International Day of Happiness: Baylor Experts Share Ideas on How to Feel Happier
On March 20, Happiness Day encourages people to “Be Mindful. Be Grateful. Be Kind.”
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WACO, Texas (March 17, 2023) – Most people would agree that happiness is better than negative emotions. Still, few may take the time to fully appreciate how happiness can improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
The United Nations declared March 20 International Day of Happiness, which is celebrated annually to create a happier and kinder world. This year’s theme is “Be Mindful. Be Grateful. Be Kind.”
Baylor University positive psychology researchers, Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, offer ideas as to why happiness is important to recognize and how to cultivate more happiness in our lives.
"I think sometimes happiness gets a bad rap of, oh, it shouldn't matter, or that's just a result of good things happening. But our research shows that positive emotions themselves, just like happiness, can actually lead to other positive outcomes," said Schnitker. "So, happiness is not just an outcome itself, but actually can be a tool to help achieve better romantic relationships, friendships, or work outcomes."
Both Schnitker and Tsang have researched gratitude and the benefits of feeling grateful and have found that gratitude is good for an individual's health, well-being and happiness.
"There's a lot of research that suggests that writing a gratitude journal on a regular basis increases your happiness," Tsang said. "It is a quick, easy and inexpensive approach that has been proven effective, and the more consistently you can write a few things that you are grateful for, your outlook will change, and you will start to look for more positive things in your life."
Savoring the Moment
It can be easy to allow a day or week to go by without considering the positive things that occurred. Tsang suggests taking the time to savor the happy moments that are often overlooked.
"Savoring small moments can increase happiness, either in the moment or after," Tsang said. "Take time to think of something positive; think about the details and what about it made you happy at that moment."
As a result of savoring moments, "You see the increase in positive emotions, but you also see more empathy when you think about not only the gifts you received in your life but who gave them to you," Schnitker said.
In addition to feeling grateful for the people around you, take the time to thank them as a way to intentionally cultivate positive relationships.
"People love being thanked, and it warms them and matters to them more than we expect it would," Schnitker said. Taking time to say something positive and thank people around you can help you feel happier while also making the other person feel happier.
Look for the Positive
Focusing on the positive may seem like an obvious route to happiness, but it is often overlooked. Research reveals that people who focus on positive ideas feel more open and inclusive to others, allowing them to build stronger relationships, Schnitker said.
"It changes the way you perceive, and you see broader categories. When people are induced to feel positive emotions, they see the big picture," she said. "Whereas focusing on negative emotions can narrow your attention in your categories."
Habit of Happiness
Like so many behavioral changes, feeling happier can be reinforced by developing a happiness habit.
"One of the best things to do is to be motivated to make it a habit, and it will increase your happiness," Tsang said.
Happiness is best increased by purposely living out your values and purpose and cultivating positive relationships. "So, if you want to be happy, don't just seek hedonic pleasure. What seems to be really sustaining is seeking meaning, relationships, and engaging experiences and growth," Schnitker said.
Positive emotions like happiness have many psychological benefits and help us build a community to be inclusive and do many great things. "When we think about happiness, it's not just a nice after-effect; we need it to create the kind of behavior that promotes a good society," Schnitker said.
The professors are not saying that you should be happy all the time.
"It's important to have both, and we need diverse ways of thinking, but those positive emotions are sometimes undersold," Schnitker said. "It's not just for the sake that they feel good, but they really are important for social relationships."
Take some time on March 20 to consider happiness and how it helps both the individual and the community be a better place for everyone.
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Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.