TIME health

10 Science-Proven Ways to Be Happier

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Science continues to find ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of happiness into our lives

We never get tired of thinking about happiness, do we? Life is so much nicer when you’re able to couple it with joy and gratitude.

We’ve published posts before about simple ways to be happy and retraining your brain for more gratitude, and Buffer’s CEO Joel has even shared his own daily to-do list for happiness. (There’s also our popular list of things to stop doing to be happier.)

Meanwhile, science continues to study happiness, finding ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of this elusive quality into our lives.

I love keeping an eye on these studies, and thought I would share the latest batch with you here to see if any of them might resonate with you and make you just a bit happier.

Here are 10 truly unique ways to be happier that you can start today!

1. Do cultural activities

Need a boost of joy? Trying seeing a play or heading to a museum.

A study that collected data on the activities, mood and health of 50,000 adults in Norway found that people who participated in more cultural activities reported higher happiness levels and lower anxiety and depression.

“Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders,” the researchers write.

Curiously, men saw stronger benefits from receptive, or passive, cultural activities (like visiting museums, art exhibitions, concerts or theaters) while women more enjoyed active participation events (like club meetings, singing, outdoor activities and dance).

2. Keep a diary: Rereading it brings joy

To learn to find more gratitude and joy in every day—not just special occasions, the boring days, too—try keeping a diary and re-reading it from time to time.

Researchers who did a variety of experiments involving keeping a journal discovered that “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time” as participants rediscovered them through their older writings.

In other words, simply writing down our ordinary, regular-day experiences is a way of banking up some happiness down the line, when the activities we describe could bring us unexpected joy.

3. Make small talk with a stranger

Chatting up your barista or cashier? Good for your health!

Behavioral scientists gave a group of Chicago train commuters a $5 Starbucks gift card in exchange for striking up a conversation with a stranger during their ride. (While another group kept to themselves.)

Those who started conversations reported a more positive experience than those who had stayed quiet—even though they had predicted they would feel happier being solitary.

Another study saw similar results from giving Starbucks visitors a $5 gift card in exchange for having a “genuine interaction with the cashier.”

It seems that connecting with another person—no matter how briefly—increases our happiness.

4. But have meaningful conversations, too

While positive small talk is great, more substantial conversations could up our happiness quotient even higher.

A study that tracked the conversations of 80 people for 4 days found that, in keeping with the small-talk study, higher well-being is associated with spending less time alone and more time talking to others.

But researchers also discovered that even higher well-being was associated with having less small talk and more substantive conversations.

“Together, the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial,” the researchers write.

So dive deep in your conversations with friends and loved ones—it’s great for you.

5. Live in the suburbs and get involved

This one seems to apply to the U.S. A. only, but I still found it quite interesting.

I would have guessed that city dwellers might be the most satisfied with where they live, but in a poll of 1,600 U.S. adults, the highest rate of happiness was found in the suburbs.

84 percent of suburbanites rated the communities where they live as overall excellent or good, compared to 75 percent of urban dwellers and 78 percent of rural residents.

Another study on city happiness found that residents are happier if they feel connected to their cities and neighborhoods and feel positively about the state of city services.

So wherever you live, make sure to get involved in your community for maximum happiness.

6. Listen to sad songs: They provide emotional release

How could sad songs make us happy? And why do we seek them out?

That’s the question researchers wanted to answer with a survey of 722 people from around the world.

They discovered that there are 4 main reasons we take comfort in melancholy songs:

  • They allow us to drift off into imagination
  • They might provide us catharsis (emotion regulation)
  • They allow us to relate to a common emotion (empathy), and
  • They’re divorced from our actual problems (no “real-life” implications)

Researchers determined that “listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation.”

7. Spend money on experiences, not items

Here’s one that’s easy to understand but might be tougher to fix.

We know that spending money on life experiences will make us happier than spending money on material things (and it does!) but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from choosing the wrong option.

That’s what a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found as they surveyed people before and after they made purchases.

The series of studies concluded that we’re more likely to spend on items than experiences because we can quantify them more easily and we want to see the best value for our dollars.

However, they found that the study subjects reported that after they spent, experiences brought them greater well-being and they considered them to be a better use of money.

So if we can keep that in mind, it’s possible to have our cake and eat it, too—definitely something to be happy about!

