When strivers think about happiness, many tend to think of it as existing just over the next horizon of achievement. When I get this business off the ground, I'll be happy. When I finally buy that house/car/boat, I'll be happy. When this pandemic craziness finally ends, I'll be happy. 

But when some of the biggest names in positive psychology combed through more than a million military records recently, they didn't find that success begets happiness. They found that happiness begets success. Those that started their professional lives with greater mental well-being went on to more awards and recognition at work. Happiness helps you get ahead. 

So how do you get happier? That's, of course, a question that's occupied philosophers and scientists for millennia. There are no simple answers or one-size-fits-all solutions. But practically, when many folks want to be happier these days, they focus on self-care. They take up yoga, take a day off work to go fishing, or start a new health regime.   

There's nothing wrong with these approaches. If they're working for you, keep them up. But recent research suggests that if you're on the hunt for an effective happiness booster, you should think less about solo self-improvement and more about social activities. 

Social beats solo for self-care.

Hobbies are often the first things we sacrifice when life gets crazy. Things like pickup basketball games, making wonky ceramics, or Tuesday night book club tend to feel less important than hitting that deadline for your business or chasing your toddler into bed. But a long string of studies attest that, as easy as it is to neglect your hobbies when you're in the thick of adulthood, having pastimes you do for sheer pleasure actually helps you reduce stress, increase creativity, and be more resilient

But which hobbies exactly are best for boosting mental-being? That's what this recent research out of Germany wanted to know. To find out, the researchers examined data from a large survey in which participants both indicated actions they were taking to improve their life satisfaction and how those efforts turned out a year later. 

The data was clear. Those participants who planned some sort of solo life improvement project -- say quitting smoking or curtailing their obsessive news consumption -- ended up no happier than when they started. (Which is not to say you shouldn't quit smoking or doomscrolling for other reasons, because you absolutely should). The people who succeeded in boosting their happiness all tried some sort of new activity with a social component.  

"Our research showed that people who came up with 'well-being' strategies that involved other people were more satisfied with their lives one year later -- even after taking into account that they were marginally happier to begin with. In contrast, people who came up with strategies that did not explicitly involve others remained, on average, as satisfied as they were," lead author Julia Rohrer summed up. 

People are among the most powerful mood boosters out there. 

This doesn't mean, of course, that you should ditch your solo hobby if it brings you joy. Exercise is an excellent, research-backed mood booster too. As is art and creativity. So if drawing or running all by your lonesome is your preferred self-care strategy, there's science you can cite to back up your choice too. 

But this latest research confirms a truth that studies have shown again and again. Other people are one of the most powerful tools available to increase happiness (even if you initially don't feel much like seeing people). And helping others and being involved in your community is one of the best forms of self-care out there. 

So if you're looking around at the first spring leaves and emerge from your pandemic grumpiness, then here's a kind reminder from science. Pushing yourself to get back to your hobbies is a way more powerful form of self-care than knitting or tennis might first appear. And if you can find a way to enjoy those activities with other people, your chance of seeing your mood brighten increases dramatically.