brain is dedicated to a mental chore, it can’t bother you as much with distressing emotions.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Life-Changing Lessons on How to Be Happy

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Start by smiling

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What makes us happy? Thirteen happiness experts, including psychologists, researchers, monks, and the inimitable Malcolm Gladwell, try to shed light on this surprisingly difficult question in a series of TED Talks about happiness.

Over and over, the same two themes emerge. First, we’re usually wrong about what will make us happy—or unhappy, for that matter. For example, research has demonstrated that people who win the lottery are no happier about that event one year later than if they’d lost the use of their legs instead. And second, happiness is largely a matter of choice. Which is good news, because it means we can pretty much all be happier if we want to be.

How can we make this happen? Here’s some of what the TED speakers advise:

1. Don’t expect happiness to be one-size-fits-all.

In a fascinating bit of product history, Gladwell recounts how the food industry discovered to its astonishment that some people like chunky tomato sauce. And what that discovery means in a broader context–that what makes me happy won’t necessarily do it for you, and vice versa.

2. Stop chasing things like success, fame, and money.

Or at least, keep chasing them but don’t expect them to make you substantially happier than you are right now. As psychologist Dan Gilbert explains, our brains have a defense mechanism that’s hard-wired to make us happy with the lives we have, whatever those may be. Even Pete Best, a drummer best known for getting fired by the Beatles just before they hit it big, now says he wouldn’t want it any other way.

3. Keep challenging yourself.

If you love your work, you’re good at it, and you’ve been doing it for a while, you probably have experienced “flow,” that state where you get so lost in what you’re doing that you forget yourself and everything else. That state of flow is where true happiness lies, says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and we can also find it when doing something creative, or even something recreational. But only so long as we keep challenging ourselves. Boredom is the opposite of flow.

4. Be generous.

Connecting with other people and feeling part of something larger than ourselves takes us a long way toward happiness. Social scientist Michael Norton recounts a fascinating experiment that proves–contrary to popular belief–that money can buy happiness, so long as you spend it on someone other than yourself. Not only will you have made someone else happy, you’ll have made yourself happy too, a happiness buy-one-get-one-free special.

5. Be grateful.

We tend to expect that being happy will make us feel grateful, but actually it’s the other way around, explains Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast–being grateful is what will make us feel happy. And gratitude is a choice, he says. How can we remember to be grateful? By reminding ourselves of all the gifts in our lives. Even something so simple as a water faucet was a true occasion for gratitude for Steindl-Rast after a stint in Africa where drinking water was scarce. When in time it started to seem ordinary again, he put a sticker on the faucet to remind himself what a wonderful thing it was.

6. Train your mind.

The way to do this is by meditating on compassion, says Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. It takes time, he says, but it’s worth doing. Brain scans show that monks who are practiced at such meditation show happiness activity in their brains that is “off the charts” compared with everyone else.

Though he doesn’t mention it, Ricard himself is the poster child for this approach. According to Google’s happiness guru Chade-Meng Tan, Ricard’s own brain scans show him to be the happiest person on the planet.

7. Smile!

It sounds too simple to be true, but research actually shows that if you smile, you’ll have better health, a better marriage and other relationships, and increased life expectancy, says HealthTap founder Ron Gutman. So if you haven’t smiled yet today, what are you waiting for?

8. Tell the truth.

In a highly personal talk, The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler recounts the epidemic of worldwide violence against women she learned about as a result of her hit show. For a while, these stories threatened to overwhelm her. But then she found herself at the head of a movement to end that violence and give young girls in Africa a refuge from violence she herself had lacked as a child.

And then she says, she learned, “this really simple thing, which is that happiness exists in action; it exists in telling the truth…and giving away what you want the most.” That’s the kind of happiness all of us can reach for.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

TIME Research

See How What Makes Us Happy Has Changed Over the Past 80 Years

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These days we consider good humor and leisure time to be crucial to our happiness

Psychologists from the University of Bolton in the U.K. have re-created a famous study conducted in the same town almost eight decades ago that sought to find out what made people happy.

