Happiness is not as slippery a fish as you might imagine – you just need to know (some of) the right facts. For example the pursuit of pleasure alone may not result in a lasting sense of happiness whereas giving time to the service of others is a pretty reliable way of experiencing happiness. The truth is that a large proportion of our ability to experience positive emotion is hereditary. If everything was known about our external world only 10% of our long-term happiness could be predicted. This is because 90% of our long-term happiness is predicted not by the outside environment but by the way our brain processes the world. So you’ll be pleased to hear however that we can train our brains to become happier. In the same way that we train our bodies we can rewire our brains through the creation of new neural pathways so that we experience an increase in positive emotion. We do this by performing certain tasks on a regular basis for a fairly short period of time.
Ready for a new routine? Here are some tried and tested activities to try out…
1. Three gratitudes: take just two minutes a day for 21 days to write down three new things that you are grateful for. This activity will rewire your brain to look for the positive rather than the negative first and you will feel better for it (Shawn Achor TED talk) (Read about the meaningful life).
2. Journaling: take a few minutes each day to write about a positive experience you’ve had. Your brain will relive that (positive) experience and increase your sense of happiness (Shawn Achor TED talk) (Read about the pleasant life).
3. Exercise: exercise increases positive emotion in a number of ways. It causes the release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Endorphins relieve stress as well as pain. Serotonin boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. It can also help improve your appetite and sleep cycles. Dopamine not only makes you feel happier but turns on all the learning centres in your brain so you perform better (Shawn Achor TED talk). Dopamine is also related to addiction however including to exercise so if you have an addictive personality or a history of addiction it’s something to be aware of.
4. Meditation: meditation not only calms us and helps us to feel less stressed and more grounded but also helps us to overcome the multitasking tendencies of today and to focus on the task at hand which generally means we feel less stressed and perform the task better (Shawn Achor TED talk). It can also allow us to increase our positive experience of the pleasures in life through savouring as much of an enjoyable experience as possible (Martin Seligman TED talk). Mindfulness and savouring can be applied to walking, listening to music, eating and well just about anything really (Read about the pleasant life).
5. Random acts of kindness: think of someone who did something that significantly changed your life for the better and who you never properly thanked. Write about 300 words showing your gratitude and then either visit them, call on the phone or send an email to them in order to share your gratitude (Shawn Achor TED talk, Martin Seligman TED talk). Research has shown that acts of kindness like this can result in an increase in happiness lasting months after the act itself(Read about the meaningful life) as opposed to the pursuit of pleasure which is short-lived (Read about the pleasant life).
P.S. Did you know..
that (job) success depends not on your IQ but on your level of optimism?
Only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ and 75% of job successes are predicted by our level of optimism. Personally I’m quite sure that this will translate to most aspects of life. If you want to be successful [insert your personal definition of success here] take steps to increase your optimism and positive emotion because your life satisfaction will improve as will your performance which in turn will further increase your life satisfaction.