#3. Riding the Subway
Nobody likes the subway. Even the thought of boarding an underground train is a nightmare -- awkwardly sitting next to muttering, pit-stained strangers as you struggle to keep your eyes from lighting on anyone else's for even a moment. It's a cramped metal coffin in a shallow grave where even the air smells crazy.
"I know, right? Nothing beats the scent of fresh schizophrenia in the morning."
Pissing gallantly in the face of all logic and reason, researchers in Sweden discovered that riding the subway can actually make you happy. They recruited participants who usually drove to work and made them change their routine to a daily subway ride instead for an entire month. Before the month began, the researchers asked each person questions about their lives, their well-being and generally how happy they were with their station in the world, presumably weeding out those who might be a little too fragile for the purposes of their study.
They also asked the participants how they were feeling about riding the subway for a month. Without exception, all of them felt like it was going to be a nightmare. But that's not what happened. Over the course of the month, their moods and attitudes toward the subway slowly but steadily improved, like a tortoise nursing an erection for sustainable behavior. So much so that by the time they reached the end of the month, the participants were feeling better about their general well-being than before the experiment began. Riding the subway made them more content with their lives.
"And this is a hobo who lost his legs to a drunk driver. It made me proud to be drunk on the subway!"
That's right: The cramped tube and bizarre mutant lunatics actually made them happier. The subjects' responses suggested that this was because of something called the focusing illusion. Basically, the idea is that we tend to overemphasize the negative aspects of things without giving the positives their fair share. The participants were so focused on being stuck next to stinky maniacs that they didn't realize how low-stress public transportation can be -- you're free to read, take a nap or just sit quietly with your own thoughts. When you're driving yourself through rush-hour traffic to work every morning, you pretty much stay tense and agitated for an hour or more, with no chance to relax. Taking the bus or the tube every once in a while could actually improve your general well-being, provided you aren't Bill Paxton in Predator 2.
#2. Doing Chores
Traditionally, no one likes to do chores. They're what our parents punished us with when we were growing up, and they're what we're stuck doing now every time somebody dies in our apartment. For our lives to be truly blissful, we'd have to have a butler, or be allowed to just hose everything down once a week and order all our meals from Panda Express (ideally, we would have a butler and he would do both of those things for us). However, researchers have found that this is actually completely wrong.
"Stop complaining, you want to clean your room. Science says so."
In a study of more than 30,000 people from 34 countries, it was shown that the more housework that men did, the happier they became. It's suggested that men are generally more supportive of gender equality than was previously thought, and so when they see their wives doing housework by themselves, they feel guilty about not helping out. So, they heave themselves off of the couch/floor/toilet and grab a dust mop, and subsequently feel more content with their role in the household.
On a more specific note, researchers have also found that mowing the lawn is great for you. When green grass is cut, it releases a certain chemical that blocks stress receptors in your brain, so the act of trimming your front yard can actually calm you down. In addition, you get a decent cardio workout from pushing the lawnmower back and forth, which releases endorphins that also make you feel pretty awesome. People with riding mowers presumably replace the cardio bonus with the psychological benefits inherent to tearing around on a toy truck with giant, roaring murder weapons underneath.
"Destroying living things with a whip powered by explosions really validates my humanity."
#1. Thinking About Death
Death is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. Some people never come to terms with it. You are dead much longer than you are alive, your existence temporary and your nonexistence permanent. It's a tough concept to reconcile, and there's no possible way it can be anything but depressing, right?
Nope. As it turns out, when people think about death, they generally become more pleasant and less crotchety, making better company for everyone around them.
"Hey, girl! Oh, not much, just contemplating the futility of life and the never-ceasing approach of eternal darkness."
To test the effects of mortality-pondering, researchers examined how people behaved when death had been introduced to their minds, even in the subtlest way possible. In one experiment, they had a group walking right beside a cemetery and another walking a block away next to nothing in particular. An actor would pass both groups and "accidentally" drop a notebook right in front of them. The group closer to the cemetery was 40 percent more likely to help the actor pick up the notebook. The researchers believe that this is because the graveyard made them think about death and, subsequently, how they might live with a little more charity and fellowship while they still could.
The connection may seem like a bit of a leap, but there are several other studies that support this theory. One saw that people with a higher awareness of death were more likely to engage in conservational behavior (like recycling), and another found that when reminded of death, people are more likely to use sunscreen and quit smoking, and generally be more patient with each other. So why does the looming presence of death make us behave more decently? For pretty much the same reason the researchers in the notebook test came up with -- when we're reminded of our own mortality, we want to be better people and make our short time on this world more positive and valuable.
"All the hours I've wasted watching Lost ... I could have been watching The Wire on DVD!"
So, as strange as it might feel, give your own mortality a think every once in a while when you're feeling blah. Or you can just wait for one of the many scientists around the world who apparently go around reminding people about death before making them perform seemingly unrelated and nonsensical tasks.
Now that Cracked has completely changed your life for the better by leading you down the path to enlightenment (you're welcome, by the way), watch this video and be happy.
XJ would like to dedicate this article to the only person in the world who (intuitively) makes him happy -- Nadia. You can read more from him on his writing blog, and he'll love you for an entire minute if you follow him on his Twitter.
But before you go getting all gleeful and shit, check out 5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won't) and 5 Scientific Reasons Your Idea of Happiness Is Wrong.