In 1938, an advert was placed in the local paper asking readers “What is happiness?” reports Science Daily. After rating the importance of 10 factors from 226 people, researchers found that people believed security, knowledge and religion were the most important aspects of happiness.

Last year, Sandie McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson repeated the social experiment and found that while security was still in the top three, good humor and leisure came in poll position.

Meanwhile, religion, which was the third most important factor in 1938, has fallen to the bottom of the current list. In 1938, most people said they were happiest at home in Bolton, whereas today 63% said they were happier away from the town.

One factor that hasn’t changed, though, is the importance people place on luck — 40% believed good fortune was vital to their happiness both back then and in 2014. And in both eras, most people said they didn’t think happiness was related to material possessions and wealth.

“The overall impression from the correspondence in 1938 is that happiness factors were rooted in everyday lives at home and within the community,” said McHugh. “In 2014, many comments value family and friends, with good humor and leisure time also ranked highly.”

[Science Daily]

Read next: 7 Easy Happiness Boosters According to Harvard Research

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TIME psychology

2 Secrets to Making Your Happiest Moments Even Happier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Our happiest moments are made better when:

1) We share them with others and,

2) They respond supportively.

In a series of five studies we examined the relationship between sharing positive experiences and positive affect using a diary method (Study 1) and laboratory manipulations (Studies 2 and 3). All of these studies demonstrated that sharing the positive experience heightened its impact on positive affect. In Study 4, we conducted a four-week journal study in which the experimental participants kept a journal of grateful experiences and shared them with a partner twice a week. Control participants either kept a journal of grateful experience (without sharing), or kept a journal of class learnings and shared it with a partner. Those who shared their positive experiences increased in positive affect, happiness, and life satisfaction over the course of four weeks. Study 5 showed that those who received an “active-constructive” response to good news (enthusiastic support) expressed more positive affect than participants in all other conditions, indicating that the response of the listener is important. In sum, our findings suggest that positive affect, happiness, and life satisfaction reach a peak only when participants share their positive experiences and when the relationship partner provides an active-constructive response.

Source: “A boost of positive affect: The perks of sharing positive experiences” from Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

Want to be happier? One of the most thoroughly tested ways is to keep a gratitude journal. You might be able to amplify that by incorporating the above. Twice a week, share your journal with others.

Want to help your friends be happier? First, don’t be a conversational narcissist. And here’s how to respond to their good news supportively.

Join over 180,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

The 8 Things The Happiest People Do Every Day

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

7 Easy Happiness Boosters According to Harvard Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Highlights from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage:

“Each activity listed below not only gives us a quick boost of positive emotions, improving our performance and focus in the moment; but if performed habitually over time, each has been shown to help permanently raise our happiness baseline…”

1) Meditate

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out. While you do so, try to remain patient. If you find your mind drifting, just slowly bring it back to focus. Meditation takes practice, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness interventions. Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.”

2) Find Something to Look Forward To

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.”

3) Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.”

4) Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory… studies have shown that the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are.”

5) Exercise

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“After four months, all three groups experienced similar improvements in happiness. The very fact that exercise proved just as helpful as anti-depressants is remarkable, but the story doesn’t end here. The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!”

6) Spend Money (but not on stuff)

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

7) Exercise a Signature Strength

Via The Happiness Advantage:

“When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full six months later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Simple Ways to Increase Your Happiness at Work

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Happiness at work can come from a number of things — both in and out of the office

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Question: What is one simple practice I can adopt to be happier at work?

