The 8 steps to happiness, according to science

Stop looking around for happiness, it is already inside you

steps to happiness

Happiness is everyone’s ultimate goal and yet few seem to achieve it. There is always something in the way. Money, time constrictions, work, even rain can bring your mood down. But that’s because you are mistaken about the steps to happiness.

8 steps to happiness

The steps to happiness are not made of a solid material where you can rest your foot comfortably without fears of it vanishing. They are within yourself and you are the one who can make them firm or ethereal by constantly working on them.

Smile and the world will smile back

steps to happiness smile more

According to a 2013 study, fake smiling, especially when you do it for work reasons where you need to act happy, can increase your stress and anxiety levels. In the long-run, it is also likely to lead to insomnia and emotional exhaustion.

However, if you make your smile real by having positive thoughts or by keeping retrieving happy memories, everything can change. A 2015 experiment proved that when you smile more and use a real smile at that, your world perception changes.

The researchers concluded that your positivism impacts on the perception of other people’s faces, and you are less likely to notice their frowns or worried eyes while your brain focuses instead on the soothing and happy features.

Help others

Helping others might be perceived as a task or another source of stress, and it’s frequently just like that when you are doing it. However, afterwards, you are left with a feeling of accomplishment. You feel that you made the difference even if just for a bit, which improves your mood and leaves you closer to happiness.

This feeling was tested already in 2008, when in a trial the subjects were divided into two groups and given money either to buy something for themselves and for someone else. Surprisingly enough, at the end of the experiment, the group who assigned to give something to a third person scored significantly higher in happiness feelings than the group who bought themselves a gift.

Keep in touch with friends and family

steps to happiness Keep in touch


Loneliness is a pandemic issue nowadays, curiously the moment when everyone is more connected than ever. Depression and anxiety follow as people feel isolated and the brain tries to find the answer for your state.

To find the steps to happiness you just need to turn the situation upside down. If being and feeling alone affects you so much, be in touch. You don’t need to make new friends every day, but at least keep actively in touch with the ones you already have and with your family.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse, decided to gather the top 5 regrets of people on their deathbed. Number 4? “I wish I stayed in touch with my friends“.

Sleep more

Not sleeping enough hours can have dire consequences for one’s health. Sleep deprivation can affect both the body and the mind’s well-being, as it decreases the time they have to recover and restore itself after a long day.

To take your first steps to happiness, sleeping more is fundamental. According to a 2011 study, REM sleep aids at recalibrating the sensitivity of the human brain to certain emotions. The individuals who slept more and took naps were less likely to be affected by negative thoughts and energies, and to display anger or fear. Instead, they were sensitive and receptive to positive emotional stimuli and presented higher levels of perceived happiness.


steps to happiness exercise

Exercising triggers the release of endorphins, the so-called “happy hormones”. These neurotransmitters are produced in the pituitary gland and central nervous systems as a response to pain, working in a similar way as opioids.

As exercising strains the body, the brain immediately signals for the release of these hormones, which explains the “runner’s high” feeling.

Physical exercise is also a great strategy to fight stress, as it aids in releasing the muscle tension and the attention paid to breathing and the movements distract the mind from any problems troubling it.

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Meditation is becoming an increasingly common activity and it’s not all “ohms”.

There are several techniques that you can perform anywhere at any moment that soothes your emotions, relieves stress and promotes more self-awareness.

In a 2011 study, the researchers concluded that meditation lessens the response to negative stimuli to the emotional load, but good stimuli were not affected. These findings were supported by a 2012 study that concluded that meditation increases emotional awareness, which gives you an opportunity to analyze your feelings more rationally and distinguish between the ones that matter and the ones that don’t.

However, this is not just a case of a temporary “feel-good” moment. Mediation is one of the steps to happiness because it can change the brain structure, according to a 2017 study. As you continuously practice meditation and mindfulness, the brain starts to readjust its connections assuming that you state of peace and joy is supposed to be your normal state.

Write down what you are grateful for

steps to happiness grateful

When you get home after work and rewind your day, you will probably remember first all the bad things that happened. People tend to retrieve bad memories and remember them better than the good ones. But you can train yourself to be more positive and attract good energies.

In a 2012 trial, the researchers asked 219 men and women to write 3 letters of gratitude for 3 weeks, with the individuals reporting an increased sense of happiness and life satisfaction. These results corroborate a different 2003 study that concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits”.

It might be hard at first to focus or to find things to be grateful every day, but after a while, your brain will be trained to pick them quicker. It will be easier for you to retrieve more positive thoughts and memories and to be grateful and satisfied with yourself.

Be more like the elderly

According to a 2013 review of the literature relating emotions and aging, older adults tend to be happier than younger ones.

There isn’t yet a clear explanation of why this happens, but the researchers suggest it could be because it eventually becomes easier for them to recall good memories instead of the bad ones. Meditation and practice mindfulness can help you achieve this too, but there is another factor to considerate: age.

How many times have you heard an elderly say “I’m too old for this”? They simply refuse to lose their precious time left doing things they don’t like or spending time with those they don’t care about. Instead, they try to enjoy their life by enrolling in activities they enjoy and spending more time with friends and family.

What makes a good life?

People tend to focus on their material goods as a measure of happiness. Or they compare their lives to those they see on social media and rejoice every time theirs seems to be more interesting because that would mean they are happier too. Maybe not happy, but happier.

One of the reasons why it is so hard to climb the steps to happiness is that most individuals are going through a different set of stairs altogether or they try to take the lift, the easy way to do it. Just enjoy life and don’t worry too much about it.

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    Written by Catarina Alves

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