Study clarifies: What Really makes us happy and what doesn’t

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Happiness can be learned. For decades, happiness researchers have been trying to develop recipes for happiness. Some people suggest meditation, for example, or unplugging and spending more time in nature. Scientists have evaluated a variety of methods and found them to be effective. However, the results of a meta-analysis suggest that the research standards used in previous studies may be outdated and that some “happiness makers” lack evidence.

Five recipes for happiness most recommended
Based on recent studies, researchers agree that specific recipes for happiness work. These include expressing gratitude, socializing, exercising, meditating, and spending more time in nature. These five recipes for happiness were also identified in a meta-study as the five most recommended strategies. Study author Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia in Canada also wondered if they were scientifically proven to work. The study she conducted with doctoral student Dunigan Folk was designed to look at the same five strategies and see if there really is enough scientific evidence to support these happiness boosters.

The happiness researchers started with more than 11,000 published studies examining happiness strategies. They then excluded many of the studies based on various criteria, such as excluding publications on how to treat patients (such as those suffering from clinical depression). That left 494 papers examining the effect of one of the five strategies on healthy people. Ultimately, Dunn and Folk concluded that only 57 studies met the criteria and produced statistically relevant results.

Evidence exists for only two of the five strategies
The meta-study discovered no evidence to support the benefits of meditating, staying fit, or spending time in nature. Although these three methods are often recommended in the media, Dunn and Folk’s meta-analysis found that nearly 95 percent of the experiments failed to show a happiness effect.

More conclusive evidence was found for the two strategies of showing gratitude and meeting or talking with more people. However, the researchers point out that the positive effects of gratitude and social behaviour are more likely to be short-term, and these methods could not demonstrate long-term happiness.

However, there is no need to ignore previous research and start from scratch in happiness research. The two researchers simply point out that many standards in research have changed in recent decades. One significant change, for example, is that researchers now often publish their study designs in advance to ensure greater transparency. Theoretically, this prevents methods from being adjusted during the research process, which could skew the data. While this means that previous research has not been able to demonstrate happiness makers meaningfully, it does not mean that happiness strategies do not work. Dunn and Folk explicitly state that more research is needed.

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