According to the broaden-and-build theory, positive emotions like happiness, interest and love, broaden our awareness. Where negative emotions tend to narrow our thinking, positive emotions encourage curious, exploratory and innovative thoughts and actions. Practising this builds intellectual, physical, social and psychological skills and resources over time.

Here are some areas that researchers are looking into to increase and sustain happiness and wellbeing.

Happiness Strategy #1
Get social

The happiest 10% of students at the University of Illinois had strong relationships with friends and family making a commitment to spend time with them. This study by Diener and Seligman illustrates some of the strongest factors related to happiness: good social skills; strong interpersonal relationships and social support. Spend time with friends, make new ones and prioritise time with them.

Happiness Strategy #2
Find your strengths

In a study by Seligman, Park and Peterson, individuals who identified their strengths and used their top five strengths in a new way experienced increased happiness and reduced depressive symptoms for six months. Find your strengths here.

Happiness Strategy #3
Be here now

Practising mindfulness meditation or relaxation training increase positive mood over time as well as reduce stress. Mindfulness meditation works especially well for reducing distraction, trait anxiety and rumination (repetitive focus on symptoms of distress and possible causes and consequences). Mindfulness Meditation also increases empathy and self compassion.

Happiness Strategy #4
Gratitude

Write a letter to someone you are grateful to and deliver it in person. This could give you a large boost in happiness lasting a month. Counting your blessings regularly can give you a happiness boost lasting six months with a decline in depressive symptoms. Gratitude exercises can even improve physical health and make you feel more energetic, according to Psychologist, Robert Emmons.

Happiness Strategy #5
Help out

In a study by Lyubomirsky, individuals felt measurable happiness boosts from performing five acts of kindness weekly. Becoming involved in a charity, helping a child with homework, or visiting a relative are just some ideas. Kindness fills your life with meaning and purpose, distracting you from your troubles and making you feel generous and capable. Connecting with others is a happiness booster in itself.

Happiness Strategy #6
Best you

Imagining a positive future daily for a week in different areas of your life  can increase happiness for six months and decrease depressive feelings for three months. Make sure you write about it including how you solved current issues to reach these outcomes. This is a finding in a recent study done by Shapira and Mongrain.

Happiness Strategy #7
Body Basics

Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, stretching, smiling and laughing are all short term happiness boosters, with good health paying long term dividends.

Happiness Strategy #8
Goal-centred hope

Setting meaningful and achievable goals and identifying opportunities to fulfill them can boost self esteem and curtail anxiety. Finding ways to stay motivated to pursue your goals, prevent or deal with obstacles, change the plan if necessary to stay on track and evaluate progress towards your goal all help to gain a sense of control and encourage action.

Happiness Strategy #9
Make it last

Focus on pleasurable moments and savour them. This could be as simple as admiring a strawberry before you eat it and concentrating on the flavour or basking in a happy moment with a loved one. You can even take a mental snapshot for a time that needs some brightening.

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References

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 15 (5), 593-600.

Jain S, et al. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training:  Effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Ann Behav Med, 33(1), 11–21.

Seligman M, et al. (2005) Positive Psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410 – 421.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualising best possible selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. (2011, November 20). In Pep Lab. Retrieved 16:18, November 20, 2011, from http://www.unc.edu/peplab/broaden_build.html

Broaden-and-build. (2011, November 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:18, November 20, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broaden_and_build

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. (2011, August 14). In The Royal Society. Retrieved 16:18, November 20, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/pdf/15347528.pdf

The new science of happiness. (2005, January 17). In Psychology: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (from Time Magazine). Retrieved 23:03, January 02, 2012, from http://s.psych.uiuc.edu/~ediener/Documents/Time-Happiness.pdf

Positive Psychology interventions. (2011, January 31). In Psychlopedia. Retrieved 23:08, January 02, 2012, from http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=406