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Take the Happiness Challenge with These 5 Behaviors

We all want to begin the new year feeling connected and good about ourselves and others. Most of us set resolutions to help us thrive and improve our sense of well-being, but what are the most helpful goals for developing close connections, an improved sense of well-being, and overall happiness? For answers, we can turn to a three generational study from Harvard College where researchers studied 724 participants for more than 85 years. In this study, strong personal relationships clearly stood out as the crown jewel of happiness. More than wealth, IQ, or social class, the health and strength of our bonds with each other lead us to feel good about ourselves and the world.

This week embark on a journey with me towards greater satisfaction by taking the happiness challenge, which includes five activities you can practice for a week to increase your happiness, well-being, and compassion for others. Below are suggestions to take action now.

1. Build social bonds for more joy. More and more research encourages us to make friends, check-in, and be there for them. Instead of going for a walk alone, call a friend. Text a friend every day while enjoying a cup of coffee or when feeling overwhelmed. Schedule at least one friend meet-up each week. If you have recently moved or simply feel like you don’t have friends, make it a point to join activities that allow you to meet new people and develop bonds with others. These steps will improve you and your friends’ health and overall happiness.

2. Try the 8-minute phone call. Even on your busiest days you can find 8 minutes to spare, and research suggests that 8 minutes with a friend can improve your life. The power of an 8-minute call lies in hearing a connected voice with someone who is thinking of you and reaches out. Individuals who participated in a research study which required two 8-minute calls a week showed significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.

3. Thank someone special verbally or in writing. For help with this exercise, researchers suggest writing a living eulogy to help you identify who you appreciate most for their continued support. Follow this awareness with a written letter or phone call to tell them all the ways they’ve influenced your life. Appreciation is critically important to our mental health, and the person receiving your appreciation feels a big boost in happiness as well.

4. Initiate small talk with someone you don’t know. You can achieve this goal by talking to strangers on your walk, at the grocery store or post office, or anywhere you encounter a stranger. Ask them about themselves, their dog, or anything relevant to the situation. What’s important about this exercise is noticing someone else and greeting them - rather than saying nothing at all. It encourages connection and boosts your mood. Speaking with others lessens our connections and leaves us feeling vulnerable and alone. Connection is correlated with happiness so start connecting!

5. Don’t cancel your plans. Predicting how a future event will go is called affective forecasting, and most humans are bad at it. Research shows humans aren’t good at knowing what’s good for us and are especially bad at understanding the benefits of relationships with others. It can be tempting to stay in and cancel plans that get us out socializing with others but spending time with others - even when it feels scary or induces anxiety for introverts - enlivens and inspires our lives. Any plans on your calendar that involve meeting up with others will usually increase your happiness.

Humans crave connection, and the number one thing on every scale of happiness involves socializing with others. With that in mind, this year go to the gym, eat healthy, find a job you love, but most importantly work on your relationships. Nothing will benefit your mental and physical health and happiness score as much as connecting with another.

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