Steps to Happiness
1. Do something nice for someone else.
Do acts of kindness for others (e.g., make someone else happier). She notes there is plenty of research evidence that doing things for others makes you happier, and I have reviewed some of it here and here.
2. Express gratitude on a regular basis.
This was the other bit of well-supported advice Lyubomirsky gave me in response to my query (and of course, I am grateful for that advice, Sonja!). After the first time I read her book, my wife suggested that we institute a nightly ritual of a “thankful list.” We have been doing that for over a decade now, before our son’s bedtime reading, and it’s one of the highlights of my day. In the book, Lyubomirsky lists several ways that gratitude boosts happiness, by helping you savor positive experiences, for example, as well as boosting your self-esteem, building social bonds, and disrupting your negative emotions.
3. Cultivate an optimistic outlook on life.
Lyubomirsky has done research with Laura King, who herself conducted interesting research in which people imagine their “best possible future selves.” What would you be doing in 10 years if everything went perfectly in your life? It’s worth trying yourself right now, because it’s fun, and King’s (2001) research suggests that imagining an ideal future self actually increases people’s inclination to persist toward their goals and to cope with setbacks.
4. Avoid invidious social comparisons.
Lyubomirsky’s own research suggests that happy people are pretty oblivious to other people who seem to be doing better than them. On the other side of the coin, materialistic attempts to keep up with the Joneses (or the Gateses) are actually a great way to make yourself more depressed (see Dittmar, Bond, Hurst, & Kasser, 2014).
5. Nurture your relationships.
Make time to be with friends and family members (without your electronic devices), pay attention to them, let them know what you like about them, and when something good happens to them, be sure to share in their positive outcomes. Practice saying: “I see your point” if you have minor disagreements (about the news or who should wash the dishes for example).
A classic study of long-lived Sardinians, Okinawans, and Seventh-Day Adventists found those diverse groups had several things in common, with “putting family first” and “keeping socially engaged” at the top of the list (Buettner, 2005). Another study by Wing and Jeffery (1999) found that people who started a weight loss program who paired up with a friend lost substantially more weight, and kept it off, as compared to those who went it alone. Lyubomrisky had “learn to forgive” as a separate point, but it is certainly a powerful tool for maintaining relationships (because unlike you and me, our friends and relatives all occasionally screw up).
6. Enjoy your work.
This actually collapses two of Lyubomirsky’s happiness activities: Doing more activities that truly engage you (that put you in flow), and committing to your goals. As I’ve noted in more detail in an earlier post, people who work hard actually enjoy their jobs more, and experience their work more like play; trying to get by with the least effort is a formula to make work more like work than play.
7. Take care of your body.
Here, Lyubomirsky has a few sub-categories, including getting regular exercise, learning to meditate, and simply acting like a happy person (going out of your way to smile and laugh, for example). So, go ahead, try it, run around your house for 10 minutes, then sit in a lotus position for 10 minutes and hold your face in a smile while you do it.