Relationships: People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier. It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a large network of close relationships or not. What seems to make a difference is if, and how often, we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings as well as provide support to a friend or relative. Simply put, it’s not the quantity of our relationships, but the quality that matters.
Caring: Cultivate kindness. People who volunteer or simply care for others on a consistent basis seem to be happier and less depressed. Although “caring” can involve volunteering as part of an organized group or club, it can be as simple as reaching out to a colleague or classmate who looks lonely or is struggling with an issue.
Exercise: Keep moving. Regular exercise has been associated with improved mental well-being and a lower incidence of depression. The Cochrane Review (the most influential medical review of its kind in the world) has produced a landmark analysis of 23 studies on exercise and depression. One of the major conclusions was that exercise had a “large clinical impact.”
Flow: Find your flow. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive affect, performance, and commitment to long-term, meaningful goals.
Spiritual engagement and meaning: People follow spiritual paths and join religious organisations for a variety of reasons, including faith, prayer, social support, community service, cultural tradition, friendship, commitment to the community and more. How often do you hear someone say that they committed to a religion or spiritual practice primarily to become happier? Perhaps not often. However, interestingly enough, studies demonstrate a close link between religious and spiritual engagement (practice) and happiness.
Strengths and virtues: The work of positive psychologists like Martin Seligman appears to show that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths (such as persistence and critical thinking) and virtues (such as humanity or justice) and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.
Mindfulness and Positive Thinking / Optimism: Optimism is a trait that should become more common, judging by Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news. Gratitude is associated with optimism and has been determined that grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed. Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result.