It is easy to access information these days. You just Google the thing you want to know about. While it can be fascinating to read about research, sometimes one knew the facts themselves anyway.
I am a sucker for articles about what makes people happy. Plenty of research has been done on this topic. Many of the things research has found to contribute to happiness is what I would have expected.
What are some of the things that make people happy that don’t surprise me?
Close friends and family
I love spending time with a close friend. It may be someone I have known for years like the friend I met in hospital when I was having my first child. Thirty plus years on we are still good friends.
I also enjoy catching up with relations, including my cousins. The older ones knew me when I was a baby so we have known each other for a long time. Even my youngest cousin has been around for over fifty years.
It was no surprise to me to read that people who have close friends are happier. I know that I get a happy feeling when I spend time with friends. I walk away with a smile on my face. If I have been feeling stressed prior to a catch up, my mood is more positive afterwards. People with close family and friends are less likely to suffer serious depression. Studies show there are numerous benefits to having a strong social network. These include feeling more confident, a higher self esteem and feeling more in control of life.
It is interesting to read what happens to our brain when we spent time with friends. The brain releases the hormone oxytocin during a positive social interaction making us feel a social bond or closeness to those around us. Oxytocin helps physical healing and decreases anxiety. This explains why people with good social relationships tend to recover more quickly after surgery or illness.
Pets I love my dog and cat very much. They make me feel happy, although sometimes my cat is quite annoying. He mews to come in, walks around, mews to go out and within five minutes wants to come back in. Oh well.
When I am stroking my dog or cat I feel relaxed. I wasn’t surprised to read that snuggling up with a pet lowers blood pressure. Research shows even five minutes interacting with a pet can increase the brain’s output of endorphins and dopamine.
My dog gets excited about going for walks and his enjoyment of exercise is contagious. Exercise improves a person’s mood. Studies back up my experience that my dog encourages me to get exercise.
Going for a walk, either with my dog, a friend or alone, lifts my spirits. The exercise is part of the reason for this. However, walking in a natural environment makes me happier than walking around a shopping centre, no matter how good the shops.
Research done by Zelinski and Nisbet shows people with a strong connection to Nature (also called Nature Relatedness) tend to be happier than those who spend little time in natural environments. Tree lined streets make people happier.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter which contributes to wellbeing and happiness, is released when a person comes in contact with the soil. I didn’t know that until I read it. I did know I felt happy when playing in the dirt as a child. As an adult I feel happy spending time digging and planting in the garden.
Research has come up with many other things that contribute to happiness. Many do not surprise me as they support my own experiences.