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Two new studies claim to show what makes us happy. Now, what makes you happy might not be the same things that make me happy, but by analysing millions of responses and numerous previous pieces of research, the studies claim to have pinpointed the kind of things that make most of us happy, most of the time.
So here are the 10 things you might want to be doing more of, if you want to claim a bigger slice of the happiness pie.
An obvious one, perhaps, but having sex makes us happier. In fact, it raises moods by an average of 14%.
That’s a lot, and we know this because of Mappiness, an app developed by an academic, George MacKerron, in conjunction with the London School of Economics. Mappiness pings users - of which there are more than 50,000 - at random times to ask them what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. From that it produces a pretty accurate picture of the activities that make us most happy.
Sex and intimacy are at the top of the pile and researchers actually think Mappiness underplays the mood lift sex brings. That’s because it would be a pretty inconsiderate lover who actually reached for their phone during sex, so the recorded mood will be from some time after the act.
Nor will it come as a surprise that being with friends also makes us happy. According to the Mappiness project, it lifts our moods by an impressive 8.2%. This chimes with a lot of research which suggests people with strong social circles are the happiest and healthiest of all.
What’s a bit more surprising is that being with friends makes us happier than being with partners (a 5.9% mood lift) and a lot happier than being with our children (a meagre 1.4% mood lift). Seeing good friends regularly really does seem to be key to our life satisfaction.
There’s a well-known phenomenon called the runner’s high - the sense of euphoria experienced by athletes after completing a run. That’s not just because they’ve finished and got it over with - it’s because exercise floods our systems with happy hormones, resulting in an immediate mood lift.
And it’s not just running. Any exercise will do it. The Mappiness project found that exercise improves mood by an average of 8.1%.
According to studies from all over the globe collated by the World Happiness Database in Rotterdam, being active in work and in our social lives is another of the factors that makes us happy.
Being active doesn’t mean exercise, in this instance. It means not letting life wash over you. It means doing something with your free time rather than just slobbing out watching telly. It means being proactive at work rather than just robotically completing tasks assigned to you. According to Prof Ruut Veenhoven, director of the database, “in order to lead a happy life, a rewarding life, you need to be active.”
Look your best
Happiness can’t be found in such trivia as looks and beauty, surely? Well, maybe it can, to some extent at least, and the odd thing is that men revel in their good looks more than women.
According to studies collated by the World Happiness Database, being considered good-looking increases men’s happiness more than it does women’s. So a decent haircut and a new shirt might do your happiness levels the power of good, which is as good a reason for splashing out as any.
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Being outdoors really does make us happy, but not if outdoors means outside an office block across the road from a scrapyard.
No, what really makes us happy is nature. That’s hardly surprising, because for most of human history we have lived right in - and been utterly dependent on - the bountiful gifts of the natural world. The Mappiness project found that gardening, working an allotment, walking, hiking, hunting, fishing and nature watching all ranked highly in the list of things that make us happy.
So if you want an instant boost to your mood, get out and about in nature this weekend.
Time to pop the question, perhaps. According to researchers at Michigan State University, men are happier after marriage than they would have been had they stayed single. And research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), published in May, found that getting married makes people happier with their lives than earning big salaries, having children or believing in God.
Being married may give the biggest boost to happiness, but if you’re not ready for that it will be reassuring to know that World Happiness Database statistics show that being in a long-term relationship, even if you’re not married, is quite good for your happiness levels too.
OK, we probably need to clarify this a little. Those alcoholics singing away on the park bench might seem happy now, but they won’t be in a few hours. But the World Happiness Database does suggest that moderate drinking can make you happy.
What it says, in fact, is that people who drink in moderation are happier than people who don't drink at all. This is probably not to do with the booze itself, but because those who drink a little are more likely to go out to dinner, meet friends and have an active social life. If you didn't drink at all but did all those things regularly, you’d probably be just as happy.
Work at or close to home
If work makes you unhappy it may not be your job as much as the commute to it. A German study found that those who spent an hour commuting to work in the morning were considerably less happy than those who did not commute or whose journey was just a few minutes long. Indeed, if you can walk to work the walk itself probably improves your mood.
You may think that a long commute is justified by a decent salary and in some ways you may be right. But it doesn’t compensate in terms of happiness. The study found that high salaries did not make up for long commutes in terms of life satisfaction.
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We don't mean move house, we mean move country. According to the World Happiness Database the top 10 countries ranked in order of “satisfaction with life” include Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Iceland. Perhaps surprisingly, the top-ranked nation is Costa Rica. Britain and the United States are nowhere to be seen.
Why might that be? Well, there seems to be some relationship between a nation’s happiness and the size of the wealth gap between the richest and poorest citizens. As long as other factors - such as peace and a stable political system - are in place, the more equal a society is the happier the people in it (and that goes for richer and poorer alike).
So there are your keys to happiness. But the good news is that happiness is not fixed - and you can get happier over time. The even better news is that as you get older, you tend to get happier, and retired people are some of the happiest of them all. So the happiest thing we can say is this: the best is probably still to come.
For more tips on male grooming, see what the experts have to say here.