31/10/2014 06:53 GMT | Updated 14/12/2014 05:59 GMT

The Practice of Happiness


Stand up straight. Smile. Say hello to strangers. Do something kind. Appreciate experiences, not stuff. Say thank you. Set clear, concrete goals. Pay attention to the small daily pleasures. If this sounds like advice your grandmother might give you -she would be right in line with what scientific research has to say about happiness.

Do you want to be happy? Do you practice being happy? When I say practice being happy, I don't mean chasing after happiness. Even our forefathers knew the difference. When they wrote the in the Declaration of Independence about "the pursuit of happiness," they really meant the practice of happiness. At that time the word pursuit was used as a synonym for practice. They could have just as easily written "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the practice of Happiness."

What does the research say about happiness? Happiness is a physical experience - it involves the body and the mind. In fact, happiness involves more of the nervous system than many other emotions. This means that how we use our body affects our level of happiness. There is a very strong correlation between physical exercise and happiness, but even simple movements such as taking a more open, relaxed stance and smiling can lead to greater overall happiness. Not only can choosing to smile lead to you feeling better, it also leads to others working better with you in groups. Also, the connection between happiness and regularly expressing gratitude - even as simple as saying thank you - is well documented.

There is a particular type of happiness, known as eudaimonic happiness, that comes from doing good deeds. This type of happiness is good for you right down to the genetic level. Your immune system is better equipped to fight off illness when you experience eudaimonic happiness. And here is the added bonus - not only is being kind and thoughtful good for your health, it makes you feel happier, and it helps the people around you respond better to challenge. Something as simple as smiling or saying hello to strangers - even if you don't feel like it - has a positive impact on your level of happiness. Using your money to help others or to create positive experiences such as a family gathering generates a significant happiness boost while using money primarily to acquire material things has the opposite effect.

Having clear and concrete goals is much better for your level of happiness than having abstract goals. Researchers have found that a goal of "making someone smile" is more effective than a goal of "making someone happy." Maintaining goals that are specific, within your control, and manageable is a great way to boost your happiness.

Finally, taking time to reflect on the simple experiences of daily living has been shown to go a long way toward supporting happiness. Whether it is reflecting quietly at the end of the day, looking back over a written journal, or pulling out the family photo albums, people who take time to revisit the small pleasures of life report greater overall life satisfaction.

If you want to be better at playing the piano, then you practice playing the piano. If you want to be happier, then you practice happiness. And there are many opportunities to do exactly that everyday.

Do you have a happiness practice? Please share in the comments section below.