Happiness is associated with feeling good. It has a wide range of definitions and can mean something different to everyone. Happiness could be something indulgent, or it could be something more long-term and fulfilling. It could be a burst of uninhibited laughter, or possibly, an unamused smile. Clearly, happiness is a concept that is far more complicated than the average self-help book may have us believe. Here are 25 surprising facts about what it actually means to be happy.
1. Freedom Boosts Happiness More Than Money
As the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. Societies that expanded their level of freedom and independence saw a corresponding boost in the quality of life of the citizens, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. He concludes that in allowing people to live the way they prefer to is more likely to result in satisfaction than the usual focus on economic concerns.
2. Happiness Improves as We Age
A study conducted at the University of Alberta tracked subjects level of happiness over a 25-year period. They discovered that across the board, those who got older got happier.
3. Phone Calls Are Better for Happiness Than Texts
Phone calls are said to be better for the happiness and health of long-distance relationships. Research has found that through a phone call, people tend to feel more emotionally supported by their significant other as opposed to instant messaging.
4. Pets Make You Happy
While most people may think otherwise, according to Allen McConnell, a university distinguished professor at Miami University’s Department of Psychology, found that the difference between felines and canines and how it affects your happiness is nil. “We’ve never found differences between dogs and cats. The primary difference is the extent to which you anthropomorphize the pet. If you view your iguana as having human-like compassion and qualities, it’s as good as a golden retriever. It’s all in the mind of the owner,” he says.
5. Happiness Is Contagious
Surrounding yourself with happy people will cause that happiness to rub off on you. This was established according to the findings of researchers who looked at the Framingham Heart Study, which looked at the health and happiness of more than 4,700 residents of the city of Framingham, Massachusetts. It found that people who reported feeling happy tended to form their own ‘cluster; with one another. It was found that the likelihood of happiness rises 15.3% if a family member or close friend is happy.
6. Happy Places Also Have High Suicide Rates
Countries and states that have been rated as the ‘Happiest Places’ surprisingly tend to have the highest suicide rates. Research from the University of Warwick, in England, as well as Hamilton College in New York, and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. According to one of the researchers, “This result is consistent with other research that shows that people judge their well-being in comparison to others around them. These types of comparison effects have also been shown with regards to income, unemployment, crime, and obesity.”
7. Bad Days Can Be a Good Thing
When you experience emotions beyond happiness, it can have a surprising and positive side effect, to the point that even bad days can actually be good for your long-term happiness. A psychology team from the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering found that subjects who experienced a combination of happiness and sadness at the same time were more likely to improve their sense of mental health over the long run.
8. Small Towns and Rural Areas Are Found to Foster Happiness
According to findings from public policy researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, big cities aren’t great for one’s happiness. The researchers examined data from the General Social Survey which revealed a correlation between higher levels of happiness and being located in a small town or rural area.
9. Being Happy Might Make You Less Creative
In a study conducted at the University of North Texas, Mark A. Davis revealed “moderate levels of positive moods can help to open up our minds and get us to think outside the box. But those experiencing high levels of happiness did not exhibit the same burst of creativity as those feeling less cheery.”
10. Our Love of Happiness Is Relatively New
Peter N. Sterns explains in Harvard Business Review says, “Until the 18th century, Western standards encouraged, if anything, a slightly saddened approach to life, with facial expressions to match. As one dour Protestant put it, God would encourage a person who ‘allowed no joy or pleasure, but a kind of melancholic demeanor and austerity.’”
11. Advances In Dentistry Made Us Love Happiness
Smiles didn’t use to be all that pleasant to look at. Stearns points out, “One historian noted the 18th century as being a time of improved dentistry when people became more willing to lift their lips in a smile; he argues that the ambivalent smile of a Mona Lisa probably reflected embarrassment at tooth decay.”
12. Exercise Boosts Happiness—In Less Time Than You Think
The connection between physical and mental health has been well established. But it turns out that a little bit of physical activity has a significant, positive impact on one’s mental health, and in less time than might otherwise be expected. Researchers have discovered that exercising just 10 minutes improves a subject’s mood, reduces stress, and generally enhances wellbeing.
