Research finds important differences in behavior between happy and unhappy people

What can we do to be happy? Has research found a quick fix? Cathy Johnson from ABC Health & Wellbeing reports that “there are no magic quick fixes” when it comes to happiness. “Not only will it take sustained commitment, but you should expect to relapse many times along the way.”

Australian psychologist Dr. Tony Grant sums up happiness well. He says: “Happiness is about living a full, rich and meaningful life – being truly human, warts and all. It’s not about being happy all the time. Mood fluctuations are part of normal life.”

US-based happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says: “Sustainable happiness is attainable, if you are prepared to do the work.”

So what “work” do we need to do to be happy? What behaviors are linked to happiness and well-being, according to happiness experts? Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University. Dr. Howell and his research team recently completed a study to find how happy people live their lives compared to unhappy people. The researchers examined the predictors of happiness from 30 different surveys. The results indicated that there are five important differences between happy and unhappy people, and happy people appear to do these things every day.

These five characteristics are that happy people:

  • manage their money well
  • spend their money on life experiences rather than things
  • focus more on happy memories rather than unhappy memories, when they think about the past
  • are sensitive to other people’s emotions during happy and unhappy experiences. Happy people tend to pay more attention to other people’s emotions than unhappy people.
  • feel they belong where they live, and look forward to coming home when they have been away

For more details, read Dr. Howell’s article in Psychology Today.

What more can we do to boost our happiness? In 2011 Johnson listed the following key research findings that we can do to help us feel happy and content:

  • do kind things for others, such as volunteer work
  • make time to nurture and enjoy relationships with family and friends
  • appreciate the good things in our lives; so, for example, write down three good things that happen to us each day
  • be optimistic when thinking about the future
  • focus on what we do well, rather than our mistakes, when we start new tasks
  • forgive people
  • spend time being “mindful” – focus on the “here and now” rather than planning or worrying about the future
  • identify important goals and pursue them
  • work out our “character strengths” (such as perseverance or playfulness) and find ways to apply them often

Dr. Grant highlights that good health is important for happiness. He says: “If you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re living on rubbish food and you’re not getting any exercise, that’s a very poor foundation on which to build wellbeing.”

Check-out Johnson’s article in ABC Health & Wellbeing for more information.

In 2009 I wrote an article on Extra Happiness called 30 habits and qualities of extra happy people. A number of the above behaviors are in my article. Read these ideas, if you’re interested. Happiness is more than just luck and having “happy genes” – being happy takes commitment, perseverance and practice.

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