New Study Shows Scientists Know the Key to Being Happy

Happiness is one of those things that, at times, can seem unobtainable but it turns out that becoming happy is something that can be taught and learned. Now, scientists know the key to being happy and it turns out it's something pretty simple to do, even during the challenging times brought by the coronavirus pandemic. According to a new study there are five simple things that people can do to enhance their happiness and change their emotions.

The research into learning to being happy started in 2014 with two psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley who launched an online course, the Science of Happiness (via CNET). Over the eight-week course, participants reported feeling less stress and sadness and loneliness while they also felt increased enthusiasm, affection, and sense of community with happiness and life satisfaction increasing by about 5 percent -- a boost that lasted even after the course ended.

"There's a misconception that happiness is built-in and that we can't change it," Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University and teacher of the Coursera class The Science of Well-Being said. "The science shows that our circumstances -- how rich we are, what job we have, what material possessions we own -- these things matter less for happiness than we think."

Happiness is also not something that is a constant positive state.

"We think happiness is like a Facebook reel of vacations and achievements and checkboxes for life goals," Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who co-teaches Berkley's The Science of Happiness course and is also the science director of Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center said. "But people who pursue happiness in that sort of belief system end up being less happy than people who define happiness in a more overarching, quality-of-life way."

So, what are the keys to being happier? First, enhance your social connections. Having social connection is apparently the biggest factor affecting happiness per multiple studies as people with close relationships tend to be happier than those who do not. Second, engage in random acts of kindness. According to Simon-Thomas, doing random acts of kindness taps into the natural, basic human impulse to help others, thus triggering the brain's reward system. Helping others literally feels good. Third, express gratitude. Writing down just three things you're grateful for each day offers a long-term increase in happiness and it doesn't have to be anything elaborate. The trick is just to train the mind to look at the positive. Fourth, practice mindfulness.

"The idea is to be present -- don't judge your emotions, but recognize them," says Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia.

And the fifth key to happiness, according to science, is to practice self-compassion. Simon-Thomas acknowledges that this can be especially challenging, but it's still important to be compassionate towards ourselves, something that can be done by drawing on other elements on the list, such as being present in the moment, cultivating a supportive inner voice, and understanding that setbacks are a normal part of the human experience.

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Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images