13 Things Psychologists Wish You Knew About Happiness

Updated: Mar. 16, 2022

Not everyone is born bursting with sunshine, but this intel can bring us all a little closer to our happy place.

Asian guy listening music by headphones

Listen to melancholy music

You heard that right! You officially have another excuse to listen to Adele on repeat (as if you even needed one anyway). Studies suggest that blasting some depressing and sappy tunes can actually help boost positive and peaceful feelings, which can be therapeutic, cathartic, and calming.

Businesswoman showing her colleague something on her tablet computer
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Actually speak to the person next to you on the train or bus

People are happier during their commutes when they chat up their seat neighbor, even if they think it will make the trip less positive and productive, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Try to get over your fear of speaking to strangers or worrying that you’re bothering them—you could bring some joy to both of you! “The biggest source of misery in the workplace is actually getting there and back,” says Art Markman, PhD, director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organization at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Brain Briefs. “People are generally unhappy when forces outside their control are affecting their lives.” Obviously, you can’t control other drivers or the schedule of public transportation, so it helps to find aspects of your commute that you can control. “Get in conversations with random strangers on the train or bus,” says Dr. Markman. “The more you take control of the situation, the happier you’ll be.” Check out these other 23 ways to boost your mood instantly.

Hands holding one euro coin and small money pouch
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Know that money sometimes can buy happiness

“They say money can’t buy happiness,” says Nancy Etcoff, PhD, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Program in Aesthetic and Well-Being at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry. “But it can if what you buy is extra time, or pay to delegate tasks.” So don’t feel guilty ordering in Chinese food or hiring a house cleaner. A study found that people who spend money to save time tend to be happier than those who don’t. Yes, it might be overkill to order takeout for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, or to have someone clean your home more than once a week. But consider sending out your dry cleaning this week to save you the time of ironing yet another shirt.

Portrait of beautiful young woman walking outdoors and calling by mobile phone

Call your mom

When was the last time you picked up your smartphone to actually make a call? Research has found that hearing your mom’s voice can help reduce stress, which means a happier you. Talking on the phone was found to reduce a key stress hormone and release the feel-good brain chemical oxytocin that is thought to play a key role in forming bonds. It goes without saying that you’ll also make Mom’s day. Find out how else you can wake up happier.

Group of tourists having a good time sightseeing.

Hang out with happy people

Yawns aren’t the only things that are contagious. Research has found that the more you surround yourself with positive people, the happier you’ll feel. Go ahead and enjoy a round of drinks with your girl squad, grab coffee with that woman at school pickup who’s always smiling, or schedule a visit with your cheery hairdresser. Learn the age when the average woman is happiest.

Happy couple, tourists sightseeing old european city

Daydream about your upcoming vacation

Do you yearn to be lying on the beach, exploring the mountains, trekking in the jungle, or touring a museum—right this minute? Believe it or not, getting out of town won’t necessarily make you happier, a study found. But thinking about going out of town is another story. The fact is that we get an extra boost of joy if we delay pleasure. We build positive expectations, imagining how amazing the experience will be. That warm sun or the frozen strawberry daiquiri by the pool? It’s just an added bonus.


Speak to the person behind you in the grocery line

Research has found that making friends—not just online—boosts our spirits. “Face-to-face, human interactions are the elixir for nearly everything that ails us,” says Kit Yarrow, PhD, a consumer psychologist, professor, author, consultant, and speaker. “Though every interaction may not create happiness, in the long run, [it’s] the sense of community that’s created will.” Say hello to the mom next to you on the bleachers at the Little League game. Chat up your new coworker in the lunchroom. You never know who you’ll meet and what kind of connections you’ll make. Check out these other surprising tricks to be happier.

Family looking and sharing memories by the photo album

Dust off your yearbook

It’s time to reminisce about fond memories from the past, so dig up your wedding album or high school yearbook, and then call or email your college roomie or childhood besties. Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that feeling nostalgic about the past will increase optimism about the future and make you happier. Find out what optimistic people do every day.

Handsome man playing with his dog in the bed.

Hang out with man’s best friend

Power to the pets! Studies show that playing fetch with your dog or cuddling up with your cat does the body good. Interacting with pets has been found to release oxytocin, and you’ll be left with a joyous feeling.

Young smiling woman sitting on sofa and looking up while drinking hot tea. Young brunette woman thinking at home in a leisure time. Happy girl relaxing at home on a bright winter morning.

Be a little selfish

“Being selfish is sometimes the best thing for yourself and others,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. Self-care may cause disappointment to others, like when you decline an invitation or cancel plans, Hall says. “But your well-being is more important.” If you’re unhappy, it won’t be a positive experience for either of you anyway, she says.

Focused senior man in sportswear kneeling alone in a gym preparing to lifting weights during a workout
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Exercise, even if you don’t get ripped

If you spend hours at the gym but don’t seem to be losing weight or building muscle tone, don’t be tempted to quit. 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 in the mirror. So you may not be turning into a swimsuit model, but you’re definitely going to feel better in your jeans. Here are 14 more benefits of exercise besides weight loss.

Woman stretching in bed after wake up near big window
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Wake up 15 to 30 minutes earlier

You might be wondering how less sleep can make you happier. We promise it will. Just think about it: With more time in the morning, you won’t be running around the kitchen spilling coffee and dropping toast as you frantically put the kids on the bus and barely catch your train to the city. Getting up a little earlier will make it much easier to get a positive start to your day. You’ll see a difference in your attitude immediately, according to Psychology Today. Plus, research shows sleep deprivation could ease depressionFind out how to make waking up in the morning less of a struggle.

Portrait of a young happy man relaxing on the grass with his hands under the head

Stop looking for happiness

Perhaps the best way to find happiness is, ironically, to quit searching for it. “The more we become obsessed with feeling a certain way, the more we put pressure on ourselves and also set ourselves up for expectations that sometimes we can’t meet,” says Jennifer R. Wolkin, PhD, neuropsychologist. Instead, focus on finding meaning—by forging new friendships and pursuing favorite pastimes—and happiness will follow. Here are more ways to be happier without really trying.