10 Positive Psychology Studies to Change Your View of Happiness


“People wait all week for Friday, all year for summer, all life for happiness.”

In An Introduction to Positive Psychology, Dr. William Compton describes positive psychology as seeking “to make normal life more fulfilling.” It utilizes the scientific method (hypothesis, prediction, study, research, analysis) to understand the positive and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior. It is the study of what actions, pursuits, and motivations best contribute to the good life.

I enjoy reading positive psychology. The more I discover, the more I am reminded that happiness is rarely found in material possessions or worldly pursuits. Our most fulfilled lives are discovered living for greater causes.

These pursuits are available to us regardless of our heritage, background, or socioeconomic standing. They are freely available to anyone who chooses to dedicate their lives to them.

10 Positive Psychology Studies to Change Your View of Happiness

1. From Wealth to Well-being? | Harvard Business School, 2009. While there does appear to be some correlation between happiness and income when basic needs are not yet met, people tend to overestimate the influence of wealth on happiness by 100%. Money does not lead to nearly as much happiness as people think it will.

2. Buying Experiences, not Possessions, Leads to Greater Happiness | San Francisco State University, 2009. The study demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased greater well-being than material possessions. These experiences tend to satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality—a feeling of being alive.

3. The Science of Gratitude | University of Pennsylvania, 2005. One of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in life is how much gratitude we show. And a noticeable difference can be experienced with as little as three expressions each day (“Thank you for…”).

4. Trust, Morality, and Oxytocin. Claremont Graduate University, 2011. Based on research findings, psychologists believe humanity’s trust, empathy, and morality increase as their levels of oxytocin increase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak explains the simple act of eight hugs a day can increase internal oxytocin levels and result in a happier you and a better world.

5. For a Better Day, Smile. | Michigan State University, 2011. People who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts can significantly and immediately improve their mood. Simply put, one easy way to improve your mood right now is to recall pleasant memories—and smile because of it.

6. The Dynamic Spread of Happiness | University of California, San Diego, 2008. In this significant study, people who were surrounded by happy people were more likely to become happy in the future. So if you want to discover more happiness in your life, make a point to surround yourself with joyful people.

7. Kindness Counts | University of British Columbia, 2012. In this study conducted at an elementary school, students who performed kind acts experienced significantly higher increases in peer acceptance. In other words, people who are kind to others are more well-liked. This contributes to their own personal popularity as they help other people.

8. People who Exercise on Work Days are Happier | University of Bristol, 2008. People’s moods significantly improve after exercising. They are also more productive and equipped to manage stress in their workday.

9. Is Volunteering a Public Health Intervention? | University of Exeter Medical School, 2013. Evidence suggests volunteering benefits mental health and even, survival. Donating time to causes you believe in not only improves well-being and overall life satisfaction, it is also linked to decreased depression and a lower risk of dying early.

10. Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness  | University of California Berkeley, 2008. This study suggests that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, spending more of one’s income on others results in greater happiness. So go ahead, be generous. You’ll be glad you did.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Jamie says

    I especially love #3. Gratitude is hard–it requires effort and choice. It’s good to have your grateful list handy, in case you start sinking into self pity.

  2. Judy says

    I have always been grateful for the smallest of things…and I thank my mom for that. When I was just a kid, she would put me to bed and we’d say our prayers. She’d tell me to be grateful for a warm cover and a nice bed to sleep in, because not everyone was so lucky. She taught me gratitude right from the start. —Life hit with some hard blows and gratitude became a great coping mechanism.
    Thank you, mom.

      • Noelle says

        What a wonderful memory of your mom, Judy. I love that. I want to start helping my children give thanks at bedtime. What a sweet way to fall asleep, for me as well.

        • Angela says

          “At the end of the day, just kneel and pray, thank you lord for my work and play. I’ve tired to be good, like I know that I should. That’s my prayer for the end of the day …………. Google ‘At the end of the day’ for the full prayer / song. It’s ful of positives. My Mum used to sing this to us when we were very little xx

  3. says

    It is so gratifying to see scientific proofs for all the learnings that, minimalism and living life filled with experiences rather than stuff, has already given to us. We know that these learnings feel true on the inside. We couldn’t really give a logical explanation for why they felt so good. But now whenever anyone comes at us with an argument for buying stuff to grow the economy, we can throw the book at them. The book filled with scientific studies that you were so gracious to compile. Thank you!