8. Set tiny, attainable goals: Make someone smile

It might be cliché, but making someone happy will make you happy, too.

And science says the more specific you can be with your goal, the better.

University of Houston professor Melanie Rudd found that a group of people who were told to make someone smile felt both happier and more confident that they’d actually achieved their goal than a similar group who’d been told simply to make someone else happy.

Even more interesting: In a separate experiment, people wrongly predicted that going for the bigger goal would make them happier.

“If you can meet or exceed your expectations of achieving a goal, you will be happier than if you fall short of your expectations,” Rudd explained.

9. Look at beautiful things: Design makes us happy

Could looking at a beautiful object make you feel happier?

The smartphone company HTC conducted a study that says yes.

In a series of laboratory and online experiments, volunteers looked at and interacted with objects that fell into 3 categories: beautiful, functional, or both beautiful and functional.

Their reactions uncovered some interesting findings, like:

  • Well-designed objects that are both beautiful and functional trigger positive emotions like calmness and contentment, reducing negative feelings like anger and annoyance by almost a third.
  • Purely beautiful objects (not functional) reduce negative emotions by 29%, increasing a sense of calmness and ease.

Objects that were both beautiful and functional created an especially high level of emotional arousal:

In general, people feel happier looking at and using beautiful objects that work well.

10. Eat more fruits and veggies

We know being healthier makes us happy, but can carrots give you purpose?

I have to admit I didn’t expect such a direct link between happiness and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as researchers in New Zealand report.

Their 13-day study of 405 people who kept food diaries showed that people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher than average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

Even more interestingly, participants often scored higher on all of those scales on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.

“These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy,” writes the research team.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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

8 Ways That Money Can Buy Happiness

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Another paper from Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert (author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness) spells out 8 ways we can spend our money to increase happiness:

1) “Buy more experiences and fewer material goods.”

This means more amusement parks and vacations. Fewer cars and new TV’s:

Asked which of the two purchases made them happier, fully 57% of respondents reported that they had derived greater happiness from their experiential purchase, while only 34% reported greater happiness from their material purchase. Source: “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” from Journal of Consumer Psychology

Why? We quickly take material goods for granted. Research shows this happens more slowly with experiences. Also, we anticipate and remember experiences more, savoring them for longer and squeezing more enjoyment from them.

2) “Use their money to benefit others rather than themselves”

Yup, giving is better than receiving:

Dunn, Aknin, and Norton (2008) asked a nationally representative sample of Americans to rate their happiness and to report how much money they spent in a typical month on (1) bills and expenses, (2) gifts for themselves, (3) gifts for others, and (4) donations to charity. The first two categories were summed to create a personal spending composite, and the latter two categories were summed to create a prosocial spending composite. Although personal spending was unrelated to happiness, people who devoted more money to prosocial spending were happier, even after controlling for their income.

And:

Researchers approached individuals on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, handed them a $5 or $20 bill, and then randomly assigned them to spend the money on themselves or on others by the end of the day. When participants were contacted that evening, individuals who had been assigned to spend their windfall on others were happier than those who had been assigned to spend the money on themselves.

And:

The benefits of prosocial spending appear to be cross- cultural. Over 600 students attending universities in Canada and in the East African nation of Uganda were randomly assigned to reflect on a time they had spent money on themselves or on others (Aknin et al., 2010). Participants felt significantly happier when they reflected on a time they had spent money on others, and this effect emerged consistently across these vastly different cultural contexts—even though the specific ways in which participants spent their money varied dramatically between cultures.

Why? Giving improves social relationships and our relationships are key to happiness. Giving makes us feel the relationships will continue, which bolsters well-being.

3) “Buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones”

When it comes to happiness, frequency beats intensity:

Indeed, across many different domains, happiness is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991). For example, no one finds it surprising that people who have sex are happier than people who don’t (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004), but some do find it surprising that the optimal number of sexual partners to have in a twelve-month period is one. Why would people who have one partner be happier than people who have many? One reason is that multiple partners are occasionally thrilling, but regular partners are regularly enjoyable. A bi-weekly ride on a merry-go-round may be better than an annual ride on a roller coaster.

