Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent. You don't have to be depressed to benefit from exercise, though. Exercise can help you relax, increase your brain power, and even improve your body image, even if you don't lose any weight.
We've explored exercise in depth before , and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier.
A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies even when they saw no physical changes:. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.
Yep: Even if your actual appearance doesn't change, how you feel about your body does change. We know that sleep helps our body recover from the day and repair itself and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out sleep is also important for happiness. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala.
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The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine. In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task throughout the course of a day, researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions.
Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive to negative emotions like fear and anger. Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep.
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However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive happy expressions. Of course, how well and how long you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day. Another study tested how employees' moods when they started work in the morning affected their entire work day. Researchers found that employees' moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day.
Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers' moods. And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it. Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying.
If you want more evidence that time with friends is beneficial for you, research proves it can make you happier right now, too. Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel. I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:.
We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends. In an interview in the March newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, "What have you learned from the Grant Study men? He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how men's social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:.
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Men's relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.
I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as we would if we increased the strength of our social relationships. The Terman study, covered in The Longevity Project , found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:.
We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier.
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Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age. In The Happiness Advantage , Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:. Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules.
Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break. A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:. Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.
The American Meteorological Society published research in that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees The connection between productivity and temperature is another topic we've talked about more here. It's fascinating what a small change in temperature can do. One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others.
In fact, hours per year or two hours per week is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives. Spending money on other people, called "prosocial spending," also boosts happiness. The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:. Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.
So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. But what about spending our time on other people?
A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering e. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction. Smiling can make us feel better, but it's more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study :.
A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. That's okay, but what isn't okay is starting something and not finishing or losing interest. Relentlessly Prioritize: We all have too much going on.
In fact, the easier it becomes to do more things at once I'm looking at you smartphones, wearables, and social media , the more difficult it is to set priority. And that starts by truly setting out what the most important things are that you need to get done. Every day. Set Better Goals: This is related to prioritizing, but it goes deeper into the psychology of how we get work done best.
Human beings respond and strive when goals are present. Studies show that when people actually have a goal, they achieve much better results regardless of how those results even related to the completion of the goals. Collaborate: Don't I already do that, you might ask? Yes, you probably do work with others every single day.
And you may even bounce ideas off of others, but the best ideas don't come unless you deliberately get other perspectives. And, our brains actually crave collaboration. So seek out another person's perspective even on stuff that you think you've got totally nailed down. I guarantee you'll improve upon what you did.
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Diversify your Interests: Whether you call it a passion project, a side hustle or a hobby, you should do it and do more of it. If you're consumed by work and the problems that you're seeing daily, you're only going to think in one way. Giving yourself a creative outlet broadens your experience and actually builds your potential to get your work done better as well. Who knows who you'll meet at the Running Club who could be your next client or make your company better?
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Think Bigger: Despite what you might think, this doesn't conflict with my third point. You do need to set goals that are difficult but achievable, but limiting yourself is a crutch that too many of us use to be safe. If you secretly think it in your head I could run this department I could be the next Elon Musk allow yourself to put it into action. Develop Relationships: Its well documented that Americans now work longer than nearly any other nation, but I don't think that necessarily should be a point of pride.
When work comes first relationships suffer.