Want to live a longer and better life? Increase your happiness! Contrary to old notions that happiness is shallow or naïve, there is a growing body of evidence that happiness is beneficial for morbidity (risk of illness), survival of illness and longevity (Diener & Chan 2011). Diener and Chan’s research review suggests that high subjective well-being may add 4–10 years of life compared with low subjective well-being (and the years will also be more enjoyable than they would have been for less happy people, the authors note!).
So how do you become happier? Mary Monroe, a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area, shares some insights from happiness experts.
“Exercise may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities,” says researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin 2007). A review of over 50 studies confirmed that there is sufficient evidence to show that even single sessions of activity can improve mood, and people who are more active are more likely to rate themselves and their mental well-being more positively (Fox 1999).
In addition to exercise, you need to take in good experiences to feel happier and more confident. This helps you defeat the brain’s negativity bias, which is like Velcro® for bad experiences but Teflon® for positive ones, notes Rick Hanson, PhD, in his book, Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (New Harbinger 2011). Mental activity, such as meditation, can reshape the brain and help it focus on the positive.
You can also “trick” the brain to take in the good or to deeply savor positive experiences, says Hanson. He suggests that by holding positive experiences in awareness for 10, 20 or even 30 seconds, you can train your brain to remember them, helping to offset the natural inclination to forget the positive and remember the negative.