Why? One reason is that we’re less likely to adapt and take for granted all these little things regularly affecting us than we are the one, big rare event:

One reason why small frequent pleasures beat infrequent large ones is that we are less likely to adapt to the former. The more easily people can understand and explain an event, the quicker they adapt to it (Wilson & Gilbert, 2008), and thus anything that makes a pleasurable event more difficult to understand and explain will delay adaptation. These variables include novelty (we’ve never experienced the event before), surprise (we didn’t expect it to happen), uncertainty (we’re not entirely sure what the event is), and variability (the event keeps changing). Each of these variables makes an event harder to understand and as a result we pay more attention to it and adapt more slowly.

4) “Eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance”

Research shows we deal with bad events much more effectively than we think. Often we buy insurance to make us feel better, not because we couldn’t actually afford to replace the item.

Warranties are acknowledged to be a poor investment:

With price tags reaching as high as 50% of a product’s original cost, extended warranties sold by retailers and manufacturers provide huge benefits to the seller and are widely acknowledged to be bad bets for the buyer (Berner, 2004; Chen, Kalra, & Sun, 2009).

5) “Delay consumption”

Anticipating pleasure can sometimes be more enjoyable than the event itself. By delaying good things we increase happiness:

But there is a second reason why consume now, pay later is a bad idea: it eliminates anticipation, and anticipation is a source of free happiness. The person who buys a cookie and eats it right away may get X units of pleasure from it, but the person who saves the cookie until later gets X units of pleasure when it is eventually eaten plus all the additional pleasure of looking forward to the event. Research shows that people can reap substantial enjoyment from anticipating an upcoming event even if the event itself is not entirely enjoyable. Examining three different vacations ranging from a trip to Europe to a bicycle trip through California, Mitchell et al (1997) found that people viewed the vacation in a more positive light before the experience than during the experience, suggesting that anticipation may sometimes provide more pleasure than consumption simply because it is unsullied by reality. Not surprisingly, then, people who devote time to anticipating enjoyable experiences report being happier in general (Bryant, 2003).

6) “Consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives”

The farther things are in the future, the more abstractly we view them. Buying a summer cottage seems great — because at a distance we don’t think about repairs, a leaky roof, and mosquitoes.

We do better when we consider how our purchases will affect our future use of time and our day-to-day lives:

Thus, in thinking about how to spend our money, it is worthwhile to consider how purchases will affect the ways in which we spend our time. For example, consider the choice between a small, well-kept cottage and a larger ―fixer upper‖ that have similar prices. The bigger home may seem like a better deal, but if the fixer upper requires trading Saturday afternoons with friends for Saturday afternoons with plumbers, it may not be such a good deal after all.

7) “Beware of comparison shopping”

Looking at lots of different options can mislead us as to the importance of various features. We end up thinking small differences may have a big impact when the truth is that most of the options will end up having no difference in our enjoyment of the item six months from now:

From this perspective, comparison shopping may focus consumers’ attention on differences between available options, leading them to overestimate the hedonic impact of selecting a more versus less desirable option. To the extent that the process of comparison shopping focuses attention on hedonically irrelevant attributes, comparison shopping may even lead people to choose a less desirable option over a more desirable option.

8) “Pay close attention to the happiness of others.”

You’re not the unique snowflake you think you are. Popular things are often popular for a reason and we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring what brings others pleasure because, very likely, we may enjoy it too:

Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it. In one study, Gilbert, Killingsworth, Eyre, and Wilson (2009) asked women to predict how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some of the women were shown the man’s photograph and autobiography, while others were shown only a rating of how much a previous women had enjoyed a speed date with the same man a few minutes earlier. Although the vast majority of the participants expected that those who were shown the photograph and autobiography would make more accurate predictions than those who were shown the rating, precisely the opposite was the case. Indeed, relative to seeing the photograph and autobiography, seeing the rating reduced inaccuracy by about 50%.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

The Simple Secret to Happiness Most People Get Wrong, Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff. Studies show that it really is the little things in life that make us happy.

Researchers often tout the happiness-increasing powers of both religion and exercise. One of the lesser known reasons why they’re so effective is because both provide regular, frequent boosts.

You may be focused on a big goal, something that you’re sure will make you super-happy for a long time… but you’re probably misguided. When it comes to happiness, frequency beats intensity.

