Talk It Out
Studies show that a bit of talk therapy makes people feel better than a wad of cash. In fact, British researchers studied thousands of people who answered questions about their mental health and their level of satisfaction. The research team found that $1,300 worth of therapy (that's about a dozen sessions) makes people as happy as $41,000 in cash. "In part, this is about taking time to focus on yourself," says Gore. "Many of us don't spend that time focusing on ourselves." The researchers hypothesize that the societal focus on accumulating material goods has overshadowed the importance of stress reduction. They posit that lowering psychological distress and daily stress — through therapy and perhaps other means — is integral to personal happiness.
Spend on an Experience
"An experience is better than a bigger TV or a new item, even though the thing will last longer," says Gore. A 2009 study supported the idea that experiences make us happier than material items. Participants in the study answered questions about recent purchases. Those who had used their money for an experience, like a concert or a baseball game, were generally more satisfied than those who had bought an item, like a TV or a new outfit. Researchers believe that experiences, which are often shared, help people grow closer with friends and family. The researchers also think that experiences energize people, making them "feel alive" — both in the moment and upon reflection. The sense of happiness derived from an experience is also not as quick to fade: Those who bought a new item lost a total sense of excitement about the purchase within months. But those who had set out a family picnic, for example, were pleased for longer. The picnic may have been imperfect, Gore notes, but "you forget the mosquitoes later."
Surround Yourself with Positive People
Happiness is infectious — literally. A research team followed more than 4,700 people for more than two decades and found that one person's happiness can spread like a virus, affecting the moods of spouses, siblings, friends and neighbors for up to a year. The researchers found that if a person became happy, the chances that a person in her network would also become happy were raised by 9 percent. The effects were not geographically far ranging: They occurred only when the subjects lived within a mile of each other. And unhappiness was contagious, too, but less so: An unhappy connection increased the possibility of creating other unhappy people by 7 percent. "Grumpy people have logic on their side, because the world is a mess," says Gore. "But there's a lightness about happiness that is able to float above reason, and I think that is why it's contagious." Gore cautions to make sure you're hanging out with people who are truly happy. "There are lots of fake happy people around because it's part of the culture to pretend to be happy," says Gore. "But happiness based on denial can really make you depressed."