Happiness Lessons Image

The Lessons for happiness

Research shows, that just like physical fitness, you need to keep working on your mental health if you want to keep feeling the benefits.


A study by the University of Bristol shows that, while it is possible to learn how to boost your mood, it also reveals that you must work at happiness to make it stick.

The study found that those who participated initially experienced a 10–15% boost in their happiness levels. However, two years on it was only the participants who continued to do the things they had learnt in the study that maintained this boost. Other participants returned to their baseline happiness. In short, you have to keep working on happiness if you want to keep feeling that way.

As part of the study participants were asked to do specific tasks that revolved around positive psychology. They were also asked to focus on increasing social connections, helping others, gratitude, savouring experiences, getting sufficient sleep, engaging in physical activity and trying out mindfulness and other meditation practices.


How to boost happiness


The 10-five rule

A small kindness hack that can boost your mood and the mood of others. If a person is 10ft / 3m from you, make eye contact. If a person is 5ft / 1.5m from you, smile and say hello. This makes you lift your head up and engage with the world.


Spend time with your closest friends

From a happiness point of view, it pays to invest in those closest to you. Laughing with friends has been shown to be beneficial for your heart, lungs and stress control.


Acts of kindness

Undertaking an act of kindness, such as holding open a door for a stranger, triggers the brain pleasure centre. A change in brain chemistry occurs and the mood boosting hormones oxytocin and serotonin are released. Those who carry out nice acts for strangers also report feeling more confident, competent and purposeful. Kindness also fosters empathy, deeper relationships, incites positive feelings and promotes good heart health.


Strike up conversations with strangers

If you live in a large city, chances are you don’t regularly strike up conversations with strangers. But doing so has been proven to boost a sense of belonging and improve mood and happiness.  Research shows that talking to strangers can stimulate our brain in ways that familiar interactions don’t, sharpening our thinking. Talking to strangers can also boost self-confidence and provide a sense of accomplishment.


Write down three good things that happened in your day

Studies show that those who write down a few sentences about good things in their day for 10 weeks are more optimistic and feel better about their lives than those who write neutral things. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to the doctor.


Write a thank-you letter

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly associated with a greater level of happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. One study found that those who wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude exhibited a huge increase in happiness, with benefits lasting for a month.


Walk in nature for five minutes 

A five minute walk in nature has been proven to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improving mood and boosting the immune system. Optimal benefits are achieved by spending 120 minutes a week in nature – or 17 minutes a day. A recent study found that the stress-related brain regions were deactivated in nature but not on urban walks. Numerous studies show that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile.


Seven-second hugging 

Hugs are great for the body and, if you hold them for seven seconds, your brain releases oxytocin, the hormone linked to increased trust, calm and creativity. Hugs also trigger the release of immuno-regulatory hormones that are linked to your immune system. One study found that hugging – a perceived measure of social support – reduced the chances of getting sick. Hugs have been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and linked to a reduction in anxiety for people with low self-esteem.


Embrace change and find a sense of purpose 

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means making a continuous change for the better. Largely a business philosophy, that can be applied to all areas of life, the idea is that achieving gradual advancements across the board leads to perpetual improvement. It involves taking small steps towards recognising needs and defining obstacles in life for self-improvement.

Another focus in Japan is on the concept of ikigai, which loosely means your reason for being. It is considered your life purpose and what inspires you to get out of bed. It focuses on doing something we love, within a group, that benefits all. An example is to focus on making a difference in other people’s lives to give your own life a sense of purpose. The belief is that a life without ikigai lacks passion, purpose and fulfilment. It is also about finding happiness in the smallest things in life. It gives you a purpose to live, even if you are miserable in the moment.


Original article by Gwyneth Rees, Australian Financial review.