Happiness—which Merriam-Webster defines as “a state of well-being or contentment”—is something we all value, whether it lasts for a brief moment or for the long term. Not only is feeling happy inherently good, but research shows us that happier people tend to report having better health, greater psychological well-being, more fulfilling relationships, and a deeper sense of purpose.
The good news is that regardless of your wealth, social status, and even health, you can take steps to boost your overall happiness. Research has shown that while only 10% of happiness is based on external circumstances (like having a lot of money or living in a perfect climate), approximately 40% is determined by how we interpret and respond to events. This is important, because we can control our thoughts and behaviors. The remaining 50% is based on personality; each person has an average level of happiness, or a set point, that they tend to return to regardless of whether good or bad things are happening in life.
So how can you take advantage of that 40% of happiness that you control? Research has shown that we can increase happiness with simple exercises—similar to how we build muscles by working out.
“Many researchers have linked happiness to better mental health—primarily lower levels of depression and stress—as well as better physical health, including improved immune functioning,” says Jennifer Smith, PhD, director of research at Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging. The Institute is the research arm of Mather LifeWays, the not-for-profit parent company to Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Oro Valley. The Institute on Aging is an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living, and successful aging service innovations.
“We set out to see if there are ways that older adults can build their happiness through simple daily tasks,” explains Dr. Smith. Her research focused on asking older adults to practice savoring, because savoring positive experiences can increase happiness and resilience. Savoring is paying attention to positive experiences, appreciating how enjoyable or meaningful the experience is, and building these positive feelings. “We can regulate and amplify our positive emotions by savoring positive experiences,” explains Dr. Smith. “Savoring enhances our ability to find joy in life—it’s our ability to be mindful or aware of positive experiences and to harness these experiences to boost positive feelings.”
Savoring does not necessarily have to be about an action—it can take place when you reminisce about a past positive event, or when you recall how you felt during a happy experience. Or savoring can occur when you anticipate an upcoming positive event or imagine a future happiness.
Dr. Smith’s research showed that older adults who practiced simple savoring exercises twice a day for six or seven days reported higher resilience, less stress, and lower depression compared to those who didn’t fully complete the exercise. Those who reported an increase in their ability to savor positive experiences after the exercise reported higher levels of resilience, happiness, and satisfaction with life, as well as lower levels of stress and depression.
“As for those older adults who are in poor health, my previous research found that savoring can help people maintain high levels of life satisfaction even when their physical health is poor,” adds Dr. Smith.
The fact that you can take small steps to increase your overall happiness—even if your health is not good—is reason to make anyone happy!
Here are eight savoring strategies you can start using today to boost your happiness. These evidence-based tips are recommended by Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging.
1. Treat Yourself to Learning Something New. Regularly schedule uninterrupted time to focus on a hobby or learn a new skill.
2. Increase Your Appreciation. You can avoid taking good things for granted by imagining what it would be like if you lost them. Try skipping your afternoon coffee or sweets for a week—you’ll savor them more after the break.
3. Put on Your Walking Shoes. Take a 15- to 20-minute walk each day where you only focus on positive things. Actively search for things that bring out joy, awe, curiosity, or contentment.
4. Redirect Your Thinking. When you catch yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, intentionally shift your mind to a more positive topic or perform a random act of kindness.
5. Challenge Yourself. Set specific, achievable goals that you can complete within a month. When you reach your milestone, make a point to recognize and celebrate your success.
6. Put on a Happy Face. Even if you’re feeling a little down, acting like you’re in a good mood by smiling and laughing can help improve your mood. Acting happy can lead to actual happiness.
7. End the Day on a Bright Note. At the end of each day, take a few moments to think of three positive things that happened that day.
8. Phone a Friend. You don’t have to be alone when you try these out—invite a friend or family member to join you on your daily walk, your goal-setting, or even learn something new together.