At first look, happiness may seem like a subjective quality: who's to say that your amazing new pair of shoes doesn't actually make the world seem a little bit brighter? But while we may all have our individual joyful quirks, some things have been biologically proven to enhance mood, and here are six of them that are undeniably accurate.
The meditation-happiness relationship has been long documented, but more recently, it's become science-backed as well. One such study offered 60 employees a seven-week meditation course consisting of 15-20 minutes of mediation a day. In comparison to the non-meditating employees, results showed the meditators experienced an increase in positive emotions that included a clearer purpose in life, a feeling of social support, and even a decrease in physical pain from illness symptoms. For such a simple practice that can be done anywhere, free of charge, it's no wonder mediation is quickly rising in popularity in modern society.
2. Exercise Regularly
Have you ever experienced a “running high” or felt particularly elated after completing a difficult session of as many reps as possible (AMRAP)—even while exhausted? You're not alone! The human body was meant to move and we're actually designed with psychological support to increase biological motivation for activity. Exercise releases all the most prominent mood-related neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (and epinephrine). This healthy good-mood ride was likely a way to encourage physical activity from an evolutionary standpoint, but today it can be used the other way around, too: getting a little sweat on to promote a better headspace.
3. Eat Some Chocolate
If you've ever made the claim that eating chocolate makes you happy, it turns out you're scientifically right! Many studies have been published that show chocolate's effect on mood, which is due to its unique phytochemical composition, including components like theobromine and flavanols. Chocolate even contains a special compound called anandamide, often called “the bliss molecule.” The result is that chocolate (and in particular, cacao), stimulates endorphins and provides precursor nutrition for mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep and depression go hand-in-hand, but the opposite is also true. Of course, you feel better from a great night of zzz's, but your brain actually functions on an entirely new happy level, too. And it's not just duration, it's regularity as well. One 2017 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that “week-long irregular sleep schedules are significantly associated with lower self-reported morning and evening happiness, healthiness, and calmness during the week even after controlling for weekly average sleep duration,” said lead author Akane Sano, PhD. So, set a bedtime—and stick to it—to naturally broaden your smile.
5. Give to Others
The saying “it's better to give than to receive” is true on many levels, but can include a direct correlation to personal, lasting happiness. Studies have shown that “giving” stimulates the same parts of the brain activated by food and sex, indicating that generosity is a hard-wired component of our brain. Helping others is a shortcut way to not only be of service, but to help yourself in the process as well.
6. Enjoy Your Furry (or Non-Furry) Friends
Why does just looking at a picture of a puppy bring a smile to your face—even on a difficult day? Animals can help improve mental health so dramatically, there's even a medical term for this kind of animal assistance: pet therapy. In one study, as reported by TIME,“ a stressed-out group of adults were told to pet a rabbit, a turtle or their toy forms. The toys had no effect. But stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, relieved anxiety. It worked for people regardless of whether they initially said they liked animals.” Similar studies even found that having pet crickets helped reduce depression! When it comes to balanced mental health, nature wins again.