It’s the UN’s International Day of Happiness today – so be happy, or you’re breaking international law.
As it turns out, the normal metrics for progress around the world – economic, social, technological, health, nutrition, and so on – tend not to feature happiness as a key measure. In response, the UN, along with the non-profit movement Action for Happiness, set a happiness awareness initiative up a few years back.
A resolution, ratified in 2011, invites the nations of the world to do all they can to “capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness.” The resolution was signed by all 193 member states – as if any of them would have been grumpy enough to vote such an optimistic and harmless resolution down.
So, every year on March 20, the UN releases a new happiness report, which details the happiest and saddest nations, and tries to explain what makes a happy citizen. This year is no exception, and as tends to be the case, Scandinavia is fairly pleased with its lot in life.
While this is a welcome way to highlight a sorely underappreciated aspect of mental health, it tends to focus on the collective – what makes nations happier, and how is this linked to progress? In honor of this day, we at IFLScience thought we’d bring it down to the individual level and see what science has to suggest about how to make people grin more.
1 – Play a videogame
From retro delights to modern masterpieces, videogames are still treated by plenty of tabloids and “news” networks as the scourge of humanity. Actually, there’s a wealth of evidence that playing them makes you no less empathetic while also improving memory, reasoning, and mathematical skills. They also bust stress, boost your mood and, even when the world is ending, your frame of mind becomes surprisingly positive.
2 – Watch a kitten on the Internet wear a tiny sombrero
The tsunami of happiness we get from watching cute critters do their thing is well-documented. The emotions involved watching, say, a baby panda or two struggle to move around are normally so extreme that many have the counterintuitive urge to squash the cute culprits immediately after seeing them – an unusual, angry desire that is amplified when the animals in question aren’t physically present.
This phenomenon, known as “cute aggression,” is thought to be our brain’s way of stopping us getting overloaded by the avalanche of seemingly unstoppable happiness. It’s a regulation mechanism for being too happy too quickly, basically – which suggests that cat gifs really are the quickest possible way to get a happiness high.
3 – Eat some chocolate
We know what you’re thinking – no shit, Sherlock, it’s delicious – but it’s worth highlighting this link. Although the physical health benefits of eating chocolate are mostly ambiguous and far from certain, there is some circumstantial evidence that the sweet treat, in small quantities, does boost your mood – partly because of its unique flavor profile, and partly because it slightly lowers your blood pressure.