There are a lot of theories about what makes for a happier, more fulfilling life. One problem with many of the suggestions is that they aren’t practical. We can’t move to a country where people are said to live happier lives. We can’t readily change our professions or be free of all the worries in our lives.
For most of us, the big question is: How do I live a happier life where I am and doing what I do to pay the bills?
A 2020 study conducted by a team of international scholars came up with 68 ways “people are commonly counseled to raise their own happiness,” Arthur Brookes, a contributing writer at The Atlantic magazine and the host of the How to Build a Happy Life podcast, says. This list was handed off to 18 “distinguished and prolific academic experts on the science of happiness” to select the 10 most practical ideas ordinary people can make a part of their lives.
As we look at these 10 ideas, how can we improve our communities to help residents actively pursue a happier life?
We also see making it easier for our residents to live a happy life, we make our communities more attractive places to live. Here are the top 10 in order of their importance:
1. Invest in family and friends, deepening these already close ties. Make spending more time with them a priority.
“For 85 years, researchers with the Harvard Study of Adult Development have tracked what helps us live a complete, meaningful life,” Brookes writes. “What they found brought them ‘to a simple and profound conclusion: Good relationships lead to health and happiness.’”
Friends and family can be only a few blocks away for those of us living in small towns. It’s easy to get together. If family and friends live farther away, make time to spend time together.
2. Join a club. When we spend time together as volunteers or teammates, we build “social capital” that bridges our differences. Feeling part of a group reduces loneliness and gives us a sense of purpose.
Unfortunately, being part of a club, committee, or league takes more effort these days.
For several decades now, Americans have been dropping out of clubs, leagues, and associations, spending more time alone, Robert D. Putnam writes in his book Bowling Alone.
It is increasingly difficult to find volunteers willing to make their communities stronger, safer, and happier places to live. There are far too many free riders who contribute little or nothing but enjoy the benefits of those who do.
In our small towns, there are plenty of committees, community events, and projects that need volunteers – join one, and you will be happier.
3. Be active both mentally and physically.
Shane O’Meara is a professor of clinical brain research at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and the author of “In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk and Why It’s Good for Us.”
When a person sits, the body is lazy, he says. At the same time, the brain isn’t doing much other than focusing on the task at hand. “But when you stand up, lots of things have to happen and lots of challenges are imposed on the body. All of your senses are sharpened, and this is because you are readied for action,” he says.
Humans evolved as a social, walking species, O’Meara says. Tribes and families, in groups, walked through much of our history. That walking in groups attuned people to one another, he says. It is an action that makes people feel good, he says.
After you’ve had your walk, sit down and read a book – in print. Reading print gives us a better understanding and deeper memories.
4. Practice your religion. Or, Brookes writes, do what you feel is spiritually rewarding. “Search for transcendent truths beyond your narrow day-to-day life,” he says.
In our rural communities, churches are physically closer to us. We hear the church bells ringing on Sunday mornings. They are places of welcome and gathering.
5. Get physical exercise. This is a slightly souped-up version of Number 3, Brookes writes. Exercising makes a person feel better about themselves. It also helps your heart, reduces the chances of a stroke, eases depression and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and can reduce the chance of getting some cancers, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also boosts your energy levels.
6. Act nicely. Acts of kindness are closely tied to developing empathy and compassion towards others. These qualities improve how we feel about ourselves. It takes motivation to act with kindness since we are putting others ahead of ourselves when we do.
7. Be generous. How often do you feel a smile comes to your lips when giving to others? Science shows us that being generous “rewards the brain with happiness-enhancing boosts of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin,” Brookes writes.
8. Check your health. Don’t neglect visits to the doctor or dentist, Brookes writes. Seek counseling if your emotions are frayed, making maintaining relationships or working difficult. We are fortunate to have great medical services in our counties – use them when needed.
9. Experience nature. Our rural communities are designed for walking in nature; we sit at its doorstep or live in it. Walking in nature, even on a cold winter’s day, “dramatically lowers stress, increases positive mood, and enhances working memory,” Brookes writes.
10. Socialize with colleagues outside of work.
In our small communities, there are better odds that those we work with will live not far away, maybe down the block or across the street. It is easy to get together in our homes or at the local tavern to enjoy an evening of companionship or at the golf course. We will be happier if we do.
Each of these 10 recommendations for living a happier life comes with a commitment to not plant yourself in front of the TV or get lost on social media for hours.