How to be happier: Five Swedish studies that can actually help

While no quick fix can instantly make you happier, these Stockholm University studies may help to turn that frown upside down.

Published: Tue 20 Nov 2018 09:51 CEST
How to be happier: Five Swedish studies that can actually help
Photo: Simon Paulin/"

It’s hard not to feel a bit blue when the sun sets in the middle of the afternoon. So it comes as no surprise that we’re all desperately seeking ways to become happier. Don’t waste your time with the pseudoscience clogging up your Facebook feed - take a leaf out of these five Stockholm University studies that have been scientifically proven to boost your mood.

Give a little

Being richer doesn’t necessarily mean being happier (but it can help). A new Stockholm University study has found that unselfish people - that is, those who have a desire to help others because they care about their welfare - have the highest salaries. The findings show that contrary to the belief that selfish people earn more (as a result of their selfish ways), selflessness is more likely to pay off. The study also found that the most unselfish people are likely to have the most children.

Find out more about research at Stockholm University

“The result is clear in both the American and the European data,” says Kimmo Eriksson, researcher at the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University and co-author of the study. “The most unselfish people have the most children and the moderately unselfish receive the highest salaries. And we also find this result over time – the people who are most generous at one point in time have the largest salary increases when researchers revisit them later in time.”

Lie in on the weekend

We all know “I’m going to have an early night” is actually code for “I’m going to lie in bed staring at my smartphone”. Yet many of us still complain we aren’t getting enough sleep (go figure).

Those of you who are missing out on your eight hours’ may already be feeling less than spritely. But that’s the least of your worries. Researchers have found that adults under 65 who are getting fewer than five hours a sleep a night are at a higher risk of early death. Yep, not getting enough sleep is something to lose sleep over.

Even so, all is not lost.

A Stockholm University study found that lying in for a few extra hours on the weekend can counter that risk entirely. Researchers collected data from more than 38,000 adults over a 13-year period and found that catching up on sleep on the weekends really does cure all manner of ills. In fact, people who sleep less during the week but catch up on sleep at the weekend are no more at risk of early death than people who regularly get six or seven hours a night. So don’t feel guilty about your late-night scrolling habit (just get some extra shuteye on Saturday!).

Can’t sleep? Pitch up a tent

Photo: Lucas Günther/

Here’s another one for you chronic insomniacs.

The effect of sleep loss on mood can be profound. From feeling less friendly and empathic to having difficulty concentrating and struggling to be positive, sleepless nights can really take their toll. And that’s just the mental side effects; lack of sleep may also contribute to the risk of diabetes and obesity.

A study co-authored by Stockholm University’s John Axelsson has found that just a single weekend of camping can reset your circadian rhythm (otherwise known as your body clock). Spending even a couple of days living by the natural light-dark cycle can have a rapid effect, quickly combating seasonal depression and circadian sleep-wake disorders.

If you really want to go the extra mile, you can try camping in the winter, when the effects may be even more powerful. That is, if you survive a night outdoors in Sweden during the winter…

Quit procrastinating

We’ve all been there. You’re in the midst of doing something important when suddenly you’re watching a documentary about kittens instead.

Procrastination is an “everyday phenomenon”, says researcher Alexander Rozental, but that doesn’t stop procrastinators feeling anxiety and shame. In extreme cases, it can even pose a health risk if people continuously put off exercise or a visit to the doctor. The good news is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can significantly help.

Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/

To develop the therapy, Rozental and his team at Stockholm University used methods like goal setting, removing obstacles and rewarding success. The student volunteers were split into two groups with which two methods were tested: one, a weekly, internet-based therapy, and the second, fortnightly in-person sessions. All volunteers improved after the eight-week trial and all noted improvements in academic performance, a reduction in anxiety and increase in well-being.

Find out more on Stockholm University’s website

Win the lottery

'How to be happier’ is the million dollar question. As it turns out, a million dollars is also the answer. A new study, co-authored by Stockholm University’s Robert Ostling and Erik Lindqvist, suggests that winning the lottery really does cheer people up. Who’d have thought?

Thousands of Swedish lottery winners took part in the survey and, shock horror, they’re happier than people who haven’t won the lottery. What’s more, the ones who won hundreds of thousands of dollars are happier than those who won mere tens of thousands. And to add salt to the wound, lottery winners are still happier than lottery losers twenty years after discovering they have the winning numbers.

Hey, lottery winners! What was that we were saying about generosity…?

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm University.


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