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Has Science Found the Key to Happiness? Research Reveals 8 Proven Ways to Get Happy

The father-son research team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, ethicist Stephen Post, and Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky studied people around the globe to understand the effects of money, culture, attitude, health, altruism, and daily habits on our well-being. What they discovered is your actions can very well have a tremendous impact on your how much joy you have in your life.

So if you'd like to up your glee factor, here are eight scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.

Dream Big.  Those who set significant goals and strive for significant accomplishments are much happier than those who don't have big dreams or aspirations.  Humans are wired to need something meaningful in their lives in order to thrive and enjoy a happy life. 

Don't compare yourself to others. 
There will always be those who appear to be greater or lesser than you in terms of achievements or success. Striving to keep with the Joneses is a sure way to short circuit your happiness and damage your self-esteem.  Instead of keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing, focus on your own goals and accomplishments for real contentment. 

Treasure your friends and family.  Psychologist Diener and Biswass-Diener found that a good support system of close family and friends leads to happier people.  While you may have 796 Facebook friends or shallow acquaintances you can spend time with, it is close relationships that bring true joy.

Voice an attitude of gratitude.  One way to internalize all that you have to be happy about is to keep a gratitude journal and make weekly entries.  Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, found that people who write letters of gratitude to people who did something meaningful for them score low on depression and high on happiness.  The feel-good vibes lasts for weeks, too.

Develop an altruistic nature. 
Give more of yourself than you get from others and you'll find your life has more purpose.  Little things like helping your neighbor, donating your time or service, or volunteering at a local charity will not only make you happier but will actually deliver more health benefits than exercise or stopping smoking.  Be a good friend who is ready to lend an ear or celebrate the success of others.  And share whatever wealth you have – research shows that those who spend money on others are happier than those that reward themselves.

Exercise.  A  study conducted at Duke University revealed that exercise can treat depression just as effectively as expensive and potentially dangerous drugs.  We all know about the health benefits we get from exercise, but taking care of your body through exercise also leads to a feeling of accomplishment and boosts self-esteem.

Smile whether you feel like it or not.   According to research, smiling creates facial changes that have a direct effect on brain functioning associated with happiness.  So go ahead and put on a “fake” smile even when you don't feel like it because eventually your mood will change.  Also, practice a positive, optimistic outlook – look at the glass half full, not half empty.

Make money a lower priority.  People who view financial gain as the path to happiness are at a higher risk for low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, according to researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan.  This is true for all cultures.  “The more we seek satisfaction in material goods, the less we find the there.  The satisfaction has a short half-life – it's very fleeting,” says Ryan.

So what does all this mean?   Ultimately, happiness isn't something that happens to you.  It's something you create through your thoughts and actions.  Says Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.  Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.”

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