The folks at SoulPancake have done it again! In a video based on a study conducted by the University of California – Riverside, they wanted to show a link between happiness and success – but not the link you might be thinking.

Instead of the commonly assumed association, where “successful” people have higher levels of happiness, this looks at the exact opposite relationship: that being happy actually leads to success.

The video presents a basic experiment: two groups are given the same problem-solving test, but one group is given several “happiness affecting” cues to put them in a positive mood before beginning the test. The experiment found that the “happy group” was, on average, faster at solving the problem.

Now, this shows at least a correlation between a good mood and problem solving skills (though there is no way to determine the problem solving abilities of the participants before taking the test), but it isn’t too difficult to see the larger implications of this idea.

When people are happy, they tend to have a more optimistic outlook, think more clearly, and have higher self-esteem. All of these traits associated with a general sense of happiness are also the traits of achievers – people who are work toward their goals with confidence and determination.

So, if happiness leads to success, shouldn’t the focus being on finding and maintaining happiness?

Note: true happiness is not fleeting. It doesn’t come from material objects or monetary rewards. It doesn’t come from praise, or even from other people. It has to start within!

When you can harness your own internal happiness, as the study and SoulPancake experiment found, you approach problems with confidence. But it goes far beyond problem solving – the optimism and self-esteem that accompany an overall attitude of happiness are key components to success in any endeavor!

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How often do you stop to reflect on what you have? Do you tell the people in your life how much they mean to you on a regular basis? Do you feel thankful for good weather, for new opportunities, for simple pleasures and little conveniences that make your life easier?

If not, it might be time to start thinking this way.

Gratitude is perhaps the single most powerful component of living a happy life. We’ve talked in the past about the importance of connecting with others, of using your energy to improve the lives of others, and even touched on SoulPancake’s study on gratitude – but a lifestyle of thankfulness involves ALL of these topics.

It’s about appreciation for what’s in front of you, and looking for the elements worth appreciating in every experience, both good and bad.

When you learn to live with gratitude, it’s like seeing the silver lining of every cloud – but even beyond making the most out of unfavorable situations, thinking and living in this way opens you up to looking at the world with a very different set of eyes.

Gratitude is more than thankfulness (even though feeling thankful is part of it). Sure, you’ll feel “thankful” when someone does you a favor or pays you a compliment, but a mindset of gratitude will allow you to see the goodness within those people, to appreciate all of the moments that have built up to their kind words or actions (in both your life and theirs), and ultimately prepares you to articulate how important such acts of kindness really are.

It’s like accomplishing multiple goals with a single state of mind! A grateful attitude helps you look on the bright side, it makes you more open to connecting with new people and appreciating the people already in your life, it makes you notice and celebrate small successes (and look for lessons in failures), helps you feel confident and brave, and gives you a reason to smile!

Notice that every one of those things mentioned above is a pathway to happiness on its own – and gratitude helps bring about ALL OF THEM.

Living a life of gratitude is a gateway to greater happiness and more connection with the world around you. You can start small – look for things to appreciate in your immediate surroundings. Look to the things that make you the happiest, and start making it a regular practice. Soon you’ll be looking for things to appreciate everywhere – and then you’ll do it without even thinking about it!

This is your chance to totally change your approach to daily life. Get started now!

An Experiment In Gratitude

What makes you happy? Have you ever thought about what exactly it is?

Recently, psychologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you show. The SoulPancake team decided that it would be a great idea to test this out.

They began by gauging the happiness of a group of volunteers before asking them to think of someone who was truly influential and important in their lives. The volunteers then wrote down as much as they could about why this person was so important. After this moment is when the true experiment took shape.

SoulPancake gave the volunteers a telephone and had them call up the person they had written about. Each person read his or her statement directly to whoever they had found most important; the reactions were extraordinary. Tears were shed, laughing erupted, and a few people got the chance to reconnect with friends and family they had been separated from by time and distance.

One volunteer, breaking down crying, read aloud, “Erica is my older sister and my best friend. Sometimes it even feels like we are twins. She is my number one fan and my number one supporter. She makes me happy because despite all my mistakes and all my decisions, she still loves me no matter what. I will never forget when she flew three thousand miles at the drop of a phone call to save me from a breakup.” The immense feeling behind this display of gratitude was palpable and the sisters’ connection shined through, even over the phone.

After the phone calls, one final aspect of the experiment remained: testing the volunteers’ happiness levels a second time. Rewording the test so they weren’t aware it was the same thing, host Julian notes that, even for the few individuals who could not reach the object of their gratitude, happiness levels increased between 2 and 4%. Simply thinking about and writing these notions down made a small difference.

However, the volunteers who got to express themselves personally found increases of happiness between 4 and 19%, a substantial difference.

The most notable finding was that the person who walked in with the lowest happiness levels had the biggest jump after the experiment. What you can take away from this is that, if you’re having a particularly down day, or a really tough time, trying this exercise in gratitude will more than likely have a great impact on you.

So, show your gratitude to someone important in your life, someone who deserves it. You’ll both feel better off. It’s scientifically proven!

A Study of Cute Aggression

Can happiness manifest itself as aggression? Have you ever seen something so cute, you just wanted to squeeze it a little too hard?