Why? One reason is that it’s harder to take for granted a lot of little things vs one, big rare event. Another reason is that “in everyday life, bad events have stronger and more lasting consequences than comparable good events” — so we need more good to make up for unexpected misfortunes.

This “more good beats less bad” theory works across many domains:

With friends:

The best way to maximize happiness when having meals with friends is for one person to take a turn each time paying for everyone’s dinner. It’s a big hit but it results in many more “free” meals for everyone, boosting happiness.

At work:

The best work teams had a five to one ratio of positive vs negative interactions together.

In relationships:

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings. Wanna stay together? Do exciting stuff to keep things fun.

But what if creating more good things in your life is difficult due to constraints of time or money?

Just savoring the good moments you do have (even little ones) is the single most proven method for increasing happiness. It’s effectively treated people withmild/moderate depression. Reliving fun moments with your partner can improve a relationship. Savoring the good things in life is one of the secrets of the happiest people.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

This Question Can Predict Whether You Will Be Alive and Happy at Age 80

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved. Conversely, as the social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has argued, loneliness is such a disabling condition that it compels the belief that the pursuit of relationships is a rock-bottom fundamental to human well-being.

And:

Vaillant’s insight came from his seminal work on the Grant Study, an almost seventy-year (and ongoing) longitudinal investigation of the developmental trajectories of Harvard College graduates. (This study is also referred to as the Harvard Study.) In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Income Matters Most to People in This Age Group

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Money may mean the most in midlife

Can money buy you happiness? It might depend on your stage of life, finds a new study in the journal Psychology and Aging. The link between life satisfaction and income is strongest in 30-50 year-olds, while it’s only weakly correlated in older people and young adults, the study shows.

Researchers looked at life satisfaction survey data from more than 40,000 people in Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, taken over the course of many years. The results were consistent in all three regions.

People in the middle of their lives likely value income because of increased financial responsibilities, including the need to support a family, the study authors say. Young adults may place less value on income because of support from their parents, and older people are more likely to have resources outside of income like retirement savings, they explain.

Other research has suggested that money doesn’t do anything to make people happy, and, if it does, its influence is fairly subtle. But this study suggests that looking at the aggregate data without teasing out different age groups won’t necessarily provide the most relevant view.

“Our findings suggest that if money does buy happiness, it does so to different degrees for different people,” the study says.

MONEY psychology of money

The Only 3 Things You Need to Know About Money and Happiness

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The final word on whether money truly makes people happier still eludes us. But here's what we know so far.

Maybe you’ve watched Citizen Kane recently—or just heard the truism that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Either way, you may not be surprised by a new study showing that more income doesn’t seem to make people more content.

The findings, by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Michigan State University, do come with a twist, however: While more cash doesn’t increase joy, it does decrease sadness. “Having more money provides more options for dealing with adversity,” explain authors Elizabeth Dunn, Kostadin Kushlev, and Richard Lucas. “Wealthier people may feel a greater sense of control than poorer people when difficult situations arise.”

So, for example, a leaking roof might be annoying for a few days if you’re rich, but a months-long ordeal that can cripple you physically, financially, and emotionally if you’re poor. Makes sense, right?

Problem is, studies about the relationship between money and happiness seem to be a dime a dozen these days, and their headline conclusions don’t always line up. (Several respected economists, in fact, claim to have found a positive correlation between money and happiness.)

So who’s right? Does it make sense to follow the money in pursuit of happiness, or not? As it turns out, a lot of the research that seems contradictory on the surface is actually complementary when you dig a little deeper. Here are three key lessons from across the literature:

1. Money increases certain types of happiness more than others.

About four years ago, Princeton researchers made headlines with a new study showing that happiness increases along with income up until $75,000, after which point it plateaus. More recently, a pair of University of Michigan professors found that, actually, more money means more happiness without bound.

At face value, these findings might sound at odds, but the seeming contradiction arises from the fact that the researchers used different definitions of “happiness.” Specifically, the 2010 Princeton study measured so-called daily happiness (“How was your day yesterday?”) while the Michigan folks looked at overall assessments of satisfaction (“How do you feel about your life?”). Those are very different questions, and reveal different insights.

