Times have changed quite a bit in half a century. We make far more money than our ancestors did, but according to research, we aren't any happier. It often seems that happiness is just around the corner... if we work hard enough. But happiness doesn't come wrapped with a big red bow and car keys attached. The best path to happiness is found in several characteristics of happy people. Scientists suggests that half of our happiness is dependent on our genetic make-up, but that we can determine the other half. It's empowering to know that our actions can have a direct effect on our level of happiness, regardless of our genetic predisposition. Here are 12 attributes found in genuinely happy people that may be just what you need to ensure you stay on the sunny side of the street.
1. Happy People Laugh Often
Laughter really is the best medicine for the sickening feeling of an unhappy life. Laughing out loud releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, the same chemicals found in people who have a sense of joy and well-being. Not only does laughing make you feel good, it's also very good for your health. Researchers from the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that people who suffered from heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in situations in which people without heart disease would. So if you're interested in living a long, happy life, implement more laughable moments. Surround yourself with funny people, watch hilarious movies that make you chuckle, learn to take yourself less seriously and go see a stand-up comedian every once in while. It doesn't really matter which comes first, the chicken or the egg, the joy or the smile, just put a grin on your face and laugh your way to happiness (and healthiness)!
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2. Happy People Have a Strong Support System
Life can seem long and lonely without good friends and family around. Research says if you want to lead a happy life, you need a strong support system. The Framingham Heart Study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, researchers followed 4,739 individuals for 20 years from 1983 to 2003. They found that, just like a cold, happiness is contagious. James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, the professors that led the study, began to notice that happy people clustered together and, unfortunately, so did unhappy people. The people who identified themselves as friends, family and co-workers of the happy group were more likely to be happy themselves and continued to be happy far into the future. The professors stated in their paper, "People's happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon." Birds of a feather flock together. Search for trustworthy friends that are usually in a good mood, and you'll live a happy life regardless of how thick your wallet is.
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3. Happy People Bounce Back
Resiliency is a key that unlocks the door to happiness. Life is full of setbacks, but only discontented, gloomy people allow those setbacks to keep them down. According to Ann S. Masten, author of "Ordinary Magic: Lessons from Research on Resilience in Human Development," people who have the ability to pick themselves up and learn and grow from their experiences breed success and happiness. Life is full of teachable moments, and you can learn valuable lessons from your mistakes. Bouncing back empowers you to face each obstacle that comes your way with confidence. So next time life lets you down, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start over.
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4. Happy People Look for the Good
Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses can lead to a happy life. The word "optimist" was taken from the Latin word "optima," which can be translated as the best outcome and belief in the greatest good. Psychologist and author Martin Seligman has researched this subject for more than 20 years and wrote a book called "Learned Optimism." In his research, he found that optimists have a will to live and thrive. They find meaning and purpose in each situation in life. Disappointments in life send a pessimist into a deep depression. An optimist perceives setbacks as meaningful and uses these situations as an opportunity to grow. As Albert Einstein said, "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe." Change the way you look at life and watch it magically change for you. Make it a point to notice the good things in life -- your son doing his homework without you asking, a flock of pelicans majestically soaring over your head or even a smile from a complete stranger. These are all little reminders that life is a wonderful gift to be appreciated.
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5. Happy People Spend Time Alone
Or rather, they learn to enjoy spending time alone. It can be a challenge to find some good, healthy alone time, especially when you have a job and are married with kids. But happy people make alone time a priority. Realize that it's not a selfish act to take time out for you; it allows you to recharge so that you are able to give back to the world around you. Psychology Today's Sherrie Bourg Carter says, "Taking time for yourself gives your brain a chance to reboot, improves concentration, increases productivity, helps you discover (or rediscover) your own voice, gives you a chance to think deeply, and helps you problem-solve more effectively." Next time you feel overwhelmed with life, take a little break from the chaos. Unplug your phone, step away from your computer. Let your friends and family know you are spending some restorative time alone. Everyone will be happier you did.
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6. Happy People Have a Purpose
It's not an easy task to follow your heart's calling -- you must be brave, resilient and not care what others think. Joseph Campbell, author of "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," studied different cultures, myths and religions all over the world, and he found that the happiest people followed an inner calling and had a purpose in life. An inner calling is the one thing your heart cries out for, the thing you would do even if you were never paid to do it. Your purpose in life may include being the best parent ever, leading a congregation in a religious setting or simply enjoying life so others will do the same. Regardless of what it is, the decision rests solely in your hands. No one can tell you what your heart longs for and only you will have the passion to find it. Follow your bliss!
