happiness researchWhat if I told you that you could be happier if you just hung loose with little or no expectations, ate more vanilla yogurt, watched nature shows, chatted up strangers, attended more cultural events and ate more fruits and veggies? You would probably think I was not the brightest light in the harbor or possibly a few fries short of a Happy Meal? Well, these are some of the findings in the latest happiness studies.

You know I have my own theories of what makes us authentically happy, but I always like to check out the latest studies. So here’s what we have:

1.) Hang loose. What several studies are finding is that we are most happy with life’s little surprises. So it makes sense to hang loose, have no expectations, so that we are always pleasantly surprised. One study surveyed 2,000 adults to find their moods were boosted most by little things like sunshine, finding money in their pockets that they’d forgotten, getting into bed with fresh linens, etc.

In fact, 82% of the participants said the best things in life are those you don’t expect. Well, frankly that’s a result I would expect. What about you?

2.) Vanilla Yogurt Makes People Happier than any other kind.

Ha! I wanted to put this one first, given I have a colonoscopy today and couldn’t eat all day yesterday and the procedure is not until 2:00 pm today. So, 38 hours without anything but clear liquids (yesterday) and I can tell you – stuffing down about a gallon of vanilla yogurt right now would make me plenty happy, okay. Do you sense a little testiness?

So recently a team of scientists from Australia, Finland and Holland did a study on the emotional responses of subjects who consumed different kinds of yogurt. What they found was no measurable results from eating different kinds of fruit flavored yogurts. But, when it came to vanilla yogurt there was a definite rise in feelings of pleasantness. Conclusion, eating vanilla yogurt makes people happy. I can see it. Yep, I can see it. I think the smell has a lot to do with it. As someone who has formulated candle and perfume fragrances, I can tell you that vanilla is in the base of a lot of those formulations for a reason. Most people find the smell very pleasing.

3.) Watch More Nature Shows

So, the findings of an international study called The Real Happiness Project showed that nature programming has a very direct and positive impact on the moods and well-being of people.

The study, which was conducted by Professor Dacher Keltner, an expert in the science of emotion at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrated that even short stints watching nature shows lead to significant increases in positive emotions including awe, contentedness, joy and amusement. Participants in the study also experienced substantial decreases in emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress and tiredness.

Again, this one doesn’t surprise me. Does it you? Even if it is just TV images, our connection with nature is extremely strong. It brings us back to what is real.

4.) Chat up a stranger.

This study was cool. Behavioral scientists in Chicago gave a group of train passengers a $5 Starbucks gift card as an ethical bribe to strike up a conversation with a stranger during the ride, while a control group kept to themselves.

The ones that chatted with other passengers reported a more positive experience than those who had stayed quiet. And, this is regardless of the fact that they had predicted they would feel happier being to themselves. There was also another study with quite the same results in which the participants were given a $5 gift card to strike up a conversation with a cashier.

We love connection and sharing. This makes total sense! So let’s get chatty.

5.) Attend Cultural Events.

In another study, 50,000 Norwegians were involved in research that collected data on their activities, moods and health. Individuals that participated in more cultural activities were found to report higher happiness levels and lower anxiety and depression than those who didn’t.

The researchers said, “Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders.”

I’d like your thoughts on this. To me, this speaks to our love for breaking with routine and seeing and experiencing wonderful new things outside our normal routine. Don’t you think?

6.) Eat lots of Fruits & Veggies.

In a New Zealand study, 405 people were asked to keep food diaries for 13 days. The results demonstrated that people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher than average levels of curiosity, creativity, positive emotions, engagement, meaning, and purpose than those who didn’t.

The researchers concluded, “These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy.” Hmmm, I wonder if the lettuce and tomato on my Whataburger will count?

So, there you have it. The research is in! Hang loose, eat more vanilla yogurt, watch some Wild Kingdom, chat with whoever you come in contact, take in the occasional play or cultural performance, and eat them dang’d ole fruits and veggies. Snap!

As always, be blessed!

Sandra M. Bell