I tried 6 happiness hacks backed by science — here’s what actually worked

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From the time I first read The Purpose Driven Life at age 15, I’ve loved the idea of self-improvement. I had never before read something so insightful, practical or applicable. Little did I know, I was getting just a glimpse of the positive psychology movement, which would become increasingly popular over the next decade. After all, everyone wants some good happiness hacks.

In that time, I read dozens of self-help books, as well as some on psychology, philosophy, neurology, wellness and well-being. I’ve incorporated a lot of this information into my own work as a writer, and in the process, received a lot of guidance about what, scientifically, makes people really feel good each day.

There’s a consensus about what makes human beings happier over time, and most of it has to do with habits. Over the past three years, I have made it a point to implement some of the most popular; here, I’m sharing what I’ve learned.

Happiness Hack #1: Plan productive mornings

You’ve probably heard about the importance of a morning routine: Drink some lemon water, hit the gym, journal five things you don’t completely hate about your life. I jest about the latter point, but I have indeed found that I’m most clear-minded in the morning. It is not my time that’s limited, but my energy. Therefore, I wake up and accomplish the most important tasks of the day first, as opposed to depleting myself with an early workout that I prefer to do later on. Your morning routine should suit your needs, even if it’s not quite so aspirational. 

MORE: What to drink in the morning other than coffee to fuel your day

Happiness Hack #2: Accept the reality of money

Sure, money can’t buy happiness — as in, it shouldn’t become the sole purpose of your life — but to not value financial health as a direct path to happiness is naive. Do you know what makes people truly happy? Not having to worry if they can pay the mortgage or eat. My experience mimics what a well-known study showed: After you make enough money to pay the bills and enjoy a few extras (defined as $70,000 annually for the study), your happiness levels out and doesn’t increase much with additional income. Likewise, jumping from anything lower to earning $70,000 significantly improves quality of life.

Happiness Hack #3: Befriend the meditation journey

I used to think that there was one way to meditate: sitting cross-legged on a pillow, palms facing upwards, breathing deeply, and trying to be calm. It turns out that meditation is not so much about forcing myself into an unnatural state but teaching myself how to choose thoughts and allow feelings. This means taking time to process complex emotions I was uncomfortable with, such as anger, sadness and indifference. Meditation taught me how to breathe, acknowledge what I feel, and then let it go instead of judging myself or trying to resist them. You can do this anywhere, at any time. 

MORE: How to meditate if you’re terrible at meditating

Happiness Hack #4: Mindfully changing thoughts & perspective

So much of being happy is really just learning to change the way you think. Yes, this means that you try to be more optimistic, but it’s deeper than that. It’s processing negative experiences as learning opportunities. It’s committing to goals and believing in yourself. I realized pretty quickly that my life is a direct reflection of my mindset. My mindset determines my mood, my mood determines my behaviors, my behaviors determine my habits, my habits determine my outcomes, and my outcomes determine my life. 

Happiness Hack #5: Visualize the best possible future self

One of the more powerful exercises I learned is visualizing my ideal future self. I’ve turned it into a motto: My past self should be my competition, and my future self should be my hero. By envisioning what my best possible self would do, I can make better decisions for the long term. 

Happiness Hack #6: Focus on real relationships

Harvard researchers studied happy people over the course of 80 years, and this study is regarded as one of the most comprehensive in the field. The common denominator? Happy people have great relationships. The same was true of a long-living group of immigrants in Pennsylvania whom Malcom Gladwell wrote about in his book, Outliers. They were not extraordinarily healthy, but they had some of the most positive health outcomes in the western world. Why? They had incredibly strong social ties: They all came from the same village in Italy. 

I have found that the more time I invest in my relationships, both with others and myself, the happier and more fulfilled I am overall. Bottom line: All of those other concerns, like finances, fitness and success, mean little if you don’t have others to share experiences with.

Looking for a laugh? Watch the Grateful team try to guess foods based on only their sound.

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