“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” – The Dalai Lama

Let’s face it: life is a lot easier when we’re happy. What’s so unique about happiness is that it affects nearly every other thought and emotion – motivation, productivity, focus, drive, energy and so on. When we’re happy, we don’t just feel good. We are better people in every other part of our life.

Something else quite unique about happiness: nearly everything that humans think produces long-term happiness doesn’t – money, fame, education, food, and so on. Of course, these things may produce fleeting feelings of happiness, but it comes at a cost – literally and figuratively. There are plenty of rich people who are miserable; educated people that haven’t truly achieved their goals; famous folks who wish for a simpler time.

What simple things in life create happiness and don’t cost us? Some of the things on this list may surprise you…okay, WILL surprise you.

Here are 10 things you should definitely try if you want to be happier:

become happier
1. Have real conversations

Human beings are social creatures that require a certain amount of social interaction. Nowadays, conversations (as in, speaking to each other) are quickly being relegated to text messaging, e-mail and chat rooms. However, substantive conversations are essential to increasing our happiness quotient.

Here’s what researchers at the University of Arizona had to say about social interaction:

“…the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial.”

2. Keep a diary and re-read it

In our day-to-day lives, our emotions fluctuate somewhere between the ‘unhappy’ and ‘elated’ continuum. Rarely are we at one end most of the time, but somewhere along that scale.

This is where keeping a diary can help us tremendously. When we keep a diary, naturally we are going to discuss things that we’re grateful for and things that have brought us joy. We’re also going to write about the negative things that happen to us. Taking your thoughts and writing them down not only provides a sort of release, but also allows us to revisit our happier, more grateful times when we’re not particularly feeling one or the other. This allows us to relive the moment and boosts our happiness as a result.

3. Listen to sad songs

Yes, you read that right. Listening to sad songs ultimately improves happiness by allowing for an emotional release. Here are some interesting findings from a research study of over 700 people.

Sad songs:

– allow us to exercise our imagination.

– can help regulate our emotions.

– can improve our empathy.

– allow us to escape our actual problems.

4. Chat with a stranger

Not every conversation can be deep. All of us are strangers to most of us. This is where we use “small-talk” or chat to engage with others.

It’s been discovered that when we engage with strangers, no matter how brief, we boost our happiness levels. Perhaps more important, we boost the happiness of the other person. How many of us have had a bad day only to have it turned around by some random encounter with a stranger? Funny how that works.

Connecting with another person – no matter how brief – creates some good feelings.

5. Do something cultural

Scientists discovered that there is a correlation between cultural exposure and happiness. Of over 50,000 adults’ studies, those who participated in cultural activities showed higher happiness levels and a reduced rate of depression.

Researchers wrote: “Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders.”

These activities ranged from visiting museums and art exhibits, to attending club meetings and concerts, and even dancing/singing.

6. Spend more for experiences, less on “stuff”

In a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers came to two interesting conclusions:

(1) There is a higher likelihood for people to purchase items rather than an experience (traveling, museums, exhibits, etc.) because we can tie our money to something tangible. This comes out of a need to get value for our money, which is easier to quantify with something tangible.

(2) Despite this tendency, the subjects reported a better sense of well-being and a better use of money after they spent on an experience.

This definitely gives us something to think about when planning to spend our hard-earned cash!

7. Give something back

While the wealth-happiness connection may be weak, that can’t be said for donation-happiness. While the U.S. and other countries have not become happier as they’ve become more affluent, the more charitable among us have not had the same problem.

Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia tested this hypothesis on students at her university, and this is what she had to say:

“(The results) confirmed our hypothesis more strongly than we dared to dream…if (giving) becomes a way of living, then it could make a lasting difference.” She compared charitable giving of time and money to exercise – both of which have short- and long-term benefits.

8. Look at something beautifully designed

Maybe this one isn’t too surprising, but here it is: staring at something beautifully designed – a painting, sculpture, etc. – can make us happy.

Here are some interesting results from a study provided by HTC:

– Well-designed objects that are both beautiful and functional trigger positive emotions like calmness and contentment, reducing negative feelings like anger and annoyance by almost a third.

– Beautiful objects reduce negative emotions which increasing a sense of calmness and ease. Turns out that objects that are both beautiful and perform a function (like a cell phone, HTC?) cause someone to feel happier. However, beautiful objects in general cause a boost of happiness.

9. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Okay, so we all know eating fruits and veggies makes us healthier, but happier? Yes, that too.

In a study of over 400 people who kept a food diary, those people who ate more fruits and vegetables showed higher levels of engagement, curiosity, creativity, meaning and purpose. Something quite interesting: individuals who reported eating more fruits and veggies were happier each day that they had a higher intake of these foods. In other words, it wasn’t just a cumulative effect, but a consistent, daily one.

10. Hang out with sarcastic friends

Okay, so this one is kind of left-field. But hanging with your sarcastic pals can provide some needed happiness. Interestingly enough, hanging out with your snarky pals can also provide a creative boost.

Researchers think that sarcastic people have this effect because of their play on words and dark humor, which resonates more strongly when someone is in a less than ideal mood. Nice to know that we’re not only wanted, but needed, eh?