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.

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.


Not so gender-equal? Swedish teens still plan careers according to gender, study shows

Swedish teenagers’ plans for their future careers are heavily influenced by their gender, a new study shows, and girls' doubts over their abilities to succeed in male-dominated sectors are a decisive factor.

Not so gender-equal? Swedish teens still plan careers according to gender, study shows
File photo of a Swedish high school class. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix / TT

Both boys and girls are reluctant to enter professions dominated by the opposite gender, leading to gender segregation later on in the world of work, the study from Lund University shows. 

“We already knew that there's a large gender segregation in Sweden, but what we didn't expect to find was that girls still under-estimated their abilities in masculine stereotyped areas such as technology,” Una Tellhed,  who was project leader on the study, told The Local.

“Girls also underestimated how well they thought they would do in male-dominated professions such as engineering. Since Sweden is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, we were hoping that maybe our 15-year-old girls would have moved past these stereotypes, but they're still alive and kicking!”

Researchers interviewed 2,600 15-year-olds for the study, at which age Swedish children begin choosing the subjects they will study in upper secondary school, which can be decisive for their future career.

Both boys and girls were less likely to choose subjects associated with the opposite gender, due to a range of factors, including their personal priorities (for example, whether they valued helping others over achieving high social status), concerns over fitting in within certain sectors, and perceptions of their ability to succeed in certain areas.

But among girls, Tellhed said that belief in their own abilities was the most important variable, followed by worries about fitting in. “Girls were slightly more likely to prioritize helping others over achieving a high status in their career than boys, but this had only a very small influence compared to these other factors,” she explained.

READ ALSO: Gender segregated school bus not discriminatory, Swedish equality watchdog rules

Meanwhile, boys typically thought they would be able to do equally well in male-dominated and female-dominated fields. Like girls, however, they worried they would be less well accepted in a sector dominated by the other sex.

Tellhed hopes her research will be valuable in tackling gender segregation in Sweden's workforce, something she believes will benefit both Swedish society and individuals.

“We need more men to take an interest in nursing and more women to take an interest in technology, partly because it's important for the labour market to be able to recruit both men and women,” she said.

“But it's also a problem because men and women are more similar than they are different psychologically, so it's sad that people may not find the career that would match them best, just because it's not associated with their gender. Hopefully we will start to talk more about gender similarity instead of gender difference.”

Finding out which factors lead to gender segregation can help the government and educators tackle it more effectively, and encourage children to consider less gender-typical occupations.

“So now we know that ability-belief is the most important factor for women, we can work on ways to strengthen this self-belief. For men, we need to find out if it would be more efficient to raise the status of nursing to make it more attractive to them, or to try to make boys more interested in helping others — this needs more research,” Tellhed explained.

READ ALSO: Sweden to ban single-sex classrooms