Leave the Office

“There are ample opportunities to get up and go for a quick walk throughout the day. Disagree? Then you need to learn to delegate. If you have a scheduled call that doesn’t require you to be on a computer, plug in your headphones and take the call while walking around the block. There is also an Internet hotspot about every 15 feet; you might give them a try from time to time.” — Adam Callinan, Beachwood Ventures

Form Morning Rituals

“In the morning, do you get on top of the day or does it get on top of you? Solid morning rituals can help ensure you get on the right track — and stay there. I meditate, exercise, have a healthy breakfast and write out the things I’m grateful for all before I get into the office. I find that these rituals center me and help keep a smile on my face for the entire day.” — Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central

Incorporate Family

“Whether it is working with family or doing activities with employees and their families, this is something that shows that each person is a member of a family working together. Also, it will make people more comfortable and therefore, more productive.” — Bryan Silverman, InStall Media

Think About Your Team

“Thinking about the members of my team makes me happy. These are the people I enjoy working with who are really motivated, recognize problems and opportunities and take action. I just try to remember each and every one of them and how grateful I am to have them in my life. I also think of our customers as individuals and how grateful I am to have these great people in my life.” — Dan Price, Gravity Payments

Meditate

“Meditation is a key tool I use to work happy, and there are so many benefits of a daily meditation practice. In its simplest form, it’s about taking a minute to close your eyes, tune into your body and focus on your breath. Even Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll incorporated meditation into training leading up to the Super Bowl. And you know how that game turned out…” — Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

Outsource

“Figure out the things that are sucking time and making you miserable, and find a way to outsource them. Whether you hire support staff or outsource to freelancers, figuring out what you like to do and focusing on those things will make you infinitely happier and more productive!” — Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean

Be Grateful

“Say “thank you” every day to your staff, your partner and your family. Show gratitude and appreciate what you have.” — Joe Apfelbaum, Ajax Union

Try Improv

“For the past few years, I’ve been sneaking off to musty classrooms and tiny theaters to learn and perform improv comedy. Initially, I started this as a fun hobby, but it’s turned out to have an enormous impact on the way I work. It taught me tricks such as “Yes, and,” along with the importance of stating the obvious. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to be happier and have more fun at work.” — Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

Keep Your Team Happy

“Don’t be caught up in the traditional 9 to 5. It’s okay to have your staff start at 10 a.m. on certain days or end early on Friday. Reward yourself and your team for hard work with small perks. Keeping a happy team keeps you happier at work and makes working long days worthwhile. ” — Amanda L. Barbara, Pubslush

Learn Every Day

“Work can get mundane when you’re doing the same thing day in and day out. An easy way to make work more engaging is to learn new things as you contribute to the company. Grow your mind as you help your company grow. Don’t be afraid to be open with your employer about learning. Bosses love employees who want to build skills, and many of them will bring you into the fold if you show promise.” — Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

Take It One Day at a Time

“Take it one day at a time. Each day has its own problems, so why stress about tomorrow?” — Alfredo Atanacio, Uassist.ME

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Switzerland

This Country Has the World’s Happiest People

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Dale Reubin—Getty Images/Cultura RF View of mountains and lakeside village, Switzerland

Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom and the economy all play a role in happiness

The happiest people in the world live in Switzerland, a new study found.

The third World Happiness Report, released by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Thursday, ranked 158 countries based on Gallup surveys from 2012-15 and analyzed the key factors contributing to happiness levels.

Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada were the top five happiest countries, while the West African nation of Togo was the least happy.

The report aims to provide policymakers around the world with new metrics that place a higher emphasis on subjective well-being. While income appeared to play a significant role in boosting happiness—the GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the 10 happiest countries than in the 10 least happy—it was far from the only factor. Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom, generosity and corruption levels also helped explain the happiness scores, according to the report.

The U.S., for example, ranked 15th in the world, one below Mexico and three below Costa Rica, where per capita GDP is roughly a fifth of that in the U.S.

“This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement. “It’s not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health.”

But sharp economic changes in a country can play a role in people’s happiness, the report found. Greece, where the global recession triggered prolonged economic turmoil, saw its happiness levels fall the most since 2005-07, compared to 125 other countries where data was available.

Still, the report warned policymakers against overemphasizing income levels.

“When countries pursue GDP in a lopsided manner, forgetting about social and environmental objectives, the results can be adverse for human well-being,” the report said. “Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of the sharply rising inequalities of income and grave damage to the natural environment.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

The Smell of Your Sweat Can Make Other People Happy

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Another reason happiness might be contagious

People seem to be able to send happy vibes through their sweat, according to a new study in Psychological Science. The study found that women showed more signs of happiness when they sniffed sweat made by happy men than when they smelled sweat generated by men in a neutral emotional state.

