There has been a lot of research into how to live a happy life, and these are just some findings I came across.
“Proven ways” refers to generalised results suggested by these studies and until you try each one out for yourself, it remains unproven for you as an individual.
So why not try a few and see for yourself which really lead to a happy life?
1. Believe in something
Some studies suggest that religious people are more than twice as likely as the secular to say they were “very happy”. While this in itself is not a reason to hastily adopt a religion, we may do well to believe in something. Have you ever met a happy skeptic?
Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.”
– Dale Carnegie
2. Embrace silence
Almost every person I’ve met who is living a happy life has cited “personal retreats”, “quiet time”, “me time” or some equivalent as an essential contribution to their happiness. Neuroscience professor Richard Davidson measured the brain activity of Buddhist monks and showed that meditation actually altered the physical state of the brain in a way that made them feel happier.
“A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live.”
– Bertrand Russell
3. Work on your own terms
In a recent study, those who work at their own business were much happier than even those in highly-paid professions. Having control over what we do, how we allocate our time, and choosing to do what we enjoy – these go a long way toward living a happy life. You don’t necessarily have to quit your job though – for example you could negotiate your terms of work so that you’re effectively working the way you want to.
“Drive your business; let not that drive thee.”
– Benjamin Franklin
4. Find your “flow” experience
The concept of “flow” as described by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came from his observation that people with happy lives tend to engage in activities which required both a high level of challenge and a high level of skill. High challenge with low skill caused anxiety, while low challenge with high skill brought boredom. (Watching TV, interestingly, is low challenge with low skill and leads to apathy.) Whether your “flow” activity is dancing, painting, or water-skiiing, do it often!
“Live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
5. Have something to look forward to
Viktor Frankl’s famous book Man’s Search for Meaning showed the world how having something to look forward to helped him survive extreme conditions of torture and deprivation. Recent research by neuroscientist Brian Knutson using MRI to measure brain activity suggests that even on a normal day-to-day basis, anticipation is a big part of a happy life.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
6. Hang out with friends
Friendship seems to have a much greater effect on how happy our life is than a typical person’s income. Economist Professor Oswald estimated that a person needs £50,000 to make up for not having friends. It is even thought that friendship can ward off germs by activating the part of the brain that controls disease. No wonder we reach for the phone to call a friend when we’re feeling blue.
“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”
– Tennessee Williams
7. Just carry on living
Happiness seems to follow a U-shaped life cycle: it’s highest at the beginning and end of our lives, and lowest in the middle. So if you’re feeling blue now, you may be at the bottom of the U; if you just wait a few years, you may find yourself having a happy life again!
“At my age I do what Mark Twain did. I get my daily paper, look at the obituaries page and if I’m not there I carry on as usual.”
– Patrick Moore
At the moment a big part of my own happy life is the flow experience I get while dancing. The bonus is that you have to dance with people so there’s the friendship element that is taking place as well. Plus the weekly socials give me something to look forward to.
So apart from the empirical studies, I can personally attest that some of these methods really do work. Which is partly why I’m blogging less now – I have a happy life to keep me occupied! And I wish the same for all of you reading this.