Today is the International Day of Happiness, launched in 2014 by the United Nations to promote subjective well-being as a legitimate goal of public policy and social progress.
That’s a goal we share at the Greater Good Science Center, and through the years we’ve covered happiness research from every conceivable angle. Here are some highlights—the most interesting, provocative, or helpful pieces we’ve published on the science of happiness.
What is happiness anyway?
Many scientists use happiness interchangeably with “subjective well-being,” which they measure by simply asking people to report how satisfied they feel with their own lives and how much positive and negative emotion they’re experiencing. Leading researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness more precisely as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Here are some pieces that explore the nuances of happiness.
- Is a Happy Life Different from a Meaningful One? by Jason Marsh and Jill Suttie
- Sonja Lyubomirsky on the Myths of Happiness (podcast)
- The Neuroscience of Happiness: A Q&A with Rick Hanson
What are the benefits of happiness?
In addition to making us feel good, studies have found that happiness actually improves other aspects of our lives, as well as the lives of the people around us.
- Six Ways Happiness is Good for Your Health by Kira Newman
- Need a Kidney? Go to a Happy State by Craig L Anderson
- Are Positive Emotions Good for Your Heart? by Adam Hoffman
Can you cultivate happiness?
Happiness doesn’t just happen. Based on her research, Lyubomirsky has concluded that roughly 50 percent of happiness is determined by our genes and 10 percent by our life circumstance, but 40 percent depends on our daily activities. Here are steps you can take to boost your happiness.
- How to Trick Your Brain for Happiness, by Rick Hanson
- The Hows of Happiness, by Jason Marsh
- How to be Happy: The Fine Print by Stacey Kennelly
- What are the Secrets to a Happy Life? by George E. Vaillant
- Happiness for a Lifetime, by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- How a Challenging Past Can Lead to a Happier Present by Linda Graham
- Where Can We Find Sustainable Happiness? by Sarah van Gelder
- Five Science-Backed Strategies for More Happiness, by Kira Newman
- A Better Way to Pursue Happiness, by Lahnna Catalino
Do more activities that truly engage youAt home and at work, seek out more challenging and absorbing experiences in which you “lose yourself,” experiencing what researchers call “flow.”
Savor life’s joysPay close attention to life’s momentary pleasures and wonders through thinking, writing, or drawing, or by sharing them with others.
Learn to forgiveKeep a journal or write a letter in which you work on letting go of anger and resentment toward someone who has hurt or wronged you.
Practice acts of kindnessDo good things for others—whether friends or strangers, directly or anonymously, spontaneously or planned.
Nurture relationshipsPick a relationship in need of strengthening, and invest time and energy in healing, cultivating, affirming, and enjoying it.
Cultivate optimismKeep a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself, or practice looking at the bright side of every situation.
Avoid over-thinking and social comparisonUse strategies (such as distraction) to cut down on how often you dwell on your problems, and guard against comparing yourself to others.
Develop strategies for copingPractice ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma.
Count your blessingsExpress gratitude for what you have—either privately, through contemplation or journaling, or to someone else—or convey your appreciation to people whom you’ve never properly thanked.
Strengthen your spiritual connectionsReligious and spiritual people are happier, perhaps because of the social connections they get through their community.
Commit to your goalsPick one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devote time and effort to pursuing them.
Take care of your bodyThis could mean exercise, of course, but also meditating, smiling, or laughing.
Download our “6 Habits of Happiness” poster.
Fostering happiness at home and in the world
Can you help the people around you become happier? You bet! Here are some insights and ideas.
- Being Kind Makes Kids Happy by Delia Fuhrmann
- A Happy Marriage in 21 Minutes by Bernie Wong
- What Makes a Happy Parent? by Emily Nauman
- How to be a Happy Working Dad, by Jeremy Adam Smith
- Can We Find Happiness at Work? A Q&A with Srikumar Rao (podcast)
- Should Governments Measure Happiness? by Peter Kinderman
- Happiness is About Respect, Not Riches by Stacey Kennelly
- The Economics of Happiness by John Robbins
- What Movies Make You Happy? by Jeremy Adam Smith
What are the problems with happiness?
Happiness isn’t all flowers and sunshine. Research suggests that it’s possible to be too happy or to embrace false beliefs about what will make you happy. There are many forces that can undermine happiness, no matter what steps you take to cultivate it within yourself. These insights might help you to understand what foils happiness and well-being.
- Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You by June Gruber
- The Genetics of Happiness by Stacey Kennelly
- Are Conservatives Really Happier Than Liberals? by Tom Jacobs
- How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things by Jeremy Adam Smith and Summer Allen
- Does Mind-Wandering Make You Unhappy? by Matt Killingsworth
- Why Americans Struggle to be Happy by Jill Suttie
- Why Happiness is the Wrong Pursuit by Christine Carter
- When Getting Angry Makes You Happy by Lauren Klein
- Is Happiness Selfish? by Rona Renner and Christine Carter (podcast)
- Does Inequality Make Us Unhappy? by Carmen Sobczak