On the internet and in bookstores, a thousand gurus tout different remedies for human misery. How can we find out which remedies work? We need to consult one of our greatest gurus, the scientific method. Recently we have seen a dramatic upsurge in scientific studies on Positive Psychology and the science of happiness or to put it simply, discovering what makes happy people happy. Fortunately, many of these studies point to specific ways of thinking and acting that can strongly impact our sense of happiness and peace of mind. The resulting discoveries are enriching the practices of counseling, clinical psychology, psychiatry and life coaching. In these pages, we review the most scientific studies and translate the results into non-technical English.
7 Habits of Happy People
Express your heart. People who have one or more close friendships are happier. It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a large network of close relationships or not. What seems to make a difference is if and how often we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings with a friend or relative. "Active-constructive responding," which is the ability to express genuine interest in what people say, and respond in encouraging ways, is a powerful way to enrich relationships and cultivate positive emotions. Continue »
Cultivate kindness. People who volunteer or simply care for others on a consistent basis seem to be happier and less depressed. Although “caring” can involve volunteering as part of an organized group or club, it can involve random acts of kindness, such as reaching out to a colleague or classmate who looks lonely or is struggling with an issue. Continue »
Keep moving and eat well. Regular exercise has been associated with improved mental well-being and a lower incidence of depression. The Cochrane Review (the most influential medical review of its kind in the world) has produced a landmark analysis of 23 studies on exercise and depression. One of the major conclusions was that exercise had a “large clinical impact" on depression. Many studies are proving the ancient adage, "sound body, sound mind," including the recent discovery of a "gut-brain axis," psychobiotics, and a possible link between excessive sugar consumption and depression. Continue »
Find your flow. If we are deeply involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called "flow." Many kinds of activities, such as sports, playing an instrument, or teaching, can produce the experience of flow. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer of the scientific study of happiness, flow is a type of intrinsic motivation. In his words, "you do what you're doing primarily because you like what you're doing. If you learn only for external, extrinsic reasons, you will probably forget it as soon as you are no longer forced to remember what you want to do." Continue »
Discovering Meaning. Studies demonstrate a close link between spiritual and religious practice and happiness. Spirituality is closely related to the discovery of greater meaning in our lives. As the psychologist Martin Seligman emphasizes, through the meaningful life we discover a deeper kind of happiness, Continue »
Discover and use your strengths. Studies by experts such as Martin Seligman in the new field of Positive Psychology show that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths (such as persistence and critical thinking) and virtues (such as humanity) and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment). Continue »
Treasure gratitude, mindfulness, and hope. Of all the areas studied in the relatively young field of positive psychology, gratitude has perhaps received the most attention. Grateful people have been shown to have greater positive emotion, a greater sense of belonging, and lower incidence of depression and stress.Continue »
Learn more about the Science of Happiness
How Happy Are You? Take the Happiness Quiz
76% of quiz takers who practice one of the 7 habits of happy people report feeling happier.
Take our free happiness quiz and learn more about how to be happy.
Follow a simple step-by-step approach and learn what you can actually do to become happier.
Backed by real science, our popular free mini-course can help you get there. Take the mini-course today.
And if you want more, check out our in-depth courses.
The scientific evidence
Each of the habits / life skills introduced above and in the online courses is based on numerous scientific studies which are listed in extensive bibilographies. You can find this information via the Science of Happiness drop down menu and hovering over each habit (or clicking on the arrows on mobile).
Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness: What's the difference?
What is Positive Psychology?
"The term "Positive Psychology" was originally coined by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1950's. He used the term somewhat loosely to call for a more balanced view of human nature, that is, to draw attention to human potentialities as well as psychological afflictions. In 2002, Martin Seligman popularized Positive Psychology through his influential work Authentic Happiness, defining it as the study of positive emotions and the "strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive."
What is the Science of Happiness?
The Science of Happiness, the scientific study of "what makes happy people happy," was arguably launched by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi in the late 1980's. Czikszentmihalyi pioneered the "experience sampling method" to discover what he called the "psychology of optimal experience," and specifically, the experience of Flow.
How is Positive Psychology related to the Science of Happiness?
Positive Psychology could be regarded as a subset within the broader field we call the Science of Happiness, which extends to the natural as well as the social sciences. For example, Positive Psychology is largely focused on the study of positive emotions and "signature strengths," yet the Science of Happiness extends, for example, to such areas as the impact of exercise on psychological well-being, or the effect of social media on happiness.