The Science of Happy: You Don't Have to Be Born That Way

The Science of Happy: You Don't Have to Be Born That Way

We see pictures of happy people on social media. We watch videos of crazy cat antics that make us laugh. We read and share inspirational quotes. It makes us wonder: Are some people just born happier than others? 

Researchers looking for a "happiness" gene think some of the traits you are born with could be one piece of the puzzle. They're exploring the role physical settings and social bonds play in their quest to see why some people are happier than others, and if we can become happier. 

What Does It Mean to Be Happy? 

Author Tal Ben-Shahar, who has lectured in psychology at Harvard University, defines happiness as "the overall experience of pleasure and meaning. A happy person enjoys positive emotions while perceiving his or her life as purposeful." 

What if you don’t fit the bill? Is happiness within reach? Research shows people with a higher sense of purpose may live longer. They also experience less sickness. And according to Positive Psychology leaving site icon happier people have a lower risk of heart disease and a host of other physical benefits. 

How Can You Be Happier? 

Studies point to five things that make people happier: 

Social connections. Spend time with family and friends. It can help boostpositive outlook. Plus, it slows down natural aging.  

Meditation. Set aside 20 minutes a day to practice mindfulness. Learn to quiet your mind and focus on the here and now. Avoid disruptions that spoil your focus. 

Fitness.Stay active. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, boosts your mood and stay independent as you age. The National Institute on Aging reports 150 minutes of walking each week with light strength and balance training can reduce the risk for disability by 18 percent.

Sleep.Catch some Zzzs to fend off depression. Seven to nine hours of slumber each night boosts your mood, strengthens your immune system and keeps your mind sharp.

Laughter. Whether you're watching a funny video on Facebook or cracking jokes with friends, laughter can be the best jumpstart to a positive mood.  

What’s your favorite way to get happy? Let us know in the comments!  

Sources: Intelligence Interview: Tal Ben-Shahar, leaving site icon Wunderman Thomson, 2012; Six Benefits of Happiness According to Research, leaving site icon Positive Psychology, 2020; Maintaining Mobility and Preventing Disability Are Key to Living Independently as We Age, leaving site icon National Institute on Aging, 2020; How Important is Sleep? leaving site icon American Sleep Association. 2020.
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Originally published 7/10/2019; Revised 2021