The math is simple: Plenty of time outside plus good friends, minus too much Facebook and fast food, add up to serious joy.
The key to happiness is obviously a whole lot more complicated than simple addition (x+y=joy). But maybe a “happiness equation” isn’t such a far-fetched idea: In fact, researchers at the University College London have developed a formula to accurately forecast the happiness of more than 18,000 people, Time.com reported.
A big part of the equation had to do with expectations: low enough so you aren’t disappointed, but high enough that you have something to look forward to.
While the formula is still too complicated for everyday application (you can see what it looks like here), plenty of other recent studies offer quick, simple strategies for improving your happiness, no math required. We rounded up a few:
1. Log off Facebook (and phone a friend). More likes don’t necessary add up to more happiness, according to research from the University of Michigan. The more the study participants (82 young adults) used Facebook over a two-week period, the more their life satisfaction levels declined. In contrast, the researchers found that direct interactions with others—whether it be over the phone or face-to-face—actually helped people to feel better over time.
2. Focus on people, not things. For a Swedish study published last year in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, researchers found that “people words”—like the names of celebrities, family members or even just a personal pronoun (you, me, us, or them)—were more likely to appear in daily publications alongside the word “happiness.” Articles with words like “iPhone,” “millions,” and “Google” almost never had the word “happiness” in them.
3. Go outside. A pilot study from the United Arab Emirates last year identified a link between time spent outside and improved mood. The study’s co-author, Dr. Fatme Al Anouti, an assistant professor at Zayed University’s college of sustainability sciences and humanities, suggested that this could be because of the body’s increased production of vitamin D in response to sun exposure, The Huffington Post reported.
4. Think happy thoughts. There might be some truth to the old “fake it ‘til you make it” advice. A Journal of Positive Psychology study published last year showed that when two sets of participants listened to “happy” music, the people who actively tried to feel happier reported a better mood afterwards.
5. Play Cupid. Think two of your friends would make a great match? Set ‘em up—for their happiness and yours. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that matching others based on how well you think they will get along boosts happiness and is more rewarding than deciding who wouldn’t get along. The researchers also found that the more unlikely the match, the more satisfying the set-up.
6. Get some sleep. According to a report published by the American Psychological Association many people have built up a so-called “sleep debt” from long periods of inadequate shut-eye. And depriving yourself of z’s is linked to problems with both mood and relationships. The remedy? The APA suggests a catch-up period where you aim to get an extra 60-90 minutes of sleep per to cut down on “sleep debt.” (And the sleep/mood connection works both ways: One study found being happy can help you get a good night’s sleep.)
7. Give back socially. Giving back pretty much always feels good, but adding in a social component makes it even more of a mood booster. One study suggests that donors feel happiest when they give charity directly to someone they know or in a way that bolsters a social connection rather than just making an anonymous donation to their cause of choice. Research has also linked volunteering with increased life satisfaction and decreased levels of depression.
8. Skip the fast food. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggested a possible link between repeated exposure to fast food restaurants and an inability to savor pleasurable experiences. “We think about fast food as saving us time and freeing us up to do the things that we want to do,” study co-author Sanford DeVoe, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said in a statement. “But because it instigates this sense of impatience, there are a whole set of activities where it becomes a barrier to our enjoyment of them.”