  4. says

    Great list. May I add one more? Learning a skill like some sport, art, musical instrument, etc. Acquiring a skill that is enjoyable to our cerebral and physical faculties is a sort of active meditation that can go a long way in cultivating peace of mind.

  5. says

    Thanks, Thanks, Thanks for this awesome collection. I believe in Gratitude for one. About smiling, as I read I recalled one of those moments and found myself genuinely happy and smiling.

    Generally, this post is great and on point.

    Thanks again.

  6. says

    I read your post with great interest, even though I skipped the 10 studies themselves (chosen among the hundreds of happiness studies out there) – because I’m always interested in (new) obstacles to happiness.

    Even though I get the point in studying, I hope!, in the case of happiness (not only, but also), to think “happy” must be measured and understood, first, is in fact the ultimate obstacle from ever making it to happy.

    Why would anyone think studying happiness comes before happiness – I’m clueless. Fact is, the demand for happiness studies is such that even The United Nations has been drafted to meet it. The most select group of happy people we could find? How if they just started to ACT happy – wouldn’t that produce the hotly (expensively) pursued object of their study, instantly?

    By making happiness rocket science the UN is doing happiness a disservice. It also kills all hope of them warning the world’s population that if you need a reason to be happy, that reason can be taken away from you again.

    “People Happiest Between 60 and 69 Years Old” (caught the other day on a large news channel) – implies happiness can be measured and that it depends on age. Nothing could be wronger, but if anything, then more people hope to be 60 years old now, than before that headline.

    Maybe the question to ask, was the person who wrote this piece – happy or unhappy?

    Happy people do not study happiness, they explain it – hence are automatically excluded from the study group (which otherwise would have ended before it starts).

    Unhappy people on the other side can’t explain it because they have no clue what they’re talking about – how would anyone be happy in that situation?

    As an ex-unhappy person myself, I know the unhappy have in their arsenal the most powerful of defenses: the happy are simply too dumb to be unhappy. If they were smarter they’d be like me, then we could be unhappy together.

    While the happy, with a pinch of sadness, conclude “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” (Samuel Beckett).

    • Shawnh says

      You are likely unhappy. Read your reply carefully and objectively to see if you can detect a sense of unhappiness in your comments. Your intent is to relay objective, intelligent, unemotionally attached information to explain that information about studies of happiness are flawed as unhappy people create them. I have viewed many issues as objectively as possible. I was trained to do so and feel randomized controlled double blind studies seem as the best way to obtain solid data. The null hypothesis has more recently been viewed a questionable by statisticians and I agree that the null hypothesis and all the study techniques are flawed but a few are the best we have to work with. Staying happiness by those methods will allow more people to consider the potential o be happier by altering their behaviors. Those behaviors are not all innate. Reading literature on happiness, like any other topic, can lead to behavior change and happier people. Many of these people have poor self perceptions and can develop better self perception and clarity. You may have a poor self perception so please read your comments again. If this last sentence caused you immediate anger and defensive posture than you are not considering my comments objectively and then cannot make a true, rational decision. sorry if I come across rude or too judgemental. I honestly read your reply closely and enjoyed portions of it. However, I feel strongly that happy people can and do study happiness to confirm certain beliefs about ways to better people and society.

  7. Cece Allen says

    I’m happy reading your blog. Thank you! I am grateful for you – for sharing your life with us.

  8. says

    So many good things have come out of positive pyschology over the past decade. Always a good reminder that gratitude and joy lead to true success and not the other way around.

  9. P.Georgia Mark says

    I just enjoy your blog. Especially about being a minimalist. Have been purging for the past week or so and it is a great feeling to get rid of items. I mainly did it to help in a cause to raise funds for this woman who passed away.
    Her friends are raising funds for the woman’s children’s future. For me, it helped me release items to donate. But also, to give me a positive attitude towards living a simpler life. Thank you Joshua Becker for your postings. Plus, other people’s journey to strive to live with less.

  10. Christian says

    Love your posts. Please keep up the inspiring words.
    Ps: there is an error in on #4. You said “…levels of oxycotin increase.” I am pretty sure you meant oxytocin. I normally wouldn’t bother except “oxycotin” is used by most to describe the prescription drug Oxycontin, and I’m pretty sure that is not at all what you wanted to endorse as a contributor to happiness.

