The pursuit of happiness is more a choice than something that occurs by happenstance, but there are verifiable traits that those who achieve happiness tend to share.
In 2010, in a study titled “Eavesdropping on Happiness,” researchers equipped nearly 80 college students with an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), which randomly recorded snippets of ambient sounds taken while the participants went about their daily lives.
Every 12.5 minutes, the EAR recorded 30 seconds of sound, which allowed the researchers to figure out if the participant was alone or talking with others, and, in the latter case, whether the talk was small talk or more substantive, deeper conversation.
The study revealed intriguing insights into how conversations and small talk weigh in on happiness. What’s more, in 2018, researchers followed up on the study, recording new snippets and learning even more about the intricacies of what makes people happy.
More Meaningful Conversations Make People Happier Than Small Talk
Do happiness and well-being relate to the amount of small talk and meaningful conversations in your life? The 2010 study found a strong link, with less small talk and more substantive conversations linked to increased happiness.
Positive Humor Helps Maintain Happiness
Along with regular, deep talks with friends and family, previous research has identified the four following personality traits as being associated with happiness:
- Locus of control
Researchers writing in Europe’s Journal of Psychology took the findings a step further, revealing that people with these four personality traits are happier because they use positive humor in their daily life.
“The happiness of ‘happy people’ does not depend on life circumstances. Rather, happy people seem to have personalities that allow them to find happiness even in the midst of adversity and challenging life conditions,” the study noted. And humor, it turns out, makes an effective adaptive strategy to maintain happiness.
Not just any type of humor was beneficial, however. Self-defeating and aggressive humor styles were linked to less happiness, while positive, self-enhancing and affiliative humor did the opposite by helping people cope with difficult circumstances. What’s the difference in the styles of humor?11
- Aggressive humor is used as a means of teasing, criticizing or manipulating others, and may be used as a way to demonstrate superiority over others
- Self-defeating humor may be used to avoid confronting problems or dealing with negative feelings, and may make fun of your own weaknesses
- Self-enhancing humor is used to maintain positive psychological well-being by means of distancing yourself from adversity
- Affiliative humor is used to entertain others, which helps enrich the quality of social relationships
A positive sense of humor, encompassing both self-enhancing and affiliative styles, is indeed another common thread among people who call themselves “happy.” The researchers explained.
Kindness, Generosity and Gratitude: Additional Indicators of Happiness
There’s a close relationship between being kind and being happy. Happiness levels increase when people count their own acts of kindness for a week.
Further, kind people experience more happiness and have happier memories, with one study suggesting “happy people are more kind in the first place and … they can become even happier, kinder and more grateful following a simple intervention [counting their acts of kindness].”
Giving to others is also linked to happiness, and generosity is certainly one form of kindness. People who agreed to spend money on others made more generous choices as well as had stronger increases in self-reported happiness compared to those who agreed to spend money on themselves.
Sleep May Be an Overlooked Part of Being Happy
Most research into happiness has focused on its social ties, but research has also found that people who sleep well are more satisfied with life, even after controlling for other factors like personality.
While sleep has long been linked to mood, researchers also suggested that people who sleep poorly are more likely to have a zero-sum view of happiness, which causes people to engage in more social comparisons and savor their positive experiences less, ultimately leading to less happiness.
“As many societies become more competitive and market-oriented, sleep is easily regarded as a waste of time (and money). However, sacrificed sleep may create a vicious cycle of making the world appear as a zero-sum competition, which aggravates interpersonal stress,” researchers wrote in Frontiers in Psychology.
Even the Happiest People Have Negative Moods Occasionally
Yet another study looking into the shared traits of very happy people found those at the highest level of happiness were highly social and had stronger romantic and social relationships than less happy people.
Try This To Be Happier
If you want to be happier, research suggests putting effort into your social relationships, particularly nurturing those that provide deep, meaningful conversations, will pay off. Likewise, be kind and keep a running tally of your acts of kindness, no matter how big or small.
Be sure to get quality shut-eye each night, and practice living in the present moment, not focused on past regrets or future worries. Ultimately, however, the social component of happiness cannot be ignored. If you’re feeling lonely or socially isolated, the following strategies can help you to make meaningful connections with others in your community, which will ultimately increase your level of happiness:
|Join a club that interests you||Volunteer for a cause you believe in|
|Enroll in a class to learn a new skill or hobby||Create rituals of connection, such as calling a certain friend every Monday|
|Join a gym or sign up for a fitness class so you can exercise with others||Frequent local shops and markets, where you can build relationships with shop owners and other regular customers|
|Talk to strangers during your daily commute, at the grocery store and while walking your dog||Consider adopting a pet, such as a dog, which can provide companionship and a source of unconditional love, as well as act as an icebreaker socially|
|Move to be closer to your friends and family||Attend religious services or support groups|
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