13. But Exercising Longer Doesn’t Necessarily Improve Happiness
There are some exercises that boost one’s mood a bit, but doing a lot of exercise doesn’t necessarily boost your mood a lot. In the same study, they tracked the responses of the subjects after 30 minutes of exercise and they found that there was no marked improvement in their moods, in comparison to those who exercised just 10 minutes.
14. Coffee Increases Happiness
A study by Spanish researchers discovered that those who drank two cups of coffee per day were 22% less likely to die over the decade they were studied, in comparison to those who didn’t drink coffee. It was also found that those who drank four cups of coffee were 64% less likely to die than those who didn’t drink coffee.
15. Fruits and Vegetables Bring Joy
Fruits and vegetables are not just good for your physical health, they are great for your wellbeing too. In one study, more than 12,000 Australians found there to be a correlation between consumption of fruits and vegetables and how it affects your happiness.
16. Not Everyone Defines Happiness the Same Way
According to a team of researchers writing in the Journal of Happiness Studies, happiness may be a cultural construct. Americans tend to think of it as wearing a big smile and enjoying oneself. In North American cultural contexts, happiness tends to be defined in terms of personal hedonistic experience and personal achievement. In comparison, East Asian contexts of happiness tend to be defined in terms of social harmony.
17. Dehydration Brings Down Your Happiness
When you stay hydrated, it makes it easier for you to tackle a physical task. It also boosts your mood so you perceive a task to be more manageable. In one study, researchers found that subjects who were dehydrated tended to view a task as more difficult than those who were fully hydrated. This impacted their levels of well-being and happiness.
18. California Has A Bunch of Happy Cities
Some of the happiest cities in the country are in California, according to WalletHub. The happiest city on its list, scoring 79.89 based on emotional and physical wellbeing, community, environmental factors and more is the city of Fremont. The Silicon Valley hub of San Jose took the number three spot, while Irvine came in at number eight and Huntington Beach came at number nine.
19. Hawaii Is the Happiest State
Hawaii takes the top spot with the highest levels of emotional and physical well-being of any of the states measured. This was followed by Utah, Minnesota, North Dakota and California.
20. Equality Is Great for Happiness
Income inequality can have a major impact on one’s individual wellbeing as well. Researchers found that societies with greater levels of inequality between the rich and the poor see greater declines in physical health, mental health and the wellbeing of children.
21. You Can Literally Throw Unhappy Thoughts Away
Writing your negative thoughts down and physically throwing them away will help you get rid of them. That’s what one study found which asked subjects to do that. In another control group, they wrote down the thoughts and reread them. The group that threw the negative thoughts out reported feeling less negative.
22. Hosting a Sporting Event Raises a Country’s Morale
When a society experiences widespread unhappiness, something that can help boost spirits is to host a major sports event. And whether the host country wins or loses, what boosts happiness is the actual hosting of the game. This is based on a study of 12 European countries in which the ones hosting an international event such as the Olympic Games or World Cup enjoyed a large boost in the satisfaction among its citizenry.
23. GDP Is Key
How does the UN measure the happiness level of a country? Through a number of variables relating to the quality of life of the citizens and plenty of other factors. However, according to the UN, three-quarters of the differences among these countries come down to six variables. This includes GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, and level of social support. The happiest countries all did great on these factors.
24. The Internet Does Not Make You Happy
In one study, subjects were asked to state what they go online to do and their level of happiness. The subjects, who saw the internet as a way to connect with others or to help solve a personal problem, were more likely to suffer depression, social anxiety and worse – in comparison to those who just went online for active tasks like seeking out information or sending an email.
25. Happiness Isn’t Everything
While we may think that all you need is happiness, a better goal is to have a good balance of so-called ’emodiversity’- feeling a mix of emotions such as joy, amusement and sometimes, melancholy or less positive emotions. In a study of more than 37,000 people found that high levels of this emodiversity resulted in higher levels of physical and mental health. With this in mind, look for more than just mere happiness.