Ever wonder what the fuss about happiness is all about? Ever wonder why the writers of the U.S. Constitution said that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right?
Interestingly, happiness studies have exploded over the last few years. It seems like new books on the subject are popping up regularly. The volume of research-based, best-selling books indicates that this is a topic that people are very interested in, though the interest can hardly be thought of as new. Even the Founding Fathers had it in mind!
In The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Anderson (played by Will Smith) is continually frustrated by his son’s daycare, who can’t get the word happiness right.
Have you been feeling like you can’t get happiness right either? How hard is it to be happy anyway?
There are a number of things that have been shown to make people happy. The ingredients are all pretty simple and it is fairly easy to identify ones that are missing. For instance, not having enough money to take care of your family’s basic needs. Having family members in crisis. Lacking specific goals to change outcomes. These are things that make us unhappy.
We Can All Identify Things That Are Contributing to Unhappiness
So why do many people still, at least mostly, feel happy? Why does hope and optimism continue to rise even when many of the basic ingredients are missing?
Is there anything you can do to fan this little spark of happiness into a flame? Does it even matter if you are happy? Current research in the field of positive psychology offers insights into these questions.
Shawn Achor is a former Harvard professor and the current CEO of Good Think Inc., a Cambridge-based consulting firm which conducts research to understand where human potential, success and happiness intersect.
According to Achor, “We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time”
If You Can Change Your Lens, Will You Change Your Life?
Research conducted by Achor indicates that a positive brain is 31% more productive than a negative, neutral or stressed brain. According to Achor, raising your present level of positivity allows your brain to experience what is called a happiness advantage. This simply means that your intelligence, creativity and energy levels increase.
This indicates that not only do you need to change your lens, but you specifically need to make your lens more positive. There’s more to this good news. When you are positive, dopamine floods your system, not only making you happier (and counteracting stress hormones), but also turns on all of the learning centers in your brain!
Sign Me Up! What Do I Need to Do?
Happily, Achor gives several ways you can rewire your brain in just a couple minutes per day. You can do one or several. Each will help increase your happiness.
• The first is gratitude. The exercise is to write three new things you are grateful for every day for 21 days (no repeating of things you are grateful for). This retrains your brain to look for positive things instead of negative.
• Second, journal about one positive experience per day.
• Third, teach your brain that behavior matters by exercising.
• Fourth, meditate – which allows your brain to relax and unplug from multitasking.
• Finally, Achor recommends practicing conscious acts of kindness, such as writing one positive email to a friend or relative each day.
Haven’t We Always Wanted to Be Happy?
Even the Mayo Clinic has an article about how to be happy. They recommend investing in relationships, practicing gratitude, cultivating optimism, finding your purpose, and living in the moment. Many of the same things that Achor’s research has found to be helpful in increasing happiness. There are even (research-based) happiness quizzes so you can see how happy you are. Some even track your happiness level over time!
I hate feeling unhappy, depressed, or anxious. In fact, I try to avoid triggers that are going to make me feel this way, like news reports (which are all pretty much negative). However, when circumstances in my life cause me to experience all three of these emotions, I know I need to take a step back. It is easy to spot a general sense of negativity and gloom because it seems to lodge in the middle of my chest. This definitely affects happiness, or more accurately, unhappiness. The good news is that happiness doesn’t have to be tied to circumstances.
Do you want greater happiness? There are research-based solutions that can literally change your mind. All you have to do is implement some of these strategies. If you want a quick resource for putting all five of the recommendations to work for you in just five minutes, get it free HERE. Even turning up the happiness a small amount would make a difference.
If you haven’t seen Shawn Achor’s Tedx Talk, I highly recommend it. You can find it here.