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Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

Your level of happiness and meaningfulness of life depend to some extent on your lifestyle, and making an effort to change your lifestyle can help you to increase your happiness. Researchers at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, drew this conclusion from a study they made of nearly ten thousand fellow countrymen.

More than happiness
The researchers asked the participants to complete a questionnaire designed to measure how positive their attitude to life was. They refer to optimal wellbeing, which encompasses more than just happiness. It includes for example having meaningful relationships, positive self-esteem, emotional stability, optimism, learning new skills or being aware of accomplishing something special every day.

The criteria that the researchers use to describe optimal wellbeing are shown below. Click on the figure for a larger version. If you score high on these items, you are not only happy but also resilient and have a good degree of vitality. In addition, you experience life as meaningful.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

The researchers then used questionnaires to form a picture of the participants' lifestyle, and to identify the underlying relationships between lifestyle and optimal wellbeing.

#1 Earn more money
Indeed, easier said than done. Granted, the amount of money that is deposited in your account each month is not entirely under your control, but money does bring happiness. The more you earn, the more likely you are to experience optimal wellbeing.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

Earning peanuts? Don't worry. Income level is not the only factor, and is certainly not the most important one, when it comes to determining how positive your attitude to life is.

#2 Make sure you sleep well
The more often you have a bad night's sleep the lower your chances of achieving optimal wellbeing. If you sleep badly almost every night you are reducing your chances of optimal wellbeing by a factor 4. To find out more about sleep and how to improve it click here.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

#3 Take up sport
The more often you do intensive exercise the more positive your outlook on life will be. Brisk walking, strength training, running it doesn't much matter what you do, as long as you get exercise.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

#4 Don't spend hours on end sitting
Even if you exercise every day, it's still not good to spend extended periods of time sitting. Make sure that you get up regularly and walk around or do something else. For more on the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle click here.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

#5 Eat more vegetables
Strictly speaking the researchers found no statistically significant effect from eating vegetables. But we include it here as they did discover a trend. The more vegetables you eat, the more likely you are to appreciate life and find it meaningful.

Five (well, four really) things you can do to be happier

"It is pertinent to note that three quarters of the sample in the current study were not meeting the criteria for optimal wellbeing", the researchers wrote. "It is therefore evident that further efforts need to be made promote and increase optimal wellbeing. Whilst the causal relationship between lifestyle behaviours and optimal wellbeing cannot be determined from our data, existing evidence supports the claim that the relationship is likely to be bidirectional."

"Our findings, together with the literature, provide support for holistic interventions which integrate the promotion of lifestyle behaviours and the dimensions underpinning optimal wellbeing (e.g. relationships, self-esteem, and resilience). Our research shows the lifestyle variables which should be targeted in such interventions include sleep, exercise, and sedentary behaviour."

BMC Public Health (2016) 16:62.

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