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How to Be Happy: 16 Scientific Ways to Be Happier

Rachel Sharpe

“How can I be happy?” That’s the age old question people keep asking. If you’re currently feeling unhappy it might be time to take action to find happiness. And while this article will dive into how to be happy, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to not be happy all the time. Some life challenges can leave us feeling sad, frustrated, or burnt out. Some of my happiest moments have actually come from really painful ones. Like breaking up with the wrong person bringing you closer to the right one. Or losing a loved one and being more grateful for the people in your life. Sadness and pain can make you appreciate how privileged you are when you become happy. But in the meantime, let’s try turning that frown upside down. Here’s what you can do to be happy.

16 Ways to Be Happier

1. Get Fresh Air

Fresh air helps you be happy

Ah, nature. Want to know how to be happy? All you need to do is step outside and take a deep breath in. In the colder months, we barricade ourselves indoors. And in our depressive, dark moments, we hide under blankets where no one can find us. The world can seem like a scary place sometimes. But being outdoors is so damn good for the soul. My favorite thing to do? Walk along a body of water or in a forest doing mindful breathing. If you’re going through a tough time, it’s okay to cry during your walk. I’ve done that too. But taking that big step outside can do a whole lot of good for your mental health. Heck, when you’re out in nature, you get a boost of dopamine and endorphins to make you feel good. 

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2. Dance

Those who want to be happier can find happiness simply by shaking their tush. In fact, studies found that those who did Zumba experienced elevated moods. And dance also keeps your brain healthy by lowering your risk of dementia. Having a healthy brain can make you feel happy. If you decide to dance in a gym, party, or other social gathering, you also benefit from the happiness you get from being with others. But don’t worry, if you’re worried about your awkward dancing skills, you can get your dopamine boost even if you’re dancing in your kitchen or following along to a YouTube video playlist at home. So dance like nobody’s watching if you’re looking to learn how to be happy. 

3. Exercise


We all know that even a little bit of exercise each day can make us happier. But according to a study done at Yale and Oxford, exercise can make you happier than even money. They found that people who exercise feel bad for only 35 days each year. However, people who don’t exercise feel bad for 53 days each year on average. The study also found that sports where there’s socialization involved boosted happiness at a higher rate as well. When it comes to money, they found that how much you exercise matters more for happiness than how much you earn. If it’s cold outside, you might not feel like playing an outdoor sport. But don’t forget there are plenty of online workout routines that you can plug into your TV through Chromecast or Apple TV.

4. Create a Gratitude List

A study at Harvard found that expressing gratitude is associated with greater happiness as it emphasizes more positive feelings, experiences, relationships and better health. You can create a gratitude list of all the things and people you’re grateful for. But we actually recommend taking it one step further but expressing it directly to the people if possible. Because by expressing gratitude not only are you going to experience happiness for yourself, you’ll also brighten someone else’s day. Some people may feel awkward or insecure about expressing gratitude to others. If that’s you send a kind note to the person on social media or write a card to let them know. When you send your annual Christmas cards, include reasons why you’re grateful for that person to make them feel special. And that’s how you’ll get a boost of happiness for yourself too!

5. Articulate Your Needs

Articulate your needs to be happy

In the book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” Marshall B Rosenberg, Ph.D discusses how the cause of our unhappiness is unmet needs. The problem lies in people’s ability to articulate what those needs are. Often times, we fail to clarify our exact needs. Someone might say “I want you to listen to me.” And the other person immediately replies “I am listening to you!” And the person doesn’t feel heard while the other person feels defensive. But the problem is, your need of being heard isn’t specific enough. What are the exact feelings you’re experiencing? What action do you actually want people to take? The book details exactly how to articulate your needs so that you can feel happier by teaching true empathy. And so both parties feel like they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted. It’s a great read for people who keep having the same fights over and over.

6. Do Acts of Kindness

In your quest of mastering how to be happy, you might find that being kind to others is the way to go. A study at Oxford University found that being kind does in fact make you slightly happier. It’s believed that humans help others because we’re social animals. We evolved that way. So maybe our acts of kindness are also beneficial for evolutionary reasons as well. While a kind act doesn’t cause a big boost in happiness (despite what some reports claim) it can still be beneficial to do. For example, your kind act towards another may help you build a stronger relationship with them. So be kind if happiness is on your mind. 

7. Change your mindset

Change your mindset

For a long time it was believed that your brain isn’t changeable. The person you are is the person you’re stuck to be. Fortunately, neuroplasticity proves that that couldn’t be further than the truth. Of course, you can rewire your brain! It’s not necessarily easy but it’s still possible. Do you find yourself constantly thinking the same negative thoughts over and over again? Are you replaying the words someone told you in your mind for weeks? If so, it might be time to replace those negative thoughts with positive thoughts. According to Psychiatry Research, even something as simple as a daily meditation practice could rewire your  brain. 

