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  1. Blog
  2. Work-Life Balance
  3. Last updated April 11, 2024

11 Things That Make People Unbelievably Happy

Friendship sun, salary moon, PTO rising

Woman smiling and laughing
Photo courtesy of Joel Mott

We all want to be happy in life, in and out of work. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to being happy—happiness looks different for every person on the planet. But, there are several research-backed steps that’ll help you to start tiptoeing your way toward elation. 

Start with small positive habits like keeping a gratitude journal, eating healthy, staying hydrated, walking outside, and work your way up toward larger goals like investing in a standing desk, asking for a raise, or starting an employee resource group. For more inspiration and motivation, here are six ways to prioritize your happiness and mental health, plus 11 science-backed things that make people unbelievably happy. 

Read more: 50 Uplifting Songs to Keep You Happy & Motivated

6 ways to prioritize your happiness and mental health

  1. Practice gratitude: Keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to boost happiness levels by promoting a positive outlook on life. Taking the time to reflect on what we're thankful for can shift our focus away from negativity.
  2. Create a healthy lifestyle: Simple habits like eating healthily and staying hydrated not only benefit our physical health but also contribute significantly to our mental well-being. A balanced diet and proper hydration can improve mood and energy levels.
  3. Make time for physical activity: Spending time outdoors, whether it's a leisurely walk or a hike in the mountains, has been linked to increased happiness. Physical activity releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood lifters, contributing to a sense of well-being.
  4. Engage in self-care: Investing in self-care practices such as meditation, mindfulness, or relaxation techniques can help manage stress and promote emotional resilience. Taking time to prioritize our mental health is essential for overall happiness.
  5. Set boundaries: Learning to set boundaries in our personal and professional lives can prevent burnout and foster healthier relationships. Knowing when to say no and prioritizing our own needs is crucial for maintaining mental well-being.
  6. Seek external support: Building a strong support system of friends, family, or a therapist can provide a valuable outlet for expressing emotions and receiving guidance during challenging times.

Read more: Your Guide to Setting Boundaries in the Workplace

11 things that make people unbelievably happy

1. Exercise

Research from the University of Vermont found that even just 20 minutes of exercise can give you mood-boosting benefits for up to 12 hours after your workout. And you don’t have to stick to cardio to feel the effects—strength training and yoga can relieve stress and boost your mood as well. If you’re normally tied to your computer for work, invest in a standing or treadmill desk to get your heart pumping, or schedule quick walks to take throughout the day.

Read more: 18 Therapy-Backed Ways to Feel Better ASAP

2. Nature

During quarantine, nearly six in 10 Americans reported finding a new appreciation for nature, according to research. The study asked 2,000 Americans how they kept their spirits high while social distancing, and three-quarters of respondents said they felt a boost in their moods thanks to spending more time outdoors doing activities like hiking, fishing, and camping. When working, simply looking out of a window onto a natural scene can calm us and make us happier. 

3. Money

Here’s the fuel you needed to ask for that raise. Unshockingly, people who make more money are happier. Matthew Killingsworth, a senior fellow at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania explains: “When you have more money, you have more choices about how to live your life. You can likely see this in the pandemic. People living paycheck to paycheck who lose their job might need to take the first available job to stay afloat, even if it’s one they dislike. People with a financial cushion can wait for one that’s a better fit. Across decisions big and small, having more money gives a person more choices and a greater sense of autonomy.”

Read more: What Is Considered a Good Salary?

4. Friends

Turns out, you’re not the only one who gets stressed out by the annual family reunion. Spending time with friends may cause greater happiness than spending time with family, according to a recent study. And having friends at work matters too, with 46 percent of professionals believing that work friends are important to their overall happiness. Here’s to you, work wife

Read more: How to Make Friends at Work

5. Smiling

Science says that smiling makes us happier—but only when it’s genuine. Research has found that customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day have worse moods and end up withdrawing from work, and workers who smile as a result of positive thoughts improve their mood and withdraw less. This is good news for women who are conditioned to smile in the workplace due to the oh so joyful pressures of emotional labor...only smile if you really mean it!

Read more: 10 Adjectives to Stop Using to Describe Women

6. Joining clubs

You know that sense of pure joy you gained as a kid when a classmate invited you to join their club at recess? Well, that feeling of belonging is backed by research. A study found that people who participate in more cultural activities (joining a club, going to a play, etc.) report lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher satisfaction in life. At work, try joining an employee resource group (ERG) to have an avenue to voice issues to leadership, bond with colleagues, and deepen your sense of belonging and happiness. 

Read more: Why That Feeling of Belonging in the Workplace Is So Important

7. Volunteering

Researchers have found that volunteering is incredibly beneficial in boosting our mental wellbeing. It’s linked with higher amounts of overall life satisfaction and happiness and better mental health. To keep employees happy, some companies even offer incentives to volunteer. For example, NetApp offers Volunteer Time Off as a benefit that includes five fully paid days where employees can volunteer to support the nonprofit organizations or schools of their choice. Employees who log eight hours of volunteer time can earn up to $100 for their charity of choice.

8. Learning new skills

A review of multiple studies found “robust evidence that adult learning leads to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy.” Managers, now’s the time to have 1:1s with your direct reports and ask how you can help them grow or transition in their role as we inch toward a new normal. If your reports have more opportunities to learn skills like coding or UX design and grow their careers, you’ll be saving costs (turnover is *expensive* y’all) and making your employees happier. Win, win!

Read more: 25 Companies That Offer Learning Opportunities to Help You Grow

9. Getting enough sleep 

It’s no secret that sleep deprivation and higher stress levels go hand in hand. And research shows that sleeping just 60 to 90 minutes more per night can make you happier and healthier. Make sure you take a break from screens and prioritize rest and self-care—you’ll thank yourself tomorrow. 

Read more: What It Means to Reach Burnout: Your Work, Your Time & Your Health

10. Planning a vacation

We all needed this validation. Science shows that simply planning a vacation or short break from work can cause a spike in serotonin. A study showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation since we enjoy the sense of anticipation. Are we advising that you browse Airbnb and Expedia during your next break in the workday…? Perhaps. 

Read more: 10 Out-of-Office Message Examples for Every Scenario

11. Giving compliments

Research shows that performing acts of kindness can make you happier. Plus, scientists have found that being paid a compliment lights up the same parts of your brain that get activated when you receive a monetary award. So, start dishing out the compliments and see how it brightens not only someone else’s day, but also your own. 

Read more: 60 Memorable Ways to Say ‘Thank You for Your Hard Work’

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