“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.

Here’s some very bad happiness advice based on very solid happiness research: Feel important. Be happily married. Be Danish.

Depending on how happiness is measured, all of these things really are associated with a happier life. But they’re unhelpful because they are not actionable in any practical way. Very few people slap their foreheads and say, “It all makes sense now—I thought a tense, angry marriage was the secret to happiness, but it isn’t!”

This is the big weakness of a lot of the social-science research to which I have dedicated my academic life. Much of it is descriptive and explanatory, but doesn’t necessarily help us live better lives. It can even drag us down when the secret to happiness is unattainable. I am very unlikely to become a Dane, for example (although my grandfather was one, so maybe I have a little hygge sitting somewhere in my genome).

Every once in a while, people in my profession need to get practical. Based on what they see in the data from experiments and surveys, what should we do that is both effective and feasible for increasing our happiness, starting today?

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In 2020, an international team of scholars tried to find out. They came up with 68 ways that people are commonly counseled to raise their own happiness, then asked 18 of the most distinguished and prolific academic experts on the science of happiness to rate them in terms of effectiveness and feasibility. In other words, according to the experts, these ways to get happier both work and are workable.

Here are the top 10, in order, with my own assessments as a happiness researcher added in for good measure.

1. Invest in family and friends. The research is clear that though our natural impulse may be to buy stuff, we should invest instead in improving our closest relationships by sharing experiences and freeing up time to spend together.

2. Join a club. The “social capital” you get from voluntarily and regularly associating with other people, whether or not you do so through a formal club, has long been known to foster a sense of belonging and protect against loneliness and isolation.

3. Be active both mentally and physically. You can make this advice as complicated and expensive as you want. But if you like to keep things simple, just try to walk for an hour and read for an hour (not for work!) each day.

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