While the newest study also used a “daily” metric to calculate happiness, it went further by asking for a full narrative about each day and how subjects felt during three activities. What the new research revealed, says Kushlev, is that what appeared to be happiness in the Princeton study might be better described as a lack of sadness. “When an even more fine-grained measure of happiness is used, no relationship between income and happiness exists,” he says.

Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who co-authored the 2010 Princeton study, says these new findings don’t refute his so much as they measure contentment—or a lack thereof—from a different angle. After all, it comes down to how one views that $75,000 ceiling on happiness: Financial difficulties get harder and harder as your income descends in the five-figure realm.

“We also found the same effect of poverty on happiness,” says Kahneman.

In short, money seems to make you happier about your life overall—if not about your day—and, at the very least, softens the pain of bad luck.

2. If money can’t buy happiness, happiness just might generate money.

It’s important to remember that what we know about money and happiness is not based on experimental science (the conniving businessmen in Trading Places may have been okay with human experimentation, but academics aren’t). As such, money and happiness have been shown to be merely correlated, not causally connected.

And most of the money/happiness researchers acknowledge that their conclusions can almost always be explained in other ways. In fact, the authors of the new study posit an alternate explanation for their findings: It may be that less money doesn’t cause more sadness, but that more sadness causes less money.

That is, they write, “people who are predisposed to feel sad may… be less likely to maintain the effort necessary to find a better paying job.”

3. You can control the impact of money on your happiness.

As noted above, for every study about the relationship between money and happiness, another identifies exceptions to the rule. Some even show that many super-rich people—23% of them, according to one survey—are overwhelmed by constant financial stress (not to mention even wilder anxieties that members of the middle class might have trouble imagining).

The takeaway? Just focus on simple strategies for getting the most happiness out of the money you already have. Some insights you should consider:

  • Studies show you’ll get more contentment from putting cash toward experiences (like vacations) than material things (like a new TV).
  • Spending on other people actually generates more happiness than splurging on yourself.
  • Likewise, budgeting time to build social connections is a smarter happiness “investment” than making and spending money, research suggests.
  • Lending out possessions can help you enjoy them more once you get them back.
  • It’s best not to focus on money too much. While making more of it might have obvious benefits, obsessing over it stops you from savoring many important aspects of your life.

Read more about money and happiness:

TIME psychology

How to Be Compassionate: 3 Research-Backed Steps to a Happier Life

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Science points to a crazy number of benefits from being more compassionate:

Not too shabby.

Which raises a good question: if it does all this great stuff, why the heck aren’t we more compassionate?

The World Is Working Against You

Our lives are a lot more focused on numbers and economics than love and compassion these days. Everything is dollars and cents, hours and minutes.

Economics is an incredibly powerful tool but when you assign a price to everything and dismiss feelings, you can enter dangerous territory. Homo economicus is a sociopath.

I’m sure some of you think this is naive or silly. That things have always been like this. You’re wrong, by the way.

The Google Ngram viewer is an amazing tool that allows us to look at how often terms have been mentioned in books over the past few hundred years. (Big thanks to my friend Spencer Glendon for his insight here.)

How does “economic” fare against “moral” and “compassion” lately? Um, well…

economic-moral-compassion

Are we focused on our compassionate ethical duties to one another? Or the stuff we want want want?

i-want-i-must

Are we thinking more about principles and charity — or markets?

market-principles-charity

(For more on how giving can make you more successful, click here.)

There aren’t many forces pushing back, reminding us to be compassionate in today’s market-driven world.

What does the research say still teaches us compassion?

Grandmom does. Seriously. But Grandmom, as awesome as her oatmeal cookies are, can’t fight the whole world by herself.

So what do we do?

The Solution Is All in Your Head (Kinda)

Here’s what’s interesting: research shows compassion is contagious. When we feel it toward one person we’ll extend it to others around us even without realizing it.

This idea might be new to you and me but Buddhists have known it for over 1000 years. (I’m late to the party on a lot of stuff, frankly. Still not caught up on Mad Men, either.)

Buddhists call it “metta” (there’s actually some funky punctuation to it but there’s no way I’m gonna find that on my keyboard so just roll with me here). More commonly it goes by the name “loving-kindness meditation.” Buddhists use it to increase compassion.

