Neil Pasricha states it perfectly in his book, “The Happiness Equation” – most people have their happiness model completely backwards. For instance, we think great work leads to big success which leads to happiness. Neil Pasricha challenges this model saying it doesn’t work like that in real life. That model is broken. We do great work, have a big success, but then instead of being happy we just set new goals. We never get to happiness! We just push it further and further away. But if we take “be happy” off the end of the equation and move it to the beginning? Everything changes.
If we start with being happy, then we feel great. We look great and we end up doing great work because we feel great doing it. There are seven big ways to ways to train your brain to be happy, and you may be surprised how simple these are! You don’t have to do all of them at once, do one a week, or find one you really enjoy and do it weekly!
#1 – Three Walks
Happy people don’t have the best of everything, they make the best of everything. Be happy first.
Penn State researchers reported in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology that the more physically active people are, the greater their general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. How much? Just a half an hour of brisk walking three times a week. The American Psychosomatic Society published a study showing how Michael Babyak and a team of doctors found that three thirty-minute brisk walks or jogs even improve recovery from clinical depression! Yes, clinical depression. Their results were even stronger than studies using medication!
#2 – The 20-Minute Replay
Writing for twenty minutes about a positive experience dramatically improves happiness. Why? Because you actually relive the experience as you’re writing it and then relive it every time you read it or remember it! Your brain sends you back into the experience. In a University of Texas study called “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words,” researchers Richard Slatcher and James Pennebaker had one member of a couple write about their relationship for twenty minutes three times a day. Compared to the test group, the couple was more likely to engage in intimate dialogue afterward and the relationship was more likely to last. What does the 20-Minute Replay do? It helps us remember things we like about people and experiences in our lives. You don’t have to do this daily, you can of course, but try it once a week to begin with.
#3 – Random Acts of Kindness
Carrying out five random acts of kindness a week dramatically improves your happiness. Most of us don’t naturally think about paying for someone’s coffee, mowing our neighbor’s lawn, or writing a thank-you note to our apartment building security guard at Christmas. But Sonja Lyubomirsky did a study asking Stanford students to perform five random acts of kindness over a week. Not surprisingly, they reported much higher happiness levels than the control group. Why? They felt good about themselves! People appreciated them, and they had a greater sense of self-worth.
#4 – A Complete Unplug
“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.” A Kansas State University study found that complete downtime after work helps us recharge for the next day. Turning your phone off after dinner [gasp!]. Not using the Internet on vacation. Be present in the moment…for more than one moment!
#5 – Hit Flow
Get into a groove. Be in the zone. Find your flow. However you characterize it, when you’re completely absorbed with what you’re doing, it means you’re being challenged and demonstrating skill at the same time. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this moment as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Do you get that from playing drums? Lifting weights? Taking pictures? Make time for it!
#6 – 2 Minute Meditations
A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation and published the results in Psychiatry Research. What happened? After the course, parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, while parts associated with stress shrank. Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness!
#7 – Five Gratitudes
Remember this: If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy. Find a book or a journal, and write down five things you’re grateful for from the past week. The key is actually writing them down! Back in 2003, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked groups of students to write down five gratitudes, hassles, or events over the past week for ten weeks. Guess what happened? The students who wrote five gratitudes were happier and physically healthier! Charles Dickens puts this well: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”