Psychologists have identified a number of life strategies
that help people get happier. These strategies have proved to be effective in
controlled studies. But how do people really use them in everyday life?
That’s the question posed by a crack team of happiness
investigators led by Acacia Parks, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at
Hiram College in Ohio. In a new study in the journal Emotion, Dr. Parks and her
colleagues found some interesting answers.
First, the researchers identified 14 happiness strategies
with solid evidence to back them up. Then they asked 114 online volunteers to take a survey about which strategies they used to make themselves
happier. Here’s how the strategies stacked up, from most popular to least:
Doing acts of kindness for others
Pursuing personally meaningful goals
Doing physical exercise or sports
Nurturing social relationships
Savoring life’s joys
Acting like a happy person
Doing activities “in the moment”
Practicing religion or spirituality
Using strategies to manage stress
More than three-quarters of the volunteers said they made
themselves happier by doing acts of kindness for others, the most popular
strategy. But even meditation, the least popular strategy, was used by one in
five of these online happiness seekers.
On average, volunteers said they were currently using eight
of the strategies. In contrast, experimental studies focus on one thing at a
time. That’s intentional, because it allows researchers to tease out the
specific effects of a particular action. But it’s also artificial, which is why
it’s just as important to look at what people actually do when left to their
own devices in the real world.
Here are some insights into how people make the most of
happiness strategies in everyday life:
frequently. Volunteers invested serious time in the pursuit of happiness.
They reported doing their most meaningful activity at least several times a
week, on average. And they typically spent at least 40 minutes on it each time.
long-term. The uptick in happiness that came from starting a new strategy
sometimes wore off over time. But even when that happened, it usually didn’t
occur for several months.
Mix it up.
The same research team also studied users of a phone app featuring eight
happiness activities. People who practiced a greater variety of activities got
a bigger mood boost.