Simple strategies to feel happy

Smiley Button As Symbol For Cheer Or HappinessBy Ashley Whillans

Happiness means something different to everyone, but what we all have in common is the need to make it a priority. Not only does happiness feel good in the moment, but a lot of scientific research suggests that happier people live longer and healthier lives. And if you’re a student, feeling happy has the additional benefit of reducing stress and improving academic performance.When you’re in need of an emotional boost, try these simple, scientifically proven strategies for improving happiness. Not only will you improve your own personal happiness, you’ll also help increase the happiness and social connection of everyone around you.

1. Make small talk
If you take the bus to UBC, you’ve likely noticed that the crossing guard at the bus loop always takes a moment out of his day to chat and share jokes with students, and he might be on to something. Research conducted by UBC Professor Elizabeth Dunn and her former graduate student Gillian Sandstrom suggests that even casual interactions with acquaintances can improve happiness.

In one study, participants who engaged in a social interaction with a barista, by smiling, making eye contact, and having a brief conversation experienced greater feelings of wellbeing and belonging compared to participants who interacted with the barista in an efficient, but impersonal way.

Strike up a conversation with other UBC students, the campus barista or the crossing-guard—even a brief five-minute conversation can boost your mood.

2. Spend money on others
Spending as little as five dollars can improve happiness. In one study conducted by Professor Dunn and former graduate student Lara Aknin, UBC students were approached on campus and were given an envelope with $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or on others. At the end of the day, students who spent $5 or $20 on others were happier than students who spent this money on themselves and students who were asked to spend $5 on others were no happier than students who were asked to spend $20 on others.

If you’re planning to spend money on others, our research suggests that you should spend on a close friend or enjoy the purchase together. This has the added benefit of giving you a positive social experience and seeing the impact your financial generosity has had on someone else. And, as if that wasn’t reason enough to spend on others, my own research suggests that spending money on others can also improve cardiovascular health.

Spend money on others to improve your daily happiness and long-term health.

3. Find something to smile about
Smiling can improve mood and decrease stress. In one study conducted at the University of Kansas, students were asked to complete several stressful tasks while holding chopsticks in their mouth to create a neutral facial expression, a standard smile, or an authentic smile. Students who held chopsticks in their mouth to form an authentic smile recovered faster from a stressful experience. In other words, the memes that you send friends during study sessions might actually be helpful for dealing with exam stress!

Find something to (authentically) smile about everyday to decrease stress.

In short, it’s easy to take small steps to increase your happiness every day. You can start a conversation with someone on campus, spend five dollars on a friend, or find something to smile about. Happiness spreads through social networks – the happier we are, the happier our campus becomes! So, start chatting, spending, and smiling.

Originally posted on the UBC fyi blog

Ashley Whillans is a graduate student in Social Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She studies the antecedents and consequences of prosocial behavior—focusing on when time and money can help vs. hurt helping. She also consults for charitable organizations to help them more effectively engage with donors. You can reach her at and read more about her here.

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