  11. says

    Hi Joshua,

    Love your blog and have been reading it for a while. I just wanted to point out a small, but important typo. In #4 you talk about Trust, Morality and Oxytocin, but in the body you spell it oxycotin. Oxytocin is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies. Oxyco(n)tin is an opoid pain medication. Two very different things!

  12. says

    It’s amazing how much gratitude can change your life. I haven’t read one book for improving your life that doesn’t include gratitude. I personally thank gratitude for my life today.

  13. Glenda says

    My husband is just now learning the truth about happiness. It is not about how much you earn or what you have or where you holiday or how much square footage you live in. It is about what is inside.
    So many people go in search of happiness.
    I have found the secret to happiness is to just decide to be happy and not allow the negative situations and things affect who you are and how you think. We spend too much time over thinking things. I find magic in every day. And possessions are just that, things. They are easily replaced with other things.
    I have adopted the minimalist approach to life, I find I can live with less and I need less. Recycling, reusing, restoration, upcycling, is how I live. I find bargain hunting in thrift and second-hand stores much more fulfilling.
    In saying this, don’t think for one second that I don’t appreciate a beautiful piece of art work or a well made item of clothing, etc.
    I choose to be happy every day, and to find just a little positivity in every day.
    Being happy is a choice.

  14. says

    This site is amongst my all time favorites. It is always refreshing to hear from like minded people. We cross over in the ideas we present to our readers, but often when I read your thoughts, it gives me new perspective. That, to me, represents growth, and that is what it is about for all living things. How to be a little happier everyday, and how to spread it around for others to enjoy. I have a list I’ve started on my posts that I call my “Gratitude List”. Today I think it will be a link to becomingminimalist.com!
    Thanks again Joshua!

  15. Diane says

    I have enjoyed reading this article. I started off this year on a happiness search, which as I think about that statement in the wee hours of this morning, seems foolish. As if happiness is a think, an item on my grocery list, something I might find discarded in a parking lot, like a shiny penny. I have googled “positive thinking” and “how to find happiness” and have become more perplexed as this journey is unfolding. I have always defined myself as a driven, type-A person, who tends to grab for sarcasm and I have a knack for seeing the negative in most any situation (whether it has anything to do with me or not). Now that is not to say that I live my life giving the outward appearance of unhappiness, negativity or bitterness. Sarcasm and humor are powerful coverups for the lack of happiness and positive thinking. I am smart enough to know that I have MANY things to be grateful for, and I have started clinging to a recitation of the list of what I am grateful for, when I’m feeling especially unhappy or negative within a given day.

    The bottom line is that I want to be a happy, positive person. I want to grab for the good and positive thoughts because the negative or bad ones are too far back on the shelf of my brain than I can reach. I feel like I have stumbled upon a very basic truth this week, you really can’t buy happiness. You can’t find a store that sells it, you can’t take it from someone else, and it is harder to explain how to get it, than one would think, because it is an individual thing. The specific thing(s) that bring you happiness may not work for me, however, the basic principles of being happy are, in fact, universal. What I mean by that is, for example, a new puppy could be part of your happiness, all cute and cuddly, all soft and warm. The very idea of this could evoke some chemical in your brain that makes you smile, makes you feel grateful, makes you want to rescue 10 more from the shelter, makes you want to run and feel alive. That may not be my trigger, but I do realize that I need to find the things in my life that can garner the same genuine feeling….and i think that is the individual “secret”.

  16. Catherine Jean Rose says

    Well done article; however, I’d argue the “experiences over things” point. I used to spend lots of money on movies, bars, and restaurants; lately I get more pleasure from making my own food, home brew, and Netflix. Going out doesn’t give me pleasure after factoring in the cost of the overpriced venue, finding parking, waiting in a line, crowds, noise, etc. I’d much rather have friends over for some good, home cooked food and brew and sit around a campfire vs more expensive alternatives. #my2cents.

  17. Michal says

    I have a sense that somehow we – humans – already KNOW all this to be true. Deep down. Yet we continue to react to the same patterns and conditioning, as if we were lining up for more suffering again and again . . . An illusion? A delusion? A neurosis? What does it take to open one’s eyes? To seek REAL happiness, as opposed to what we THINK will make us happy?

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