Researchers at Yale University coined a term for this phenomenon, calling it Cute Aggression. The team at SoulPancake wanted to try the study out for themselves, gathering a group of volunteers for a quirky experiment involving everyone’s favorite packing material, bubble wrap.

Volunteers were shown slides of increasingly cute animals – giraffes, monkeys, and especially puppies – while supplied with a pile of the bubble wrap. They were told to do with it as they pleased. Naturally, what started out as a bit of random popping snowballed into something much noisier.

“For neutral photos you popped four bubbles. For the cute pictures you popped forty-five bubbles,” host Julian exclaims to one volunteer.  The people were found to routinely pop far more bubbles, more frequently, when cuter images flashed on the screen. For one woman, the impetus was puppies. Another woman popped the most when seeing an ant. Although their definitions of cute varied, everyone shared the tendency to fidget, squeeze, twist, and pop as their eyes lit up with something adorable.

This begs the question: why would cute aggression exist? It doesn’t literally mean that we want to hurt cute things; the opposite is actually true. When humans see something cute, we have an impulse to take care of it. But when that image is on a screen, where we can’t reach, it frustrates us. The emotion is then expressed as aggression. It’s an example of positive emotions being exhibited in negative ways. Crying when we’re happy is the most obvious example. This one just happens to be a little more fun!

Operation Kindness

“So, being kind makes you happier. Obviously. Thanks, science!”

So says Julian, host of SoulPancake’s The Science Of Happiness video series, before launching an investigation into why, exactly, this is the case.

In 2005, a study was conducted, proving that engaging in deliberate acts of kindness leads to greater well-being, with the caveat that the act is done in a way that exceeds an individual’s propensity to be kind. In other words, going out of your way for an act of kindness, above and beyond your day-to-day engagement with others.

The team at SoulPancake decided to put this logic to the test in typically outsize fashion. With the intention of measuring just how much happiness levels would increase, they planned an entire day of increasingly kind acts for a handful of volunteers to perform around town.

Starting out with the simple act of returning carts in a grocery store parking lot, the team ramped up their activities with the purchase of takeout and coffee, valet service, and a car wash, leaving an unexpected $40 tip for each service. They went a step further afterward, bringing the food to people in true need of the help.

The next phase involved approaching random strangers and giving them heartfelt compliments, in an attempt to clearly breach the threshold of normal everyday activity. This was the setup for the final act: each volunteer thought of someone in their life who was in need of encouragement and kindness, and gave them a thoughtful, sometimes difficult phone call.

Measuring the volunteers before and after the event revealed an average increase in happiness of 9.3%. The highest increase was at an amazing 22%! In light of the findings, Julian posited, “Why is it, that just doing little acts of kindness, doesn’t really make you feel that much better?” The answer is that, like everything positive in life, we begin to take it for granted. The phenomenon is known as hedonistic adaptation.

The positive flip side to this realization is that we can playfully subvert our own tendency to filter out the positive nature of our acts of kindness. We must “actively plan out experiences which throw off the pattern,” as Julian says. Consciously engaging with kindness in a proactive manner is not only a boost to our own happiness levels; it spreads the feeling to others in a most profound way!

Look On The Bright Side

We all know someone for whom the glass is always half-full, who knows how to make lemonade whenever life hands them lemons. These eternal optimists are often the happiest people around. The folks at SoulPancake wondered: why? Do their attitudes stem from lucky circumstance, or is there a scientific correlation between looking on the bright side and a life rich with happiness?

In their ongoing Science of Happiness series, SoulPancake created a video showcasing an experiment in positive focus. They’ve put the well-worn phrase, “look on the bright side,” to the test: does a focus on positive attributes influence a person’s overall happiness in life? The answer may surprise some, especially on the “half-empty” side of the fence.

“Psychologists have found that a substantial amount of your happiness in life is determined by your ability to focus on the positive,” says host Julian, before introducing the participants.

The experiment involved gathering a group of volunteers who experienced a significant and difficult life event in the past year. They were then given a test gauging current levels of happiness. A control group was asked to think about something they feel completely neutral about, while the variable group was asked to think about a recent time in life where they experienced something positive. Whether it was something they achieved, something that happened to them, or something they did for somebody else, the goal was to put them in a positive state of mind.

These people were asked to choose their biggest strength and tell a story that showed off that quality. One man shared an experience comforting a friend after his father’s death. Another told of how he used the doubts of others as fuel for motivation. One woman focused on her talent for helping young people who don’t like school to turn around and enjoy learning and growing, something she takes enormous pride in.

Afterward, the subjects were measured again, to see what effects the positivity experiment had on their happiness. There was an immediate difference.

The control group showed increases as high as 43% and drops as low as 31%, while the variable group, the ones focusing on the positive, had a much narrower range, increasing up to 18% and most importantly, dropping as little as 6%.

“So, maybe instead of focusing on your weaknesses, you should focus on your strengths,” says Julian.

The remarkable takeaway here is that by simply maintaining perspective on the positive aspects of yourself, you can literally achieve a higher overall level of measurable happiness in life!

People often fall into the rut of thinking that only outside, concrete developments in life affect our happiness – a promotion at work, a new relationship – but this study proves that what’s more important than events existing outside ourselves is how we engage with the world. When we come at life with a positive perspective, it makes a world of a difference.