Happiness is hot right now. You can't visit major blogs like The Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen without running into tips and tricks for harnessing well-being.
That's uplifting, says Emma Seppala, associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. But she says these blogs are missing one key ingredient: Facts.
"A lot of those articles are intuitively true, but because of my science background, I always look at an article like that and think, ground this in some data!" says Seppala, laughing. "I can't take it as seriously."
Seppala has engaged her science background to create Fulfillment Daily, a blog that chronicles scientific data on well-being, focus, compassion, and meditation—with practical takeaways for readers. The website launched in mid-June with a roster of psychologists and science journalists contributing posts.
Here's some key things we're learning about happiness through science:
1. Gratitude: Science has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression. Sometimes, it can seem like a single event can throw our entire day off and we can miss some of the more enjoyable parts of the day. With this awareness that our mind tends to cling to the negative, we can intentionally focus on the good parts of our day to offset this imbalance.
Practice: Keep a gratitude journal. Write down 5 things you feel grateful for every day. Keep it simple and short. See how your attitude changes after a few weeks.
2. Service/Compassion: While we often feel burned out by our to-do lists and are stretched for time, science suggests that giving your time to someone else can boost your own sense of well-being.
Seppala says compassion is a key to happiness because social connection is a major predictor of health. For instance, low social connection is worse than smoking and high blood pressure. When connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health and even increase immunity and longevity.
Practice: Smile. Research shows that when you smile (whether it’s a real or fake) you feel better, reduce your own stress, but also uplift others! How? Your smile activates the smile muscles in others.
3. Play: Idle play and games introduce something entirely different into the daily routine, and studies have shown it can boost creativity, help us think outside the box, improve our health, and make us feel present.
Practice: Take time for play. Play with your kids, or even play like a kid. Try to see if you can't have a good laugh every day. Eat a cupcake. See Fulfillment Daily's list of tips for more small ways to bring joy into your day.
4. Don't chase happiness: By chasing happiness, we often chase it away. Fixating on what we want to see in our lives and then ruminating afterwards when things don't go as planned can turn into a vicious cycle. In a series of new studies, the more value people placed on happiness, the less happy they became. Additionally, another research project reveals that happiness is driven by the frequency, not the intensity, of positive emotions. When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed.
Practice: Sit with negative feelings. Sadness and negative feelings aren't necessarily something to be avoided. In fact, despair can be the consequence of fighting it. Try to be gentle on yourself with this 7-minute loving-kindness practice from clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher Elisha Goldstein.
5. Meditate: "If you really want to be happy, it's a really good idea to meditate. Otherwise you walk around life reacting to everything and you're stuck in your patterns and you get caught up in your dramas," says Seppala. "Meditation's the way out, it's that simple."
And if everyone's able to have more awareness and spaciousness in their minds so that they're able to enter relationships and work with more calm—i.e. not having your buttons pushed by absolutely everything that happens to you—then you're going to have much better results in your life.
Practice: Body scan meditation. Since you've probably been glued to your screen this afternoon, let’s take a small and simple step in the direction of paying our body the attention it is due. Consider spending just a few minutes—every day, if you can—to notice your own physicality. Not to judge your body or worry about it or push it harder at the gym, but to be in it. Try the body scan meditation from Mindful Magazine. You can also try Elisha Goldstein's 10-minute guided meditation video.
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