We all want to be happy and successful. It’s hardwired in our brains.
And yet for so many of us, holding onto those feelings can feel like an impossible goal. They go as soon as they come.
Meanwhile, human life can get kinda complicated. How do we decide what to do so we can feel better? That’s where this list can come in handy— it’s just nice to know the real facts on what makes us happy. Think of it as a cheat sheet to the incredibly complex computer that is your brain. And the next time the world is getting you down, think back to what you learned here! Some of these facts are always good for a pick-me-up.
Success And Happiness Facts
24. Helping Others
Helping others not only makes the people around you feel better, it makes you feel better about yourself. Researchers have shown that helping people actually makes you more optimistic, and increases your self-esteem, particularly when you do activities like donating to charity or volunteering.
Kindness makes the world go ’round.
23. Dear Dad
We all know our relationship to our fathers is important- whether we had a great one, a difficult one, or none at all. Now science has shown just how true that is: Studies have shown that if you had a close relationship with dad, you’ll likely have good interpersonal relations into adulthood.
But for those of us who had more difficult relationships with the old man, all hope is not lost: studies have also shown that acknowledging the role our parents played in our upbringing (whether good or bad) helps to lead to strong mental health. Good news!
22. No Risk, All Reward
Helping people out also actually improves your physical well-being.
Studies have shown that when people gave to charity, the part of our brains that triggers reward lights up– just the same as eating good food, or meeting someone we love.
21. Helping Others, Helping Ourselves
Researchers call the chemical changes in our brain after an act of charity “the helper’s high.”
That means our brain doesn’t just recognize the act of kindness as something to be proud of– we actually release chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, which are tied to happiness and well-being.
20. The Child Is Father to the Man
Your childhood has a lot of impact on your success in later life. A 20-year-long study by Penn State and Duke University showed that children who were less adept socially were more likely to get arrested and binge drink as adults.
19. A Sense of Purpose
Giving back to others also has the happiness benefit of making you feel like a superhero—and who’s more successful than a superhero? According to a survey by United Health Group, 96% of people who volunteered over the past year of their life said the act gave them a sense of purpose.
18. Quick Pick-Me-Up
When we cuddle up with furry friends, our brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” which makes us immediately happier. The hormone also, surprise surprise, helps reduce stress.
17. Fail Harder
Success is mostly about perseverance through failure.
In her book Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that success isn’t intrinsic to a person’s talents or intelligence, and instead comes from their ability to push through failures.
16. Know How to Get Along
You can’t cook an omelet without cracking a few eggs, but if you crack too many eggs you’ll get heartburn. Knowing how to tolerate conflict is important, but being in conflict constantly means getting distracted from your goal. Pick your battles, and know when to step down.
15. An Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks
Just because older people have had more time to stack up their successes doesn’t mean being older is everything in success. A study conducted on over 3,000 physicists showed that the likelihood of making important contributions to their field was directly correlated to the amount of time they put into their work. The writing is on the wall: Being more efficient and productive with time matters more in the long run than your age.
14. Tolerate Conflict
You can’t cook an omelet without cracking a few eggs—success and power are accompanied by conflict. You don’t have to necessarily plot a coup d’etat or be ready to trade blows with that coworker who disagrees with you—but it wouldn’t hurt to be mentally prepared for conflict and know how to handle yourself in one.
13. Pay Attention
Happiness is mostly internal, but success is very significantly external—so constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to succeed. This includes looking at what other successful people are doing, and knowing where you stand in the field that you’re trying to make it in.
12. Don’t Dangle That Carrot
Passion and intrinsic motivation are key factors to success and completing a task. According to psychologists, if we enjoy and are passionate about a task, we will do it without any desire for an external reward; we will be intrinsically motivated. However, if someone promises us a reward for a task we are already intrinsically motivated to do, it actually reduces our motivation.
11. Unleash Your Creativity
When we are intrinsically motivated to do something, studies suggest that we are actually more creative about the task at hand, which can help us better perform at our work.
10. Nap Time
Sleeping more can make you happier. One study looked at sleep-deprived college students and found that they remembered fewer (relative to other participants) positive words from a list they had to memorize. More than that, if you’re already happy, you sleep better.
9. A Wealth of Knowledge
Perhaps unsurprisingly, wealth also plays a big role in future success. The higher the incomes your parents earn, the higher your SAT scores are.
Too bad being wealthy in, say, internet memes doesn’t have the same effect. Although looking at some happy pictures never did hurt, either.
8. 2 + 2 = Success
A 2007 study showed that getting children into math early is incredibly helpful to developing more complex math skills later on. But that’s not all: it also helps your reading. As Northwestern’s Greg Duncans puts it, “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement.”
7. Curiosity Didn’t Kill Anyone
Becoming successful often means growing as a person, and that requires you to be open to self-development and change, or even sometimes a reinvention of your perspectives on life. Because of this, curiosity is often more important than having a clearly defined, unfaltering worldview, and studies show that people who are more curious have fewer biases.
6. Foods Can Make You Happier
Besides binging on an extravagant meal, certain foods like egg whites, raw soybeans, and beef will actually contribute to your brain chemistry and help produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel well and happy.
5. Having Compassion
For those with a guilty conscience, offering compassion towards others will relieve you of that lingering anxiety. If you live your life being your best to everyone else and are compassionate and forgiving to others even when it’s difficult to not want to grill them, you’ll feel invincible.
4. Mother Knows Best
Having a positive role model as a child is also an indicator of success. A Harvard Business School study found that daughters who had working moms not only went to school longer, they were also 23% more likely to work in a supervisory role.
3. Um, I Don’t Want to Sit With You
Don’t listen to your yearbook: the cool, popular kids in school are actually more likely to be unsuccessful, have substance abuse problems, and to display criminal behavior later in life. As Joseph P. Allen, a researcher at the University of Virginia, said, “It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool.”
Impostor syndrome—that little voice inside our heads that tell us we can’t do something or don’t belong somewhere—is a very real thing, and has very real consequences. A study by Mirjam Neureiter and Eva Traut-Mattausch found that impostor syndrome correlated with lower salaries and fewer promotions.
1. Better Than Meditating
A study by the United Health Group reported that 78% of people found that charitable acts reduced their stress levels. Stress is no fun at all, so getting it out of your life is a good start on the road to happiness.