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10 Small, Unexpected Things That Will Make You Happier

Who would have thought that reading your old diary entries and listening to sad songs would make you happier?

10 Small, Unexpected Things That Will Make You Happier
[Photo: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker]

We never get tired of thinking about happiness, do we? Life is so much nicer when you’re able to couple it with joy and gratitude.

We’ve published posts before about simple ways to be happy and retraining your brain for more gratitude, and Buffer’s CEO Joel has even shared his own daily to-do list for happiness. (There’s also our popular list of things to stop doing to be happier.)

Meanwhile, science continues to study happiness, finding ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of this elusive quality into our lives.

I love keeping an eye on these studies, and thought I would share the latest batch with you here to see if any of them might resonate with you and make you just a bit happier.

Here are 10 truly unique ways to be happier that you can start today!

1. Do Cultural Activities

Need a boost of joy? Trying seeing a play or heading to a museum.

A study that collected data on the activities, mood and health of 50,000 adults in Norway found that people who participated in more cultural activities reported higher happiness levels and lower anxiety and depression.

"Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders," the researchers write.

Curiously, men saw stronger benefits from receptive, or passive, cultural activities (like visiting museums, art exhibitions, concerts or theaters) while women more enjoyed active participation events (like club meetings, singing, outdoor activities and dance).

2. Keep A Diary: Rereading It Brings Joy

To learn to find more gratitude and joy in every day—not just special occasions, the boring days, too—try keeping a diary and re-reading it from time to time.

Researchers who did a variety of experiments involving keeping a journal discovered that "ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time" as participants rediscovered them through their older writings.

In other words, simply writing down our ordinary, regular-day experiences is a way of banking up some happiness down the line, when the activities we describe could bring us unexpected joy.

3. Make Small Talk With A Stranger

Chatting up your barista or cashier? Good for your health!

Behavioral scientists gave a group of Chicago train commuters a $5 Starbucks gift card in exchange for striking up a conversation with a stranger during their ride. (While another group kept to themselves.)

Those who started conversations reported a more positive experience than those who had stayed quiet—even though they had predicted they would feel happier being solitary.

Another study saw similar results from giving Starbucks visitors a $5 gift card in exchange for having a "genuine interaction with the cashier."

It seems that connecting with another person—no matter how briefly—increases our happiness.

4. But Have Meaningful Conversations, too

While positive small talk is great, more substantial conversations could up our happiness quotient even higher.

A study that tracked the conversations of 80 people for 4 days found that, in keeping with the small-talk study, higher well-being is associated with spending less time alone and more time talking to others.

But researchers also discovered that even higher well-being was associated with having less small talk and more substantive conversations.

"Together, the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial," the researchers write.

So dive deep in your conversations with friends and loved ones—it’s great for you.

5. Live In The Suburbs And Get Involved

This one seems to apply to the U.S. only, but I still found it quite interesting.

I would have guessed that city dwellers might be the most satisfied with where they live, but in a poll of 1,600 U.S. adults, the highest rate of happiness was found in the suburbs.

84 percent of suburbanites rated the communities where they live as overall excellent or good, compared to 75% of urban dwellers and 78% of rural residents.

Another study on city happiness found that residents are happier if they feel connected to their cities and neighborhoods and feel positively about the state of city services.

So wherever you live, make sure to get involved in your community for maximum happiness.

6. Listen To Sad Songs: They Provide Emotional Release

How could sad songs make us happy? And why do we seek them out?

That’s the question researchers wanted to answer with a survey of 722 people from around the world.

They discovered that there are four main reasons we take comfort in melancholy songs:

  • They allow us to drift off into imagination
  • They might provide us catharsis (emotion regulation)
  • They allow us to relate to a common emotion (empathy), and
  • They’re divorced from our actual problems (no "real-life" implications)

Researchers determined that "listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation."

7. Spend Money On Experiences, Not Items

Here’s one that’s easy to understand but might be tougher to fix.

We know that spending money on life experiences will make us happier than spending money on material things (and it does!) but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from choosing the wrong option.

That’s what a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found as they surveyed people before and after they made purchases.

The series of studies concluded that we’re more likely to spend on items than experiences because we can quantify them more easily and we want to see the best value for our dollars.

However, they found that the study subjects reported that after they spent, experiences brought them greater well-being and they considered them to be a better use of money.

So if we can keep that in mind, it’s possible to have our cake and eat it, too—definitely something to be happy about!

8. Set Tiny, Attainable Goals

It might be cliché, but making someone happy will make you happy, too.

And science says the more specific you can be with your goal, the better.

University of Houston professor Melanie Rudd found that a group of people who were told to make someone smile felt both happier and more confident that they’d actually achieved their goal than a similar group who’d been told simply to make someone else happy.

Even more interesting: In a separate experiment, people wrongly predicted that going for the bigger goal would make them happier.

"If you can meet or exceed your expectations of achieving a goal, you will be happier than if you fall short of your expectations," Rudd explained.

9. Look at Beautiful Things

Could looking at a beautiful object make you feel happier?

The smartphone company HTC conducted a study that says yes.

In a series of laboratory and online experiments, volunteers looked at and interacted with objects that fell into three categories: beautiful, functional, or both beautiful and functional.

Their reactions uncovered some interesting findings, like:

  • Well-designed objects that are both beautiful and functional trigger positive emotions like calmness and contentment, reducing negative feelings like anger and annoyance by almost a third.
  • Purely beautiful objects (not functional) reduce negative emotions by 29%, increasing a sense of calmness and ease.

Objects that were both beautiful and functional created an especially high level of emotional arousal:

In general, people feel happier looking at and using beautiful objects that work well.

10. Eat More Fruits And Veggies

We know being healthier makes us happy, but can carrots give you purpose?

I have to admit I didn’t expect such a direct link between happiness and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as researchers in New Zealand report.

Their 13-day study of 405 people who kept food diaries showed that people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher than average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

Even more interestingly, participants often scored higher on all of those scales on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.

"These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy," writes the research team.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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