Here’s the problem: LKM is pretty much the ground zero of self-help corniness. What does Buddhism say are some of the benefits of loving-kindness meditation?

Via Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness:

Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you.

Devas will protect you.

External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you.

You will be reborn in happy realms.

My first reaction? I think we’re done here. Thank you for calling.

Scientists have recently figured out something about LKM though: it actually works.

No, you’re not gonna be immune to fire and poison and, no, woodland elves will not build you a treehouse. But as for that compassion part? Yeah, it really does the job.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

The researchers also found that both meditating groups showed greater thickening of the insular cortex, a part of the brain associated with regulating emotions, and more activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that assesses the emotional content of incoming stimuli, than did the non-meditating control group. The investigators concluded that the practice of lovingkindness meditation trains the brain to make us more empathic and more capable of reading subtle emotional states.

And that’s far from one isolated piece of research. A 2012 Harvard study showed:

Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.

No, you don’t have to convert to Buddhism or believe in funky celestial beings. It’s an effective secular exercise for your compassion muscle.

(For more on the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how to do it, click here.)

So we have the answer right? Loving-Kindness Meditation to the rescue. But how do we do it?

The “How To”

Like I said, the process comes off as way corny — but it makes sense.

How do you feel when you think about loved ones? Warm and fuzzy. Why keep pictures of your kids or your partner on your desk or in your wallet? Even more fuzzies.

That’s the goal here, really. We want to broaden the fuzzy. Fuzzy momentum, if you will. Extend the fuzzy feelings from those you already are compassionate toward to neutral and even to difficult people.

The best instructions I’ve found (that have no scientific jargon or mentions of woodland spirits) come from 10% Happier, the great book by Dan Harris:

1. This practice involves picturing a series of people and sending them good vibes. Start with yourself. Generate as clear a mental image as possible.

2. Repeat the following phrases: May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe, May you live with ease. Do this slowly. Let the sentiment land. You are not forcing your well-wishes on anyone; you’re just offering them up, just as you would a cool drink. Also, success is not measured by whether you generate any specific emotion. As Sharon says, you don’t need to feel “a surge of sentimental love accompanied by chirping birds.” The point is to try. Every time you do, you are exercising your compassion muscle. (By the way, if you don’t like the phrases above, you can make up your own.)

3. After you’ve sent the phrases to yourself, move on to: a benefactor (a teacher , mentor, relative), a close friend (can be a pet, too), a neutral person (someone you see often but don’t really ever notice), a difficult person, and, finally, “all beings.”

Yes, it sounds silly but studies show it works.

Don’t get too worried about details. It’s not a magic spell and this ain’t Hogwart’s. You can customize it. The important thing is wishing others well and expanding that feeling from those you feel strongly about to a wider and wider circle of people.

(For my interview with Good Morning America anchor and meditation-skeptic-turned-believer Dan Harris, click here.)

Time to round this up and build a path forward.

Enough Reading. Time For Doing.

Give loving-kindness meditation a shot. Or you can go straight to the next step and help others. Support. Give.

Volunteering makes us happier. Too busy? Ironically, studies show giving our time to others makes us feel less time-strapped.

Seriously too busy? Then show a little compassion by buying lunch for a friend. It’ll make you happier too.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

The great TEDx talk by Harvard professor Michael Norton explains it here.

Whatever you do, the key word here is exactly that: do. It’s not think compassion and you will act more compassionate. It’s act more compassionate and you will feel more compassionate.

Meditation expert Sharon Salzberg recounts an old story that sums it up better than any research abstract.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

A grandfather (occasionally it’s a grandmother) imparting a life lesson to his grandson tells him, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.”

The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight.

The grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Ways Daily Mindfulness Will Help You Succeed

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Getty Images

Long story short, enjoy the journey

startupcollective

Many of us are drawn to the peace and happiness promised by a life of mindfulness, but we often abandon it in our daily lives because practicing mindfulness can seem at odds with our desire to succeed.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are nine simple ways that incorporating mindfulness into your busy work life can actually help you succeed:

