Happiness may be as old as the human race. The idea of rigorously studying happiness, however, is far newer.
For most of its history, psychology was exclusively concerned with helping those who were struggling. It was a discipline whose main occupation was "spot the loony," as Martin Seligman, the father of "positive psychology" joked in his TED talk.
Then just a decade or so ago something shifted. Psychology started to look not just at those who were sick, but also those were well, investigating not just how to fix the broken, but also how to help the normal flourish. Studying happiness, in other words, became a thing. Today the investigation continues with important findings rolling out of labs and research institutes regularly. PsyBlog recently rounded up ten of the most fascinating recent studies. Here are a few to get you started.
1. Happiness activates your body from head to toe.
We tend to think of happiness as a state of mind. Sure, it gives you a warm glow, but that's mostly metaphorical, right? Actually no. When Finnish researchers induced various emotions in 700 study subjects and then asked them to color in a detailed body map, they discovered that feeling good isn't just metaphorically or mentally energizing, it actually energizes the whole body.
"Happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body with activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig," says PsyBlog.
2. Being nice to others increases happiness.
Maybe this isn't the most shocking finding on the individual level--most of us have experienced the joy of making someone else's life a little easier--but scientists recently found the same principle applies to whole communities as well. The research team looked at how 255 American metropolitan areas reacted to the disruptions and challenges caused by the recent financial crisis and found "that communities that pull together--essentially doing nice little things for each other like volunteering and helping a neighbour out--are happier."
"Social capital has a protective effect: people are happier when they do the right thing," concludes PsyBlog.
3. School can't teach you to be happy.
Getting that PhD may help you come up with an important scientific breakthrough, score a world-class job, or understand the intricacies of Renaissance poetry, but chances are it won't make bring you any closer to happiness. Friends and family, it seems, are the best way to do that.
"Relationships have stronger associations with happiness than academic achievement, according to a recent study," PsyBlog reports. "Whilst strong social relationships in childhood and adolescence were associated with happier adults, the associations with academic achievement were much lower."
Looking for more evidence that happiness isn't down to fancy degrees. The lead researcher behind one of the longest-running studies of human flourishing ever (the Grant Study that tracked 268 Harvard grads for more than 75 years), boiled down decades upon decades of data to this conclusion: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
If you're a regular reader of Inc.com several of the other conclusions listed by the blog won't come as a surprise to you. We've covered results showing that, when it to comes to generating joy, small concrete goals trump large abstract ones, the causes of happiness shift with age, and materialism can be incredibly toxic here before. But the PsyBlog post is well worth a read in full for a refresher course on these insights, as well as an intro to several more.