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6 Secrets to Happiness (According to Science)

What does science have to say about the pursuit of happiness?

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"It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn't just restricted to our brain-there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we're having," says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. "It's like a feedback loop."

Either that, or botulism-to-the-face is like a shot of good feels? Let's just chalk this one up to smiling. Note that this is different from harboring feel-good happy-thoughts (more on that below).

5. Get therapy
First of all, a side note: if you think you might benefit from psychotherapy, but are too worried about what your friends and family will think, get over yourself and do it. Why? Because it works (especially if you find  the form of therapy that's right for you).

Anyway: in an interesting twist on the age-old question of whether money makes people happy, psychologist Chris Boyce compared the cost-effectiveness of psychological therapy versus monetary compensation following instances of psychological distress. His findings, which were actually  published in an economics journal, found therapy to be 32 times more cost effective at increasing happiness than cold, hard cash.

"Often the importance of money for improving our well-being and bringing greater happiness is vastly over-valued in our societies," notes Boyce. "The benefits of having good mental health, on the other hand, are often not fully appreciated and people do not realize the powerful effect that psychological therapy… can have on improving our well-being."

6. STOP IT. Stop trying to be happy.
If you take away one thing from this post, let this be it: to be happy, there's a decent chance you'll have to stop trying to be happy. Sorry to get all zen-master on you, but that's the way it is.

Nevermind the fact that measuring happiness is a lot like trying to weigh an idea in pounds and ounces. Yes, there are ways to gauge happiness, whether  chemically or with a questionnaire, but when you get right down to it, "happiness" means different things to different people, and is one of the single most nebulous ideals in existence — and one of the biggest downsides to this truth is that setting a goal of happiness can actually backfire.

Some of the most important research on happiness to emerge in recent years stands in direct opposition to the cult of positivity typified by bullshit positive-thinking self-help books that place a lopsided emphasis on setting grand personal goals of happiness.  In a review co-authored in 2011 by Yale psychologist June Gruber, researchers found that the pursuit of happiness can actually lead to negative outcomes — not because surrounding yourself with positive people, mastering a skill, smiling, getting therapy or practicing self-governance aren't conducive to happiness, in and of themselves, but because "when you're doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness," says Gruber.

So be the zen master. Stop trying to focus on becoming happier and just be. Surround yourself with people not to become happy, but to enjoy their company. Master a skill not to increase your happy feels, but to savor the process of becoming.

 

Robert T. Gonzalez is a science writer for io9, a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future.

 
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