Most people think their happiness depends on their life circumstances. That is, we will be more or less happy depending on what’s going on in their life. That’s why we chase promotions, partners, cars, new clothes, or bigger houses. Come to think of it, isn’t that why we pursue anything at all?
But over the longer term, circumstances only play a small role in happiness – around 10%, by some researchers’ estimations1. Our intentional activities are much more important – the things we choose to do with our time, our habits, and our attitudes. Luckily, these are much easier to change.
Here are five research-supported techniques from positive psychology that you can use to boost your happiness.
1) Build Relationships with Others
One of the most consistent findings in happiness research is that social relationships and spending time with others makes us happy. For example our Chief Technical Officer Dr George MacKerron’s “Mappiness” research project (mappiness.org) used smartphones to buzz people at random times, asking them what they were doing and how they felt. His research indicated that socialising is one of the activities that makes us the most happy.
Try saying “yes” to a few more social invitations with your friends and colleagues. Better yet, arrange something yourself. You’ll feel better for it.2
2) Random Acts of Kindness
Studies have shown that performing simple random acts of kindness for other people can actually increase your own happiness. This is something that people who do volunteer work have long known.
In one study, people were asked to perform five acts of kindness per week for six weeks, and ended up significantly happier than a control group by the end of the study. An act of kindness can be as simple as holding a door, clearing up for someone or making them a drink.3
Happiness is largely based on relative judgements of our lives, not the absolute conditions. When our lives improve, such as through a pay rise, we are happier for a while. But soon enough we get used to our new circumstances and our happiness returns to normal. Psychologists call this the “hedonic treadmill.” However, there is a simple trick to get around this: expressing gratitude.
Each night, write down at least five things you are grateful for, and why. If you find this difficult, start at the basics. Do you have friends? A roof over your head? Are you generally in good health? Try to cultivate a feeling of gratitude within yourself towards each item on your list as you write it.4
4) Challenge the Negativity Bias
The human brain has a “negativity bias.” This means that negative events affect our mood more than positive ones. Have you ever received feedback on a piece of work which was mostly positive except for one criticism – and that was the comment that stuck with you? That’s the negativity bias in action. Here are two ways to counter-act it.
Three Good Things: Before you go to bed, write down three good things that happened that day. This simple exercise reorients your attention towards the positive. When something happens through the day and you find yourself thinking “Ahh, that can be one of my three things,” that’s when you know it’s working.5
Challenge Negative Thoughts: When something negative happens (e.g., we made a mistake in a report) we sometimes extrapolate it onto our whole personality (e.g., “I’m useless”). This is the negativity bias gone haywire. Actively challenge such thoughts. Ask yourself, where is the evidence? Are there alternative explanations? What is the impact of thinking this way? Am I expecting myself to be perfect? Would I judge another person in the same way?6
5) Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a form of attention and emotion regulation training. Research into mindfulness has exploded in recent years, with thousands of research papers being published in the last decade. An analysis of 209 studies found that mindfulness is “especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.”7 Research shows that mindfulness also increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with positive emotion.8
Not only that, but it also improves several cognitive functions that are conducive to effectiveness in the workplace, such as memory9, attention9, empathy10 and communication skills. This is why several organisations run mindfulness training programs, including Google, Transport for London, and even the US Marines.
Mindfulness is quite similar to exercise in that, despite the known benefits, it is a difficult habit to maintain. We specialise in mindfulness training programs for organisations that are designed to enhance engagement. We use a unique combination of live training and gamified technology to increase adherence to mindfulness practice, so that it becomes embedded as a habit.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the form on the main page to find out more about how mindfulness and wellbeing can help your business.
 Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
 Bryson, A. & MacKerron, G. (2013). Are you happy while you work? Centre for Economic Performance discussion papers, CEPDP1187. Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
 Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & Yelverton, J. (2003). Pursuing sustained happiness through random acts of kindness and counting one’s blessings: Tests of two six-week interventions. Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.
 Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective –being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389
 Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
 Seligman, M. E. P. (1990) Learned Optimism: How to Change your Mind and your Life. Vintage Books.
 Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., & Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 763–771.
 Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S., et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564-570.
 Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Conscious Cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
 Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self-compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359-71.