JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS
Sex, Exercise, and Gardening May Be the Keys to Happiness
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D
The quest for happiness is often elusive, challenging, and mysterious. There is one longitudinal study that has been going on for over 75 years. There is the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, among many other books on the subject. According to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a data expert, the most important study is the Mappiness Project, founded by the British economists Susana Mourato and George MacKerron.
The researchers called tens of thousands of people on their smartphones and asked them: “Who are you with? What are you doing,” and “How happy are you?” They had three million data points! They found that the activities that make people happiest include, sex, exercise, and gardening. Who knew? Maybe you did.
They also discovered that people get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people. We might feel better on a sunny day above 75 degrees but, otherwise, the weather does not play a large role. We are consistently happier when we are out in nature, particularly near water or beautiful scenery.
The data on happiness may reveal what we already knew. Perhaps we should trust the common wisdom gleaned from experience. Here are some of the other findings of that project. People are less happy in large cities with New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, scoring low. The happiest places included Flagstaff, AZ; Naples, FL; and most of Hawaii. When people move out of unhappy cities to happy places, they report more happiness. Though the geographic cure doesn’t always work, it is often because of relationship issues, financial problems, and unforeseen problems in the area. It is also true we take our problems with us. So, no amount of sunshine or better living conditions can solve deep-seated issues we have not resolved.
The Mappiness project found that of 27 leisure activities, social media ranked last. Studies of teens or adults taking time away from social media for a period of weeks reported they felt less depressed, anxious and reported a greater sense of well-being. It would seem that taking a walk, hiking, getting some kind of exercise, being in nature, or with a friend or romantic partner would predictably help our happiness quotient.
Work is also a big part of our happiness or unhappiness. The researchers found that work is the second most miserable activity out of forty activities. Only being sick in bed made people less happy. When people reported feeling uncertain about quitting a job they were more open to quitting and reported increased happiness months after they quit. Finding a job, or at least a big part of the job, that fulfills our sense of purpose and competency, does make us feel happier.
In my counseling experience, when people find jobs that are more suited to their skills, talents, and personalities, they report feeling better about themselves and happier. An at-home mom might feel better about herself if she also had some other satisfying adult activities where she felt competent and appreciated. I taught Elementary School for six years and found it depleting and depressing. Though I liked the children, the task was not satisfying to me. I found I was good with people’s problems and emotional development. My counseling career has remained energizing and satisfying for over fifty years.
It is true that there is a genetic link that may predispose some to be more positive, optimistic, and happier than others. However, each person has their own subjective view and experience of their happiness. As we know, what makes one person happy, might make someone else miserable. A more introverted person might feel happier and more energized being alone for periods of time while an extroverted person would be happier engaged in activities with others. As we know ourselves better, we can make better decisions about activities, jobs, and relationships.
Looking at some of the results of the longitudinal studies, the Happiness and Mappiness projects, and other research, one consistent theme is relationships. All of us want and need to be loved. This can be a primary relationship, friends, family, or work colleagues. A meaningful connection that helps us feel loved, appreciated, recognized, and seen for who we are, seems to be something we all want and need.
Look at your life and think about how you can appreciate what you have, create better habits supporting happiness, know your wants and needs and find ways to fill them. Happiness is within your reach. Just think, sex, exercise, and gardening!
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor and educator. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective problem-solving. For counseling appointments (confidential video or in-person sessions), seminars, speaking engagements, or information on Life Weaving, Neurobehavioral Programs, or Imago Relationship Therapy call