  1. Forgive and forget. Workplace politics are draining, and a waste of time. Don’t let yourself get sucked into drama. Save your mental energy for your own success by forgiving those who slight you, forgetting who said what about whom, and moving on to more important things.
  2. Breathe before you blast. Try not to shoot off emails when you’re angry. Take a deep breath first and reflect on what’s behind your anger. Anger-driven emails almost always do more harm than good, to sender and receiver alike.
  3. Stop being ‘judgy.’ Mistakes are an opportunity to learn, not an excuse to look at yourself or others with negativity. Assessing mistakes from a neutral perspective allows you and your team to grow from them. Harping on them only serves to bring you (and those around you) down.
  4. Do what you want. Mindfulness gurus often talk about the idea of “intention.” But what does intention really mean? It means to make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And to do what you want. If you feel like you are wasting time in your current occupation, stop doing it and start something new.
  5. Salute the sun. Starting your morning with a quiet mind will help you be more effective throughout the day. Carve out time in the mornings — before the day’s madness ensues — to do a few sun salutations, eat a leisurely breakfast, go for a jog or engage in whichever activity helps you to still your mind.
  6. Salute your enemies. The word “namaste” means “I bow to the divine in you.” Having respect for your enemies will help you learn from their strengths and be more objective about your own weaknesses. So salute your enemies. You may find yourself with fewer of them if you do.
  7. Take victory in stride. It’s important to celebrate milestones. But don’t get addicted to them. If you let yourself become too attached to your victories, you will be less able to cope with defeat. And the ability to persevere through failure is essential to success.
  8. Sleep more. According to the Dalai Lama, “Sleep is the best meditation.” Get more of it.
  9. Enjoy the journey. Life is short, and you will spend most of it working. Work can either be depressing, or it can be an incredible ride. It’s up to you. The more you enjoy what you do, the better you will be at it.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME

Why Your Friend’s Weepy Wedding Toast Was Scientifically Accurate

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Manuel Orero Galan--Getty Images/Moment RF Marriage increases lifetime happiness, says new study

Marrying your best friend could help you live happily ever after

Finally Julia Roberts can get the scientific recognition she deserves. Turns out, she was totally right in My Best Friend’s Wedding: being married to your best friend actually does make you happy (sorry, Julia; congratulations, Cameron Diaz).

According to a study recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, married couples who said their spouse was their best friend reported significantly higher rates of life satisfaction than less friendly couples. About half of married or co-habitating couples said their partner was their best friend, and they get almost twice as much “additional life satisfaction” from the relationship than other couples. This finding was consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, gender, income, and health, and was still higher for married buddies than cohabitating couples who said they were best friends.

The benefit of having your spouse be your best friend was much higher for women than for men, but women were also less likely to say that their spouse was their BFF (perhaps because women tend to have lots of close female friendships, while men tend to have fewer).

Marriage rates have declined by almost 60% since 1970, and in 2013 the U.S. marriage rate was the lowest in 100 years (only 31.1 marriages per 1,000 married women). But according to researchers Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell, who compiled the study on marriage and happiness for the NBER, marriage is strongly correlated with increased happiness, even in less fun periods of life like middle age (this is not to say that middle-aged married people are super happy, they’re just happier than unmarried middle-aged people). They found that even when controlling for the possibility that naturally happy people may be more likely to get married in the first place, marriage comes with a significant increase in life satisfaction. And that increase in life satisfaction endures past the newlywed phase and often result in increased happiness in the long term.

And while marriage is increasingly becoming a “luxury good,” more common among the rich and college-educated, Grover and Helliwell controlled for income in their research, which means that the well-being that comes from marriage isn’t the same as the well-being that comes from wealth.

 

MONEY retirement planning

5 Secrets to a Happy Retirement

Hammock underneath palm trees
Jason Hindley—Prop Styling by Keiko Tanaka Keep a smile on your face once your working years are over.

Sure, a fat nest egg and good health help. But there are less obvious ways to make sure your post-work life is a happy one.

Retirement ought to be a happy time. You can set your own schedule, take long vacations, and start spending all the money you’ve been saving.

And for many retirees that holds true. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, people tend to start life happy, only to see their sense of well-being decline in adulthood. No surprise there: Working long hours, raising a family, and saving for the future are high-stress pursuits.

Once you reach age 65, though, happiness picks up again, not peaking until age 85. In a recent survey of MONEY readers, 48% retirees reported being happier in retirement than expected; only 7% were disappointed.