8. Compliment Yourself

As you focus on being happy, a simple way to do that is to compliment yourself or receive a compliment from another person. You can receive a compliment by asking for positive feedback. Or you can compliment others regularly so they feel comfortable complimenting you as well. But if that’s not possible, you can always compliment yourself instead of beating yourself up the next time something doesn’t go as planned. A study at the National Institute for Physiological Science in Japan found that receiving a compliment is a social reward in the same way money is. They found people who received a compliment were also more likely to perform better on a task. What’s interesting is that praise can also improve your memory. Now doesn’t that make you feel happier?

9. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday

Compare yourself to be happy

According to a study at the University of California, unhappy people’s confidence grows when they receive positive feedback. However, the increase becomes minimal when their peers receive better feedback. When we compare ourselves to others we become unhappier. Instead of shifting the focus on comparing ourselves to others, we should move towards comparing ourselves to ourselves. Are you better than you were a year ago? Have you grown or improved this year? Have you gotten closer to achieving a goal you wanted? By comparing yourself to a previous version of yourself you’re less likely to get caught up in the unhappiness caused by comparing yourself to your social group.

10. Read books

According to the University of Liverpool, in a study of 4,164 adults found that those who read regularly were less likely to be stressed and depressed. They often had more confidence and were able to proactively solve problems with greater ease. Readers also had a greater sense of community as well spending more time with friends. So if you’re trying to decide whether to marathon a Netflix series or a read a few meditation books, reading will likely pay off more in the long run. And so if you’re figuring out how to be happy, spend some time reading. 

11. Hang Out with Friends

Hang with friends

In prison, isolation is a form of torture. We’re social beings. Humans need to be around other people to be happy. And what better people to hang out with than friends you’ve chosen. According to Harvard Medicine, happiness is actually contagious. When a friend in a group is happy, you’re likely to benefit from it as well. They found that the effect can last as long as an entire year. And you’re expected to experience a boost of about 15%. That’s a pretty decent amount of happy. 

12. Try Hydrotherapy

The Romans used to require its citizens to go to bathhouses each week. Even slaves were required to have weekly spa treatment. To the Romans, water was believed to be a cure to many ailments. So it’s no surprise that showers or baths could make you happier. You might find that after a long, hot shower you feel a bit less anxious. Swimmers experience an improved sense of well-being when the swim in the winter according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Being in and around water can be really beneficial for your mental and physical health and that’s how to be happy with water. 

13. Play with a Pet

Playing with a pet can make you happier

According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that people with pets experience improved lives. Those who suffer from heart attacks are more likely to survive it if they’re a pet owner. So not only do you get a boost in your life, having a pet can be a lifesaver too. People with pets also benefit from higher levels of self-esteem, according to the American Psychological Association. Why’s that? Well, pets tend to offer as much support as a family member. And that’s probably why if you’re a pet owner you do consider your dog or cat to be family. With an improvement in your health, an increase in self esteem, and greater support, it’s easier to be happy when you own a pet.

14. Delay gratification 

In the infamous Stanford study, children were placed in a room where they were given one marshmallow on a plate. The researcher gave them two options either eat the one now or wait 15 minutes to receive two. The children who delayed gratification and waited for the two experienced better grades in standardized tests, benefited from a better immune system, and had fewer behavioral problems. So, delaying gratificiation can make you happier. Because even if you don’t get what you want right now. You’ll get something even better in the long-term. 

15. Try Meditation

Practice meditation

Genetics can play a role in whether or not you’re happy. And while you can’t control the genes you were born with, you are able to rewire your brain thanks to neuroplasticity. The easiest way to rewire the brain? Meditation! A daily practice of meditation can reduce the size of your amygdala which is the part of the brain that makes you more fearful and anxious. And for the most part, when you start your meditation practice you may you feel anxious but as you end it you’re feeling much calmer. And that calmness can result in you being happier.

16. Indulge a little

While the goal should be to seek long-term happiness, sometimes a little burst of happiness allows us to pull through and last another day. What are your hobbies? The things you can do that bring you the most joy? If it’s laying on the couch watching Neflix, or having that bowl of ice cream, indulge a little. The worst thing we can do is indulge and then beat ourselves up afterward. This defeats the purpose. Why do the things that make you feel happy if you’re just going to block that happiness with feelings of guilt and shame?

Give yourself permission to just enjoy life today. To enjoy the thing or things that make you smile. We don’t want to overindulge or make our life a life of indulgences, but if it gives you a boost of energy when you need it most, let go of any guilt or shame and do it.


Happiness isn’t a permanent state. But you can take action to do things that make you feel happier. From meditation to pet ownership to doing acts of kindness, you can begin to rewire your brain so that you begin to experience more joy in your life. If this article helped you find out how to be happy, leave a comment below to let us know which item on this list you’ll be trying.

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