There is more to happiness than we tend to assume, and there are science-based strategies we can all use to find greater happiness. Exercising is one of them. It increases chemicals called endorphins in our bodies that literally makes us feel good. What else predicts happiness? Read on to find out.
Finding the Silver Lining
There are many small behaviors we can do in our daily lives that are empirically shown to increase happiness. The easiest way to increase our happiness is to get enough sleep. A 2015 Gallup poll surveying more than 7,000 American adults found that people who reported getting enough sleep had higher overall well-being than those who got less sleep.
Our personality too, in a sense, predicts happiness. Some people seem magically able to find the silver lining in any situation. Other people don’t naturally find the silver lining. Instead, bad events become an opportunity to obsess and ruminate, replaying difficulties over and over again in their minds, and imagining the worst possible outcomes for events in the future.
Personality—meaning traits largely driven by our genetic make-up—explains about 50% of our happiness, according to research by positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. Some people basically go through life expecting things will work out well for them and find it relatively easy to look on the bright side.
This article comes directly from content in the video series Introduction to Psychology. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
In one clever study to test people’s ability to find the silver lining, researchers brought in college-student couples who were dating each other. They were told that they would both be completing the exact same questionnaire to see if people in a dating relationship saw each other in the same way.
The couple were seated across from each other at a small table and handed what appeared to be identical questionnaires. They each turn to the first page, with the same questions: Where did you meet? And how long have you been dating?
On the second page, however, the researchers threw in a distinct twist. One person was asked to write down all the things they hated about their dating partner. So, they start writing—messy, stubborn, stingy, whatever.
However, the other person was asked to write down every single item in their dorm room. So, they start writing–bed, pillows, books, computer, shoes, posters, TV, and on and on and on.
Now, think for a minute about the experience of the first person, who is watching what they believe to be their partner frantically writing the many, many things they hate about them.
Finally, on the third page, each person is asked to rate their feelings about their partner and their satisfaction with their dating relationship.
Can you predict their findings?
Outlooks and Impacts
For people who did not have a positive outlook believing that their partner had a pretty negative view of them led to lower levels of satisfaction and closeness. This finding makes sense; after all, it’s pretty natural to feel offended if we believe that our romantic partner hates so many things about us.
However, for those who go through life with the positive outlook, the findings were the opposite. In fact, for these people, believing that their partner had a long list of complaints about them led them to feel even closer. Why? Well, their partner is still dating them, so clearly this must be intense love to overcome all these flaws. Surely this is fate; they’ve found their soulmate!
This complicated study illustrates a really important finding: people with a positive outlook take what really should be a relationship-damning experience and they find a silver lining. And this ability to see the positive in all situations leads to greater happiness.
Age and Happiness
Another finding about the predictors of happiness links age with happiness. Data collected from a large sample of Americans examined happiness across the lifespan, ages 18 to 85.
It concluded, first, that happiness is high in people ages 18 to 21, then drops and drops, until reaching a bottom around age 50. This age, not coincidentally, corresponds with what we think of as the ‘midlife crisis’.
It’s also, perhaps coincidentally, an age at which many people have teenagers living in their homes. Then, in what is good news for all of us, happiness rises again for people in their later 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Happiness Increases with Age
What is particularly remarkable is that this U-shaped curve describing the link between age and happiness is not a uniquely American finding. In fact, the same shape of the curve is seen in all 132 different countries that have been studied so far.
So, why does happiness tend to increase with age? Research by Laura Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, reveals that people’s relationships change dramatically across the life span.
Young people tend to have big social networks with lots of casual friends and stumble acquaintances, what one can call ‘Facebook friends’. Older people tend to have much smaller social networks. They get rid of the riff-raff and really spend time with people they care about and who care about them.
So, the older people are basically choosing quality over quantity. This choice to spend time with people we feel close and connected to is a strong predictor of greater happiness.
A caption in a Peanuts cartoon captures this finding perfectly: “As we grow up, we realize it is less important to have lots of friends and more important to have real ones.”
Common Questions about Predicting Happiness
The easiest way to increase our happiness is to get enough sleep. A 2015 Gallup poll surveying more than 7,000 American adults found that people who reported getting enough sleep had higher overall well-being than those who got less sleep.
People who have the ability to only foresee positive outcomes are remarkably good at finding some silver lining, no matter what.
Unhappiness is highest in the 40s and 50s and at a mean age of 46 to 48, depending on which group of countries is considered.