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Key to happiness: simple act makes you happier than 2,000 bars of chocolate can

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 1:54 p.m. MDT

Studies show that gratitude and smiling can increase a person's happiness.

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Living in the “pursuit of happiness” can be quite the task, and two lectures circulating online address simple acts that studies say lead to greater happiness.

“What makes you happy? Having fun? Hanging out with friends? Delicious food? Making money?” asked the presenter in Soul Pancake’s video “Scientists Discover One of the Greatest Contributing Factors to Happiness — You’ll Thank Me Later.” “Consider this, physiologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you show.”

The clip continues with an experiment in which volunteers took a test that indicated their “current level of happiness,” and they were also told to think about an influential person in their lives. The host asked the volunteers to write about why the person they thought about was important, and then call the person.

“Erica is my older sister and best friend. Sometimes it even feels like we are twins,” a women in the clip said as she read her letter to her sister on the phone. “She’s my No. 1 fan and my No. 1 supporter. She makes me happy because despite all my mistakes and my decisions, she still loves me no matter what. ... I will never forget when she flew 3,000 miles at the drop of phone call to save me from a breakup.”

After reading their letters, whether to the person they wrote about, to an answering machine or simply out loud, the volunteers took a different but similar “level of happiness test.” The results showed that those who were able to talk with the person on the phone saw anywhere from a 4 to 19 percent increase in reported happiness.

“Expressing your gratitude will make you a happier person,” the host said. “But you want to know something interesting? The person who experienced the biggest jump in happiness was the least happy person who walked in the door.

“What does that mean? That means if you’re having a particularly tough time, trying this out will more likely have a greater impact on you.”

In a different clip, Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HeathTap, gave a TED talk titled “The Hidden Power of Smiling,” where he addressed the positive results found from a simple smile.

“Have you ever wondered why being around children who smile so frequently make you smile very often?” Gutman asked in his lecture. “A recent study at Uppsala University in Sweden found that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.”

Gutman’s lecture touched on different studies done on the influence a smile has on people’s happiness. One study from Wayne State University examined the smiles baseball players had on their baseball cards. The results showed that players with bigger smiles lived longer than those who did not smile.

He further explained that smiling can act as a pleasure-inducer.

“Smiling stimulates our brain reward mechanism that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer cannot match,” Gutman said. “British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. The same study found that smiling is as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds in cash. That’s like 25 grand a smile. It’s not bad!”

Abby Stevens is a writer for the DeseretNews.com Faith and Family sections. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University–Idaho. Contact Abby at astevens@deseretdigital.com.

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