10 Random Happiness Hacks, According to Science

There are things in life we know to be true about how to live “the good life,” and we’re sick and tired of hearing about them.

We know money can’t buy us love (but it can buy us a bit of happiness). We know an apple a day keeps the doctor away (which is actually BS because new studies say we need 3 veggies and 2 fruits a day, so thanks anyways Granny Smith). We know we’re supposed to exercise, keep a gratitude journal, and not seek too much pleasure in the misfortunes of others. We also know that we’re supposed to live in the moment (even though our minds wander away from the moment 47% of the time we’re awake), BUT HOW ELSE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO COPE IN A PANDEMIC WITHOUT THINKING OF ANYTHING OTHER THAN NOW?

I digress.

I’m finding myself interested in the offbeat happiness research studies, and I hope you find these as amusing and helpful as I do.

Recent research that just might make you happier:

The more birds, the better. Research has shown that even a 10% increase in the species of birds around you can boost life satisfaction ­— and wait for it — as much as a comparable increase in income. (What this really means is that money can’t buy you love but birds totally can.) But really… when was the last time you went for a walk and noticed the bird life around you? When can you get out into a green space and connect with nature, even for a brief walk?

Smiling activates the circuitry in the brain associated with happiness. Study participants experienced an equivalent level of brain stimulation when smiling as the idea of 2,000 chocolate bars or receiving $25k in cold hard cash. You can read more here if you’re like 14% of people who smile less than 5 times a day. It’s true that you can boost your happiness by faking a smile, so try plastering one on right now.

Talking about yourself has been shown (at least by neuroscientists at Harvard) to be as rewarding to your dopamine-loving brain as food, money, and sex. Participants in five studies actually dismissed financial incentives to talk about pizza, just to steer the conversation back to themselves. Are you striking that right balance of self-disclosure vs. droning on about your new bird watching hobby? Can you share more about yourself in a social media environment, maybe?

Jet-set your way to happiness. Apparently frequent travelers are 7% more satisfied with their lives than those with dust on their passports. What travels do you have planned after emerging from your COVID cave? Do you have your vacation days planned for the rest of the year to include some out-of-town exploration?

Use social media “the right way.” Passively scrolling through social media has been shown to make us hate everyone, everywhere. Rather than looking at pictures of other people’s lives that appear better than ours (cue: upward social comparison — which never ends well for us psychologically), researchers recommend actively engaging with friends over social media and using that as a bridge for a real, live, human interaction. Imagine that. How much time are you spending passively scrolling vs. using social media as a conduit for connection?

Shake shit up. Studies show that our subjective sense of well-being soars when we expose ourselves to new and diverse experiences; the region in the brain that processes novelty and reward is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the positive affect zones (according to MRIs). What can you do this week to alter a routine — maybe take a new route to the grocery store…  maybe make Toad in the Hole for dinner… maybe watch a Rubik’s Cube documentary? Even the subtlest changes to your routine can positively impact your well-being.

Less is more. Having less and buying less can boost our happiness? Researchers probed millennials and found those with less materialistic values report higher personal well-being and less anxiety. “Buying green” didn’t have any impact on consumer well-being in this study, FYI. What “stuff” do you need to purge at home? Any closets or cabinets worth combing through for things to turf or donate? Do you need to edit your online shopping behavior to acquire less and just enjoy what you already have? Do you need to start adding things to your Amazon wish list instead of the shopping cart?

Get thee to a park. Researchers have somehow proven that visiting an urban park delivers a mood spike equivalent to Christmas (a.k.a. the happiest day of the year on Twitter). How soon can you get yourself to a park, or any outdoor space? Ideally with lots of birds?

The deliberate pursuit of happiness has been shown in studies to make people feel like time is scarce, which in turn has a negative impact on well-being. The idea is to shift our mindset from thinking that happiness is a never-ending goal to something we already have — and just need to appreciate and nurture. What would it take for you to slap a label of “Happy” on yourself, to help rid the feeling like you’re in constant pursuit of something elusive? What are two things you can be appreciative for in this moment, to help put happiness in perspective?

I’ve saved the best for last, friends. Researchers in Japan have discovered that a furry social robot can increase happiness and reduce pain. PARO is a seal — the best thing to be born in a lab since Dolly the sheep — who makes seal-like PARO the robotic sealsounds and moves its head and flippers in response to being touched and spoken to. This little marine-mammal-robot alleviates loneliness in environments where human contact is limited or not available (so, like, all of us in lockdown?). Guys, I’m going to be honest here. I got sucked into this whole robot seal story, and spent an embarrassing amount of time looking up where to buy one (which is alarming, right? That I want one?). I came up empty on buying PARO but I did find this robotic therapy cat. I’m trying to decide if I should buy it for The Husband for his upcoming birthday (you know when you buy something for someone that’s really a present for yourself?). It’s all in the interest of happiness… so… maybe?

There you have it… ten new ways of approaching the years you have left in your life with a wee bit more happiness. If even one of these studies inspires you to tweak even the smallest thing in your life, you’ll likely feel a well-being boost. Let’s all smile as we walk through a park in a new neighborhood, resting assured that we’re already happy… especially with a robotic pet on the way. We can forego the “less is more” thing just this once.

Jodi Wellman

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