With its constant drip of celebrity deaths, grisly headlines, and political disappointments, 2016 was pretty much no one's idea of a banner year for happiness. But that doesn't mean the year just past was a complete wash when it comes to increasing human flourishing.
While most of us were struggling to come to terms with the horrors in the news, positive psychologists were hard at work trying to figure out how to boost joy and decrease suffering. They didn't come up empty handed.
The field came up with some fascinating and potentially useful findings, according to a recent roundup of the year's most interesting studies from UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. Some will be of interest only to specific groups like teachers, parents of teenagers, and those with heart conditions, but here are the findings with relevance to everyone looking to make 2017 a happier year by far.
1. Getting tough on yourself backfires.
When people start a self-improvement regime, they often begin my vowing to "get tough" on themselves and accept no weakness. Big mistake, says new research. Being kind to yourself is a much better way to affect positive change in your life.
"Self-compassion may ... promote growth and self-improvement. In another study published in January, researchers asked participants to write about incidents from their life that elicited regret--like cheating on a loved one--from either a self-compassionate perspective, a perspective emphasizing their positive qualities, or without instruction. When questioned afterwards, those in the self-compassion group reported being more motivated to improve their behavior going forward than people in the other groups," explains Greater Good.
2. Humility has a dark side.
You could fill a good-size room with all the research showing the benefits of humility (particularly for leaders), but apparently even this much-celebrated trait has a dark side. While a kindhearted appreciation for others is almost always positive, lingering on your own limitations and unworthiness (another flavor of the characteristic that often gets labeled "humility") can be quite harmful.
A Canadian survey of 1,500 people found that "'self-abasing humility,'' which usually follows a personal failure and involves feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and worthlessness, as well as submissive behavior, is "strongly associated with low psychological well-being and poor health." Keep that distinction in mind next time you're beating yourself up and labeling it "humility."
3. Different types of meditation are better for different people.
Meditation is recommended as a miracle cure for everything from physical ailments to interpersonal conflict and greater focus, but it turns out this common prescription could benefit from being a little more specific. Different types of meditation provide different benefits, so you'll get the more out of mindfulness if you tailor your practice to your goals.
Want more details? Check out my write-up of this research from earlier this year.
4. Prioritize time over money for greater happiness.
Time is money, the old saying tells us. But science would beg to disagree. When it comes to achieving maximum happiness, the two are far from equivalent.
"In day-to-day life, we often face choices that pit money against time: to cook or order takeout, to walk or take the bus," notes Greater Good. This year research offered definitive guidance for these common dilemmas. "In a study published in January, researchers found that people who valued time more than money--who indicated that they would sacrifice money to save time, and that they'd prefer to work fewer hours and earn less--tended to have higher well-being: greater life satisfaction, higher positive emotion, and lower negative emotion."
So next time you're pondering whether to pad your bank account or give yourself a little breathing room to enjoy life, keep this research in mind.
5. Worrying about "manliness" can make you miserable.
Parents and educators spend plenty of time worrying about how girls are affected by stereotypes and the pressure to live up to ideals of the perfect woman (and the perfect body), but according to several large new studies, men also suffer significantly from these sorts of anxieties. Stressing out about appearing "manly" can also be terrible for your mental health.
"Man up. Grow a pair. Don't be a wuss. Could trying to live up to these platitudes fuel depression, anxiety, and other kinds of mental illness in boys and men? A wave of studies this year suggests that the answer can often be 'yes'--but a lot depends on which masculine ideals you embrace," reports Greater Good.
Which stereotypes are most harmful? Fret not workaholics and entrepreneurial daredevils--the ideals that drive men to succeed at work and take risks don't seem too bad, according the new science. The ones you should really worry about are the ones that suggest men should go it alone or be aggressive to outsiders and those who are different from them, the studies show.