Regardless of who you are, what you do, or how much money you have, life in this world will never be perfect. People die, accidents happen, and things break. Even so, it's possible to feel more contented and fulfilled, regardless of your circumstances. Here's what science has to say about the matter.
1. Pamper yourself at work to be happier and more productive.
It's a fact that happier people are more productive. Researchers in the U.K. last year published a study (PDF) that found employees who either watched 10 minutes of comedy on video or spent the same amount of time relaxing with delicious snacks were happier and as a result demonstrated higher productivity than their peers who merely worked.
2. If possible, choose unemployment over a job you hate.
Before dismissing this crazy advice, look at some of the stats compiled by polling and consumer insights company CivicScience, which surveyed more than 262,000 people regarding their levels of happiness. Those who are "very happy" in a job are 21 times more likely to be satisfied with life overall. Alternately, folks who say they are "very unhappy" at work are 122 percent more likely to be unhappy. Oddly, unemployed people are 88 percent more likely to be unhappy--a rotten number, but not as bad as the one associated with miserable workers. "That suggests, when considering the previous statement about job satisfaction," CivicScience writes in its blog, "that it may be worse to work in a job you hate than to be unemployed."
3. Let the happiness of others rub off on you.
It's weird science, but a few years ago researchers in the Netherlands proved humans transfer negative emotions such as fear and disgust to each other via the odor of chemicals in sweat. Recently a handful of European researchers demonstrated that the same is true for happiness--it can be transferred to others by means of smell. Be smart and gravitate toward the most contented and positive people in your life, while avoiding complainers, pessimists, and naysayers.
4. Strive for experiences, not amassing stuff.
But what kinds of experiences? Researchers who published a study (PDF) in the University of Chicago Press found that it depends on your age. Younger people tend to define happiness in terms of states of high arousal, and get their bliss from doing extraordinary, uncommon things such as skydiving or taking a remarkable vacation. Older folks receive more enjoyment from ordinary pleasures such as an affectionate embrace from a loved one, or a cold drink on a hot day. Why the difference? When people believe the time they have left in life is short, their threshold for happiness is lower.
5. Have frequent, monogamous sex.
6. Don't expect having kids to make you happy.
You could argue that having a family ultimately bolsters a person's support system, thereby affecting long-term happiness. Yet a study (PDF) published in the journal Demography says the happiness parents experience before and after a first or second child's birth is temporary and transitory. And by the third child's birth, there's no uptick in happiness whatsoever.
7. Invest in your friendships.
Citing more than a dozen studies on the subject, Happify.com put together an infographic with a wealth of data showing a correlation between strong social ties and happiness. Need help reinforcing your friendships? It's simple--help others know you remember them. Send friends a postcard when you're traveling, a text message for no reason whatsoever, or a phone call on a birthday. And of course, be there in good and bad times.
8. Take care of your body.
A plethora of studies have shown a correlation between happiness and exercise, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet. Don't like running or lifting weights? Biking can be a relatively easy way to drop pounds and strengthen leg muscles. Throw in 25 pushups a day, and you're doing vastly better than just sitting around. To get better sleep, avoid using electronic devices or television in the bedroom just prior to hitting the sheets. As for diet, three simple rules can help: Avoid all soda (including diet), never eat fast food, and infuse more fresh vegetables and less bread into your daily menu.
9. Know that married people are happier than singles.
It's especially true if your spouse is also your best friend, found a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study found marriage helps to mitigate the stress people often feel during midlife, a time period which often involves a U-shaped drop in life satisfaction. It's something to think about, considering that the number of adults in the U.S. who have never tied the knot is at an all-time high.
10. Train yourself to be happy.
According to the World Happiness Report 2015, published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, happier people are better able to sustain positive emotion, recover faster from negative events, demonstrate empathy and altruism, and exhibit mindfulness. "The circuits we identify as underlying these four constituents of well-being all exhibit plasticity, and thus can be transformed through experience and training," the report states. For help training yourself to be happy, check out Greater Good in Action, a new online resource offering dozens of science-based exercises that can help boost your sense of well-being.