Unless you’ve been marooned on a remote island, you’ve witnessed an explosion of interest in happiness in recent years. There’s a good reason why: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it’s also useful. Researchers have found at least three important benefits from being happy: 1) greater success at work (e.g., happier people earn more) 2) better health (happier people live longer), and 3) better relationships (e.g., happier people are more likely to be married).
The million-dollar question is, of course: what can you do to be more happy?
The single biggest determinant of happiness, in turns out, is being in intimate relationships. One study found that every single one in the happiest 10% had at least one close relationship. This means that if you wish to be in the happiest 10%, being in a close relationship is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.
While it’s interesting that relationships are super important for happiness, it isn’t so useful. This is because building relationships isn’t easy, particularly true if you lead a busy life.
So, what else can you do to be boost happiness? This leads me to the second biggest happiness tip.
Before I get to what it is, you may find it useful to get a quick primer on one of the biggest happiness killers: tethering your happiness to the external world. Tethering your happiness to the external world means telling yourself, “I’ll be happy when someone (spouse, colleague, neighbor, etc.) do ____________ (fill in the blanks) or when I achieve _________ (fill in the blanks).” The problem with doing this approach is that, life, like Donald Trump’s hair, is difficult to control. So, by depending on the external world for happiness, you would be setting yourself up for frustration and misery.
It turns out that our desire to tether happiness to the external world becomes more pronounced when we lack “internal control”—control over our own feelings. So, it follows that one way to overcome the tendency seek external control is by gaining internal control. Gaining greater internal control involves retaining the keys to happiness in your own two hands.
There are several way to take internal control, but the simplest—and perhaps most effective—way is to lead a healthier lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle, to borrow the parlance of Tom Rath (author of several bestsellers, including Strengthsfinder 2.0), involves three things: Eating right, moving more, and sleeping better.
Eating right means not consuming things that are harmful for you. Almost every dietician agrees that sugar, processed food, and trans fats are bad for you. So, the more you cut out these three things from your diet, the better off you are. In addition, you could do one or more of the following three things to eat right:
1. Put unhealthy items (e.g., potato chips) in hard-to-reach places and healthy items (e.g., carrot sticks) in easier to reach places
2. Replace larger plates or bowls with smaller ones; it turns out we consumer far less when we eat out of smaller plates), and
3. Start your meals with healthy items such as veggies instead of rice; findings show we consumer 50% more of the item with which we start a meal
What does moving more mean? It means two things: not sitting for more than: 1) six hours a day, and 2) 30 minutes at a time. Some recent findings suggest that a sedentary lifestyle may be even more dangerous to health than smoking. Here are three things you could do to move more:
1. Get a pedometer. (It turns out merely measuring how much we walk makes us walk more!)
2. Put in reminders (e.g., on outlook) to take a break every 30 minutes, and
3. Start your day with 20 minutes of light exercise. (Findings how you feel better up to 12 hours later if you exercise!)
Finally, sleeping better means getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night. If you believe that you can function perfectly well with less sleep than that, think again. One study found that over 97% of people need at least 7 hours of sleep a night to function optimally. So, if you feel that you function well with 6 hours or less of sleep, you just don’t know how much sharper and more effective you’d be by getting just one more hour of sleep!
Here are three things you could do, starting today, to sleep better:
1. Make your bedroom 2-3 degrees cooler than the rest of the house. (Turns out we sleep better in cooler environments),
2. Get a white noise machine for the bedroom. (We sleep better with some background noise), and
3. Follow regular sleep schedule (e.g., go to bed at 10 pm every night and wake up no earlier than 6 am).
Side note: If you want to learn about some other ways for eating right, moving more, and sleeping better, and also participate in an exercise that will help you become healthier, click here.
Leading a healthy lifestyle might seem like a “low tech” strategy for feeling happier, but for most of us, it’s much easier to achieve than intimacy in relationships. And if you give it a try for just two weeks, you’ll likely discover—as many of my students have—that it is a huge happiness booster. Further—who knows?—because those who lead healthier lifestyles look and behave better, you may even discover that it paves the way to intimacy in relationships!