Scientists Want You to Be Happy

by Sibel Sayiner, ’15

Let’s face it. The world can really bring you down sometimes. You think that it’s a beautiful day, and everything is going according to plan: you’ve read all your emails, the Republican National Convention is going to be thrashed by good old Isaac, and the attractive person in the coffee shop smiled at you, very pointedly. Then you, foolish you, open up the world news. And read about the Arctic ice level, the UN report on Gaza, and the evil corporation that is killing your favorite phone/tablet/everything (unless you’re an Apple fan, then you’ll be pleased with the “rectangle with rounded corners” patent). You sigh, and even your fantastic new book can’t raise your glum frown.

I feel you. It’s rough out there. We spend so much time on what we need to do, what we think we need to do, and what we think we want to do. Then there’s sleeping (occasionally), and every so often, the casual conversation with an old (or new!) friend. While some people have the energy to do all these things all the time, I am definitely not one of them. I need my funky jazz music, video games and long walks in the evening in order to recharge.

However, these are not always possible, especially when one has time constraints as well as multiple commitments. This is where scientists come in. They do all the research, and then we mooch.

So, here are five quick, easy ways to increase satisfaction with your life and/or try and lift your mood:

Gratitude Exercises
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, studied the effects of a gratitude journal, a dairy in which one writes down what one is thankful for. She found that consistently and purposefully doing so once a week significantly increases one’s overall satisfaction with life. If keeping a journal isn’t your thing, other scientists have found you can get the same sort of benefit by making a “gratitude visit”: write (or mentally prepare) a testimonial thanking someone and then visit that person and read (recite) them the letter of appreciation. Cheap, quick, and easy. Besides, it could be a great introspective time to check your privilege.

Three Things
This is an exercise I used to do with my roommate. At the end of the day, just before you go to bed, you check in with another person by telling them three good things that happened today. Then the other person goes. This accomplishes two things: sharing stories (more on this later) and focusing on the positives. By associating positive events with the day, you remember it in a better light and feel more satisfied with it, allowing you to go to bed in a better mood and sleep better. Moreover, science tells me that “people are less depressed and happier three months later and six months later” if they do this every night. Yeah, it’s awesome.

Get It On
Let’s be scientific. Sex, cuddling, canoodling of any sort release so many endorphins, it’s crazy. Moreover, Oxytocin is a handle little neurochemical also released during intimate moments. Oxytocin, also called the “cuddle hormone,” clams you down and makes you feel emotionally closer to whomever you’re snuggling (or snogging).

Talk It Out
We are a communicative species. We love to talk, to share, to relive our lives through our words. Talking about good and bad experiences can lead to happiness. There are two reasons for this. First, we tend to focus on positive emotions and ignore negative ones when telling a story, since memory does its best to gradually let go of the bad things while clinging to the good. Second, the process of storytelling affects the storyteller and the story. For example, if something terrible happened to you today and you tell your friend about it, you get to vent, which makes you feel better immediately, but also make the negative experience associated with the event fade faster from your memory. In short, share often.

Groove, Baby, Groove
Listen to your music. Not your pump up music, your workout music, your music for when you don’t want to talk to people, but the music that makes you feel at home. Music activates the brain in a similar way to sex and food. It also can lower your anxiety and make you more relaxed.

So go ahead. Spend all weekend in bed. Finally write that letter to your parent or role model. Laugh until you cry. Share your story. Make funny facial expressions. Sing or hum or sign along to the latest pop hit. Your brain will thank you for it.

Sibel is a Sophomore studying everything she can get her brain interested in, which happens to be almost everything. She’s particularly fascinated by genetics, Roman culture, behavioral economics, Spongebob Squarepants, love poetry, Taoism, and Katamari Damacy. In the wild, she can often be observed muttering to herself and raising one eyebrow.

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One thought on “Scientists Want You to Be Happy

  1. Anonymous says:

    this is very helpful, thanks sibel!! xo

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