Your emotional well-being isn’t just about your genes or the kind of home you were raised in. It turns out that some pretty interesting factors—backed by science—play a role in how joyful you feel:
You were a smiley student
Adults with the biggest grins in their college yearbook pictures were up to 5 times less likely to be divorced decades later than those who looked less happy, according to a new DePauw University study. A smiler’s positive disposition may attract other happy people or rub off on a spouse.
People with at least one female sibling report better social support, more optimism, and better coping abilities, according to a study presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference. Sisters appear to encourage communication and cohesion in families.
You’re not glued to the TV
The happiest people spend 30% less time parked in front of the tube, according to a University of Maryland study that analyzed 34 years of data from more than 45,000 Americans. They’re more likely to spend time socializing, reading, or attending religious services—habits that are linked to better moods and health.
People who use mementos or photos to remind themselves of good times better appreciate their lives and are happier, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside. Good memories remind you of your “happiness potential” and promise that soon you can reach it again.
You make exercise a priority
People who exercise more are less likely to be stressed and more likely to be satisfied with life, according to Danish researchers. Compared with sedentary people, joggers are 70% less likely to have high stress levels and life dissatisfaction, the study found. Couch potatoes who start moderate exercise—the equivalent of 17 to 34 minutes a day—experience the greatest happiness lift.
Physical intimacy is a key contributor to happiness, found a study by Dartmouth economist David Blanchflower, PhD, and Andrew Oswald, PhD, of England’s University of Warwick. Married people report 30% more sex than singles, which may be one reason they also report being happier.
You hang out with happy people
Socializing with a cheerful person in your neighborhood increases the likelihood that you’ll be happy too, according to a new study. How often you get together matters most, say the researchers: People who live within half a mile of a buoyant buddy increase their odds of being happy by 42%. If the friend lives farther away (within a 2-mile radius), the chances drop to 22%—probably due to fewer get-togethers.
Clutching a steaming beverage—coffee and tea also do the trick—can elicit a flood of positive feelings, according to a Yale University study. This may be because people associate physical warmth with emotional warmth, say the researchers. Study subjects held cups of either hot or iced coffee; those gripping warm mugs were more appreciative of friendliness in others and also felt more generous and trusting themselves.
You have two best friends
Among 654 married adults, those who said they had at least two “best friends” (not necessarily including one’s spouse) were likelier to have better mental well-being, says a study. But additional friends didn’t lead to any more happiness than just a pair.