I knew it was coming. It was the polite and standard question you always ask someone you just met: “What do you do for a living?” I responded, as I always do, that I am a psychologist.Then, I braced myself. I had just given this woman a perfect setup for a joke I had heard countless times before, and she seized it by quipping, “Oh, are you going to psychoanalyze me?” Sighing inwardly, I chuckled and replied, “Actually, I’m not a clinical psychologist. I do research on happiness.”What began as a polite inquiry instantly transformed into genuine curiosity. The woman wanted to know more about my research—how do I study happiness, what do my studies look like, and, most importantly, do I have any advice for her? I have had this same conversation dozens of times, but I don’t mind. It’s important for me to be reminded that people are intrigued by the notion of happiness and that I am very fortunate to study it.All over the world, people agree that happiness is important and worth pursuing1. However, as we experience the inevitable twists and turns of life, we quickly discover that this pursuit can be challenging and quite different from what we originally expected. Most people have a strong opinion regarding what happiness is or how it can be attained. Unfortunately, there is tremendous variety in what people believe about happiness, and following the advice of others can often be a roll of the dice. Indeed, an Internet search for the word “happiness” produces over 177 million results! This gives us a huge collection of tips, strategies and teachings that are meant to help us. But how can we possibly sort through so much information to find what suits us best? Furthermore, once we find something that we like, how do we know that it really helps?For several years I have been a researcher in personality and social psychology. My specialty is a truly fascinating topic: human happiness. Through years of rigorous research from some of the most brilliant psychologists in the world, the scientific study of happiness has produced very useful information regarding its nature and how it can be attained for a sustained period of time. For example, studies indicate that the expression of gratitude is very effective in boosting long-term happiness2. This includes activities such as listing the blessings in your life or writing a letter of thanks to someone (sending it is optional!). If these strategies sound like something you would like to try, consider how often you do them. One study showed that counting blessings once a week was more effective than doing the same activity three times a week3! As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.In my studies I have also come upon time-honored spiritual and philosophical teachings that offer unique insight on the pursuit of happiness. Often, modern research on happiness and other related topics supports the principles of these teachings. For instance, the practice of mindfulness meditation helps us to be content and satisfied with the present moment, just the way it is4. Despite being thousands of years old, this teaching has recently received a great deal of attention from medical and psychological researchers. For example, one study found that people recovering from major depression who had suffered through three or more depressive episodes were significantly less likely to relapse when they participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program, compared to others recovering from major depression who received their usual treatment5. Amazingly, modern research suggests that this ancient wisdom is still useful in the pursuit of happiness and is an effective way to fend off depression.Using the full extent of my knowledge from psychological research and teachings I have learned for my own personal interest, this column will give you practical, accurate, and scientifically tested information on the pursuit of happiness. This topic will be discussed in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from its connection to the latest news to questions that humans have pondered for millennia. Ultimately, I hope that this column empowers you to discover for yourself what makes you happy and how you can spread that happiness to others. In the lifelong pursuit of happiness, each step can be an adventure in itself. What will your next step be? Check out my next column for some ideas.