America may be a wealthy country, but it’s apparently not a happy one. According to a Gallup study, the well-being of Americans hasn't improved in the past six years and even declined slightly in 2013. According to the World Health Organization, one out of three Americans is diagnosed with depression, and more than 75 percent suffer from chronic stress and are completely unaware of it.
With that in mind, here are 10 scientifically proven happiness strategies to heed:
1. Savor ordinary events. Study participants who took the time to do this “showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky notes. Reflecting back on moments of your day, even those you might ordinarily hurry through, is a worthwhile effort.
2. Avoid comparisons. Focusing on your own personal achievements instead of making comparisons to others will better impact your happiness and self-esteem, according to Lyubomirsky, which leads to greater life satisfaction. It’s easy to lose sight of what achievements—both personal and professional—have enriched our life, and we must remind ourselves...often.
3. Put money low on the list. According to researchers Kasser and Ryan, those who put money high on their priority list are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. “Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization,” Ryan says.
4. Have meaningful goals. As humans, we thrive on having a purpose, but what is purpose if there is no meaning behind it? “People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” father and son team Diener and Biswas-Diener found. Positive psychology authority Tal Ben-Shahar agrees, having stated “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.”
5. Take initiative at work. Researcher Amy Wrzesniewski says that, “when we express creativity, help others, suggest improvements or do additional tasks on the job, we make our work more rewarding and feel more in control.”
6. Make friends and treasure family. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we need relationships. Sometimes we underestimate the importance of such connections. And, the more genuine the better as Diener and Biswas-Diener notes, “We don’t just need relationships; we need close ones that involve caring and understanding.”
7. Fake it until you make it. This actually works, according to Diener and Biswas-Diener, who assert, “Happy people see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points.” This may take some practice, so try to smile even when you don’t feel like it.
8. Keep a gratitude journal. When you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, you can either become a time bomb waiting to go off or you can recalibrate. An excellent tool for detoxing and redirecting your thoughts is with a gratitude journal. Those who write in a journal on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to achieve personal goals, according to author Robert Emmons. Martin Seligman’s research also revealed that people who write “gratitude letters” to someone significant in their lives score lower on depression and higher on happiness and the effect lasts for weeks. Gratitude and the human spirit together make powerful allies.
9. Get moving. According to a Duke University study, exercise may be as effective as drugs in treating even major depression. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel good hormone. Duke researcher Blumenthal suggested that “exercise may be beneficial because patients are actually taking an active role in trying to get better...patients who exercised may have felt a greater sense of mastery over their condition and gained a greater sense of accomplishment. They felt more self-confident and had better self-esteem...” When you feel good, you tend to continue the behavior related to it and are motivated to adopt others.
10. Serve others. This is often referred to as a “helper’s high.” According to ethicist and researcher Stephen Post, helping a neighbor, volunteering, and donating goods and services results in more health benefits than exercising or quitting smoking. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn similarly found that those who spent money on others reported greater happiness than those who spent it on themselves.
With so much science underscoring that we are active participants in the process, I prefer to regard happiness as a verb. Indeed, navigating happiness is a journey filled with a series of actions...it’s not an outcome. No matter the circumstance, we all have the capacity to be happy. The only question is what next step you will take to foster your own?
Jackie Ruka, author of "Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life!," is founder of the Get Happy Zone, a personal and professional development organization offering education, inspirational events, unique products and tools for those seeking to expand their creativity and greatest strengths to reach new heights in their lives.