Happier people have an unusual amount of activity in one area of their brains – the left prefrontal cortex, scientists have found. Happier people are more likely to live longer and tend to be healthier, more successful and more socially engaged than people who describe themselves as less happy.
We can train ourselves to have more positive emotional qualities like happiness, kindness and mindfulness.
In the field of psychology, there’s been a lot of emphasis on figuring out people’s problems – what causes depression, anxiety or stress. It wasn’t until the 1990s when Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, realized we were missing a big piece of the puzzle. He asked the important question we’d all been missing, “What makes people happy?” It’s because of his question, that Dr. Seligman is considered the founding father of positive psychology.
“If we exercise that part of our brains, just like exercising a muscle, we can train ourselves to have more positive emotional qualities like happiness, kindness and mindfulness,” says Hyong Un, M.D, of Aetna Behavioral Health.
Want to be happier?
To see for yourself try practicing one, or even all four, of these proven methods suggested by Dr. Un. You might be happy that you did.
Notice the good stuff. Good things happen to all of us, but so often we’re busy rushing through our day that these moments aren’t appreciated. Dr. Fred Bryant, a researcher at Loyola University in Chicago, coined the term “savor.” He found that people who regularly pause to savor positive moments are more satisfied with life and are happier. You can savor the past, present or the future.
According to one study, simply having an attitude of gratitude can increase happiness by 25 percent. Being gracious can lead to optimism and self-confidence, while also deepening our relationships with one another.
Optimism is linked to increased happiness. People who are optimistic are more likely to tackle their problems and persevere until they meet their goals. This results in increased feelings of success, improved self-esteem and productivity.
Being generous leads to all kinds of great results. In one study, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky divided participants into two groups. She asked one group to commit five random acts of kindness per week for six weeks. The control group went about their lives as usual. The control group reported back feeling more stressed and less happy. But the random act of kindness group reported a 42 percent increase in their happiness levels.
“Life can throw a lot of curveballs,” Un says. “Positive thinking can’t prevent bad things from happening. But if we are essentially a happy person inside, it can help us make it through the rough spots.”