More than a feel-good state of mind, happiness is described by the U.N. as a “fundamental human goal.” It comes with myriad benefits, including improving our health and even helping us live longer. Happier people are also more likely to make decisions quickly and contribute to society by voting and volunteering.
And while happiness can be a loaded subject, with many contributing factors that often aren’t in our control, science shows that there are plenty of surprisingly straightforward things that can help us feel satisfied.
Of course, happiness is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process that’s consciously cultivated with intention and purpose. But if you’re looking to embark on that journey, consider starting with some of these 10 science-backed tips.
1. Set a Regular Exercise Routine
Prioritizing movement is a popular tip when it comes to increasing happiness — and with good reason. Exercise is shown to ease anxiety, increase life satisfaction, and boost serotonin levels, which helps combat negative feelings. Even lunchtime walks are shown to “improve enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work.” Still not convinced? This report about walkable cities found that when someone swaps long commutes for a walk, “their happiness increases as much as if they’d fallen in love.”
2. Prioritize Your Sleep
We’ve all likely experienced firsthand the intertwining relationship between sleep and happiness. According to Harvard Medical School, “poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being.” Additionally, a 2018 study found that those who had quality sleep experienced greater life satisfaction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of seven hours of sleep for adults and suggests a number of tips to sleep better, such as removing electronic devices from bedrooms and waking up and going to bed at the same time every day (even on weekends).
3. Embrace Family Routines
Family dinners, regular play outings, and reading time are all common components of family bonding, and studies show these routines have a lasting influence. A 2014 study found that family-centered routines are associated with higher social-emotional health in children, along with an increased sense of belonging and security. Another study showed routines help families build resilience, which is linked to happiness.
Whether you’re a kiddo or an adult, WebMD also notes that establishing regular weekly routines helps reduce stress, boost health, and better prioritize downtime and rest.
4. Build (and Maintain) Friendships
Friendships are powerful — in fact, some research shows they may be even more important than familial bonds as we get older. The author found that family and friend relationships were linked with better overall health and happiness. However, as people aged, the link only remained “for people who reported strong friendships,” Time reported.
How many friends do we need for maximum happiness levels? According to a CNBC interview with Eric Barker, author of Plays Well With Others, people with five or more close friends feel 60% happier than those without the same number. And individuals who view their manager as a “close friend” are more than twice as likely to enjoy their job.
5. Share Kindness
Kindness can change our brains, literally. The Mayo Clinic explains that kindness boosts our serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that allow us to feel satisfaction and pleasure. Other research has shown that when people fully engage in acts of kindness, the acts are linked to reducing anxiety and depression.
Eager to reap the rewards of kindness? You’re in luck because one study showed that even performing acts of kindness for just one week created a boost in happiness.
6. Practice Mindfulness Through Meditation
If you struggle with slowing down, a meditation practice is shown to be a deliberate way of cultivating more mindfulness, which is associated with a sense of purpose in life and higher happiness levels.
Psychology Today explains, “Monitoring your ongoing experience may make you feel happier by helping you slow down to appreciate things or to notice more of the happy things that are going on around you. You may begin to pay more attention to the trees and flowers, enjoy the feel of the sun on your skin, or bask in the warmth of your partner’s or child’s loving gaze.”
7. Know and Use Your Strengths
Instead of focusing on weaknesses (we’ve all got them), celebrate your strengths. By identifying your strengths and leveraging them, you can increase your self-awareness, improve your relationship with yourself, and boost your happiness, per Psychology Today.
While strengths can certainly include skills you’d put on a resume (language skills, specialties, etc.), they can also be your unique qualities, like love of learning, kindness, curiosity, and hope, to name a few.
8. Express Gratitude
Harvard Health puts it simply: “giving thanks can make you happier.” In the 2021 article, a study is cited that showed people who wrote a gratitude list were happier than those who wrote about daily irritations. Similarly, a group of participants who wrote a letter of gratitude to someone for their kindness showed immediate boosts in happiness, “with benefits lasting for a month.”
Sometimes the key to a brighter day is simpler than you may think: turning the corners of your mouth up and showing a smile. Science shows that you can actually trick your brain into feeling better by smiling. How? When we smile, dopamine and serotonin are released in the brain, which in turn can boost your mood. However, if the idea of forcing a smile isn’t your thing, consider putting on a TV show that makes you laugh, call someone who puts you in a good mood, or think about a joyful memory.
10. Set Achievable Goals for Yourself
Did you know that simply the act of setting goals can increase your happiness levels? It’s true, according to a study by the University of Basel in Switzerland that showed psychological well-being can improve when you have goals that seem attainable to you regardless of the outcome. Power of Positivity recommends starting out with smaller goals and building from there, as little steps can make big goals less intimidating and more actionable.