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7. Happy People Are Do-Gooders
Happy people perform random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Researchers have found an interesting phenomenon called the "helper's high," in which people who volunteer or donate to charities experience an actual high from the act of giving to others. There is a decrease in blood pressure as well as an activation in the reward center of the brain. Chemicals associated with well-being (endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin) are released into the bloodstream creating an effect similar to a drug-induced high without the damage that drugs do to the body. The act of kindness positively affects the one performing the act, the one receiving it and anyone else who happens to see it. Do good, feel good!
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8. Happy People Live in the Moment
The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu said it perfectly: "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment." All you have is the present moment. Life is continually unfolding in front of you, offering you a plethora of stimulating gifts. The blue sky, your laughing child, the rain or the comforting sound of your breath can all give you a sense of well-being and happiness. Heart Mountain Prison Project (HMPP) is a program that offers mindfulness classes to prisoners to promote calm and altruistic behaviors in inmates. Doug Booth is the executive director of HMPP and author of the meditation manual "Doing Your Time With Peace of Mind," which has been distributed to over 6,500 inmates. In their research, they're finding that inmates who practice mindfulness are leaving prison calmer and more optimistic about the future. If mindfulness can give a prisoner a better life, it can certainly do it for you.
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9. Happy People Listen to Music
Music can stimulate your brain in marvelous ways. Listen to a sad song and a memory is activated, bringing tears to your eyes. Listen to an upbeat song, and energy surges through your veins and a grin graces your face. In Elena Mannes book "The Power of Music," she analyzes 20 years of research on how music can positively affect the brain. It can calm babies, lower blood pressure, increase feel-good chemicals and can even help stroke patients who've lost their ability to speak. Music is a powerful mood-altering agent that can be used in many different ways. Smooth jazz or light classical music can decrease the release of cortisol in your system to help calm you and even help you heal from injury. Happy, upbeat music can give you an energy boost and elevate your mood. Next time you're feeling low, make yourself an upbeat mixtape and sing the blues away.
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10. Happy People Spend Quality Time in Nature
Your mom rewards you with hugs and kisses if you come to visit -- Mother Earth rewards you with a life filled with happiness. According to several research studies reported in Science Daily, spending time in nature gives people vitality and a heightened sense of well-being. Subjects for the studies were presented with different scenarios in which some saw pictures of nature, others imagined spending time in nature and some actually walked in nature. Each subject reported feeling more lively, whether they were out in nature or just imagining it. Another study found that hospital patients who simply had a view of nature from their window healed more quickly, were calmer and were released earlier than patients who had no view at all. Swimming in the ocean, flying a kite in the park or taking a stroll through the forest are all free activities that will put a spring in your step.
11. Happy People Exercise
Working out is something happy people have at the top of their to-do lists. Researchers at Penn State University studied 190 college students over an eight-day period and 63 college students for a 14-day period. Subjects were asked to keep a daily journal of their activities, sleep patterns and how they felt. Results from both groups showed the amount of exercise they did each day had a direct effect on their satisfaction with life. They don't call it a "runner's high" for nothing. Exercise increases the amount of happy chemicals released in your brain, creating a lovely cocktail of neurotransmitters that are sure to put a smile on your face. Exercise also helps your digestion, keeps your heart healthy, aids in sleep and helps you look good. So if you want to be happy and healthy, get off that couch and go for a jog.
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12. Happy People Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Losing a night of sleep has got to be one of the absolute worst things for your mood. It's hard to function properly when you are tired -- and even harder to smile. Norbert Schwarz, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, authored a study in which 909 women were evaluated and asked to use the DRM (Day Reconstruction Method) to describe their day. Each woman was asked her income, marital status and number of children as well as other related questions. He found that one of the biggest deciding factors for well-being and happiness was the amount of sleep each woman got. Schwarz said, "Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night." It's now obvious that money can't buy you happiness, but maybe a healthy dose of shut-eye can. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is the best way to be sure you will snooze soundly.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you consider yourself a happy person? Why or why not? To what do you most attribute your happiness? Were you aware of these 12 traits of happy people? Do you have all of these traits? Are there any that we missed on our list? Leave a comment and let us know.
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