02.06.13

6 New Ways to Be Happy (If You Believe the Studies)

A buzzy study claims that gay men are cheerier than their straight friends. Or is great sex the answer? Rachel Krantz combs research journals for the latest tips on finding bliss.

Just as those winter blues really begin to sink in, hope arrives for a select few: a new study says being a gay man just may be the key to happiness.

If that conclusion doesn’t suit your situation, don’t worry—happiness surveys are nothing new, and there’s always another one around the corner. In fact, the last few weeks have seen a veritable boom in the field. From eating more vegetables to ignoring your friends on Facebook, here are six new discoveries from the last “science” of feeling great. So go out there and start being awesome instead.

1. Be Gay

Obviously. Canadian researchers have declared that gay people who have come out are less stressed than their closeted compatriots. Not only that, their data suggests that gay and bi men may just be happier in general. The study of 87 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight Canadians (yes, yes, just Canadians) found that out men are less likely to be depressed or have physiological problems than straight men. "Something about coming out of the closet might make them more resilient—if you go through a major, stressful event like that you have to develop coping strategies that you might be able to use in the future," the study’s author, Robert-Paul Juster, speculates. "We also saw body mass index and inflammation were lower in gay and bisexual men, which fits with the idea that they're taking better care of their bodies than heterosexual men." No conclusion yet as to whether this finding is also what makes straight women more depressed.

2. Be Powerful

If Mad Men has taught us anything, it’s that power makes you happy. Now, in convenient crunched-number-form, we have proof. A new study out of Tel Aviv University finds that people in positions of power at work, in their friendships—and yes, in their totally healthy romantic relationships—are happier. The most powerful of the 350 people surveyed felt 16 percent more satisfied with their lives than the least powerful people. In the office, the disparity was even more pronounced: employees in positions of power were 26 percent more satisfied with their jobs than their powerless, cowering colleagues. Why? “By leading people to be true to their desires and inclinations—to be authentic—power leads individuals to experience greater happiness,” researchers concluded. That, or powerful people don’t have to use Excel.

3. Have Great Sex the First Time Around, Dummy

Bad news for teenagers parked at drive-ins everywhere: how you lose your virginity may set the bar for the rest of your life. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Mississippi interviewed 319 sexually seasoned undergrads about how they lost their virginity so many, many years before. (To be fair, this is Mississippi and Tennessee.) Popped-cherry experiences were ranked in terms of "anxiety," "negativity," "connection," and even "afterglow."  As it turns out, those first-boink ratings predicted students’ happiness in their current sexual encounters. Those with higher initial ratings scored higher in current sexual enjoyment and self-esteem, and were less likely to suffer from something called “sexual depression.” Sexual depression, one might point out, is contracted by nearly three million single women in New York City every minute.

4. Desire Things, but for God’s Sake Don’t Buy Them

It’s official: wanting Ryan Gosling is better than having him. At least that would be true if one could buy Ryan Gosling (which really, on a separate happiness note, is something researchers should have figured out by now).  In three separate studies out of The University of Missouri, researcher Marsha Richins found that anticipating a purchase makes you happier than actually obtaining said item. The results were more pronounced in participants who were ranked as more materialistic, and were "more likely to believe that an upcoming purchase would transform their lives in important and meaningful ways." After that life-changing Snuggie was purchased, however, materialists experienced a "hedonic decline” during which happiness dissipated, only to be mercifully replaced by a SkyMall catalog.

5. Don’t Look at Pictures of Your Stupid, Happy Friends

This one should be a no-brainer. Who doesn’t hate bearing witness to their friends’ happiness?  Now, finally, we misérables have tangible proof that your vacation photos make us feel like losers. A recent joint study out of Berlin’s Humboldt University and Darmstadt's Technical University found that more than a third of 600 participants felt frustrated and envious after seeing their friends’ good news posted on Facebook. The negative link was more pronounced for passive users, who don’t even so much as fake-like pictures they hate. "From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long run, endanger platform sustainability," the study’s report said. Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg is shaking in his Converses over that one.

6. Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

You’d think the knowledge that your mother was right would nullify any increase in happiness, but you’d be wrong. Turns out, nourishing your body with real food actually makes you feel better. A study of 280 young adults out of New Zealand’s Otago University found that participants who ate more fruits and vegetables reported feeling calmer, happier, and more energetic than their gross, Twinkie-eating friends. “After further analysis we demonstrated that young people would need to consume approximately seven to eight total servings of fruits and vegetables per day to notice a meaningful positive change," the study’s author said. So when your co-worker orders a kale salad and beet juice for lunch again, just remember: she’s really happy.