“Being exposed to sweat produced under happiness induces a simulacrum of happiness in receivers, and induces a contagion of the emotional state,” said study author Gün Semin, a professor at Utrecht University, in a statement. “Somebody who is happy will infuse others in their vicinity with happiness.”

MORE: What Pheromones Really Reveal About Your Love Life

Determining how sweat affects the happiness of the people who smell it required some unusual experiments. Researchers showed film clips to a group of 12 men that inspired either fear or happiness. A control group of men was shown neutral scenes. After screening the clips, researchers collected sweat samples from the men by placing pads in their armpits and asked 36 women to smell a vial with the scent of the pads. Researchers measured the facial expression prompted by each sweat sample. Women smiled more when they smelled the sweat of happy men than sweat made after men watched a neutral video clip.

The study is small and more research is needed. Previous research has shown that chemosignaling—or conveying emotion through smell—can inspire negative emotions in others, but these findings show that smells might be able to inspire happy emotions, too.

Read next: 6 Signs You’re Not Working Out Hard Enough

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TIME Careers & Workplace

This Simple Exercise Will Make Sure You Spend Time on What Makes You Happy

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Here's a simple three-step solution

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Wake up. Go to work. Stay a little late. Come home. Make dinner. Go to bed. Do it all over again.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Before you know it, a week has passed, the month ends, the year is over, and you haven’t done a thing that mattered to you. Somehow, you managed to be busy and bored all at the same time.

So, how do you break the cycle? Is there a way to actually spend time on what makes you happy—to separate the urgent from the important?

Marika Reuling, chief of staff at Harvard University, might have a simple three-step solution.

Step 1: Start a Life Audit

At the 2015 Greater Boston Women in Leadership Symposium, Reuling spoke about completing a life audit once or twice a year to help her reevaluate how she spends and prioritizes her time. To get started, you’ll need a bunch of sticky notes, a pen, a blank wall or floor, and privacy. You should probably turn your phone off, too.

A life audit, as serious as it sounds, is simply the process of writing down every tangible goal or vague ambition, both professional and personal, on a Post-it note and sticking it on a blank wall. Ximena Vengoechea, after completing her own life audit, suggests shooting for at least 100 wishes for yourself.

Step 2: Define Your Vision

From there, try to place each of your goals into a bucket: travel, health, family, career, and more. Whatever theme comes up can have its own bucket. Move the sticky notes around until they’re all under the right theme, and consider whether these themes capture what you want your career and life trajectory to be. Continue adding more sticky notes, if necessary.

What you have in front of you now are guidelines for how to spend your time in a way that’s rewarding for you. For Reuling, this step helped her realize she needed something in her professional life that allowed for more artistry. Now, not only does she help manage resources and staff at Harvard, she co-runs a vineyard with her husband in Sonoma Valley, California.

Step 3: Design Your Day

Now that you have your guidelines, plot your day around these goals. Mark each note with an “S” for short term, an “L” for long term, or an “E” for every day. From there, you can decide how to work toward your short and long term goals. This is where you want to get specific. Set weekly or monthly goals and be exact about the time you hope to spend.

Reuling suggests using the Timely app (or something similar) to help you plan and keep track of how you’re spending your time. If you’re having trouble figuring out where you can actually fit more into your day, consider doing a time audit to see where you’re spending all your time and whether it makes sense or not.

Working toward a hundred goals big and small may sound like a daunting task—and it is, but no one ever said you had to do it alone. As Reuling concludes, “Think about your team, both at work and at home.” No one ever found success on their own, so don’t forget to lean on others as you try to break the cycle and refocus your goals.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to give up the uniquely American institution of the network anchorman.

By Frank Rich in New York magazine

2. On Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, her “spiritual endowment” endures.

By Wynton Marsalis in Time

3. How to save crowdfunding from scammers and flakes.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. Here’s how Putin could lose power.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

5. What if the secret to racial harmony is more uplifting internet videos?

By Katie Jacobs at Penn State News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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