How can you make sure you follow this blissful pattern? Financial security helps. And good health is crucial: In a recent survey 81% of retirees cited it as the most important ingredient for a happy retirement. Some of the other triggers are less obvious. Here’s what you can do to make your retirement a happy one.

1. Create a predictable paycheck. No doubt about it: More money makes you happier. Once you amass a comfortable nest egg, though, the effect weakens, says financial planner Wes Moss. For his recent book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees, Moss surveyed 1,400 retirees in 46 states. The happiest ones had the highest net worths, but Moss found that money’s power to boost your mood diminished after $550,000.

“Once you reach a certain level, more money doesn’t buy a lot more happiness,” says Moss. Similar research based on the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study found a dropoff in happiness with extreme wealth; after you’ve amassed some $3.5 million in riches, more money doesn’t increase your happiness as much.

Where your income comes from is just as important as how much savings you have, says Moss. Retirees with a predictable income—a pension, say, or rental properties—get more enjoyment from spending those dollars than they do using money from a 401(k) or an IRA.

Similarly, a Towers Watson happiness survey found that retirees who rely mostly on investments had the highest financial anxiety. Almost a third of retirees who get less than 25% of their income from a pension or annuity were worried about their financial future; of those who receive 50% or more of their income from such a predictable source, just under a quarter expressed the same anxiety.

You can engineer a steady income by buying an immediate fixed annuity. According to ImmediateAnnuities.com, a 65-year-old man who puts $100,000 into an immediate annuity today would collect about $500 a month throughout retirement.

2. Stick with what you know. People who work past 65 are happier than their fully retired peers—with a big asterisk. If you have no choice but to work, the results are the opposite. On a scale of 1 to 10, seniors who voluntarily pick up part-time work rate their happiness a 6.5 on average; that drops to 4.4 for those who are forced to take a part-time job.

The benefit of working isn’t just financial. It’s also a boon to your health—a key driver of retirement happiness. The physical activity and social connections a job provides are a good antidote to an unhealthy sedentary and lonely lifestyle, says medical doctor turned financial planner (and Money.com contributor) Carolyn McClanahan.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that retirees with part-time or temporary jobs have fewer major diseases, including high blood pressure and heart disease, than those who stop working altogether, even after factoring in their pre-retirement health.

Switching careers in retirement, though, isn’t as beneficial. Retirees who take jobs in their field reported the best mental health, says lead researcher Yujie Zhan of Canada’s Laurier University, perhaps because adapting to a new work environment and duties is stressful.

3. Find four hobbies. Busy retirees tend to be happier. But just how active do you have to be? Moss has put a number on it. He found that the happiest retirees engage in three to four activities regularly; the least happy, only one or two. “The happy retiree group had extraordinarily busy schedules,” he says. “I call it hobbies on steroids.”

For the biggest boost to your happiness, pick a hobby that’s social. The top pursuits of the happiest retirees include volunteering, travel, and golf; for the unhappiest, they’re reading, hunting, fishing, and writing. “The happiest people don’t do things in isolation,” says Moss.

That’s no surprise when you consider that people 65 and older get far more enjoyment out of socializing than younger people do.

4. Rent late in life. In retirement, as in your working years, owning a home brings you more joy than renting does. But as time goes on, that changes. Michael Finke, a professor of retirement and personal financial planning at Texas Tech University, analyzed the satisfaction of homeowners vs. that of renters from age 20 to 90-plus and found a drop late in life, particularly after homeowners hit their eighties.

The hassles of homeownership build as you age, Finke notes, and a house can be isolating. Most people want to stay put in retirement. Yet, says Finke, “you need to plan for a transition to living in an environment with more social interaction and less home responsibility.”

5. Keep your kids at arm’s length. Once you suddenly have a lot more time on your hands, your closest relationships can have a big impact on your mood. According to an analysis by Finke and Texas Tech researcher Nhat Hoang Ho, married retirees, particularly those who retire around the same time, report higher satisfaction than nonmarrieds—but only if the couple get along well. A poor relationship more than erases the positive effects of being married.

Children don’t make much of a difference, with one twist. Living within 10 miles of their kids leaves retirees less happy. “People overestimate the amount of satisfaction they get from their kids,” says Finke. The reason is unclear—could being a too accessible babysitter be the problem?

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