Good news! Research shows that there isn’t an elusive, complicated secret to finding happiness. Instead, there are numerous sources of joy in life. Whether you dedicate yourself to volunteer work that benefits others, or you surround yourself with friends and family – or even just a beloved four-legged friend – happiness won’t be far off. What makes people happy isn’t complex, expensive, or difficult to obtain; in fact, you have everything you need within you to become a happier person today.
What Makes People Happy
Researchers have long suggested that volunteering and community involvement can increase your personal happiness. An article by Men’s Health magazine talks about one study in particular that reported people who volunteered once a week scored higher on a test measuring happiness and well-being. In addition, a study funded through UnitedHealth Group found that participants who volunteered felt better mentally and physically.
One explanation for the boost in happiness we get from volunteering is the community connection gained from volunteer work. Helping others – whether you’re building a home with Habitat for Humanity, handing out meals at a food kitchen, singing in a choir, visiting hospice patients, tending to animals at a shelter, or working at a food drive – also builds people up and can provide them with a greater sense of purpose in life.
The key to finding happiness through volunteering (and one of the reasons it’s consistently on the list of what makes people happy) is finding volunteer work that connects with one of your personal interests or passions. Chances are, you can find a way to help other people while also enjoying a favorite hobby or embracing your personal values.
Exercise isn’t just good for your physical health; it also benefits your mental well-being. Regular exercise can reduce and even prevent depression, memory loss, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s – but that’s not all! Physical activity also makes people happy, no matter what their age. The effect even has a name; it’s been dubbed the “post-workout high” thanks to the euphoric state most people feel after a good workout. That sense of bliss is the result of neurotransmitters being released into your brain while you engage in physical activity. Endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine can block the physical discomfort of exercise and make you feel euphoric.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to become a professional athlete to enjoy the mental perks of working out. An article in Fast Company talks about how even intermittent exercise makes us happier in the long run. Even something as simple as taking a walk can benefit your health and happiness.
According to the Huffington Post, a study by Miami University found that people who own pets are more social, more conscientious, have higher self-esteem, and (most importantly) they’re happier. The study also revealed that even the simple act of petting a dog can increase the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin. Even more surprising is that just thinking of our beloved pets can ward off feelings of depression.
Surrounding yourself with friends and family has long been a secret to happiness. On the long list of what makes people happy, human relationships are at the very top. One of the longest running studies of human development started at Harvard University and has since been covered by numerous media outlets including the Washington Post. According to the Post, the study started in 1938 and followed the lives of Harvard University men, including President John F. Kennedy. Decades later, the study is still underway and has revealed some excellent insights. For example, subjects who enjoy lasting relationships and friendships report greater happiness. In addition, data shows that those who are more isolated and withdrawn suffer from a decline in health and brain function earlier in life than those actively engaged with friends and family.
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