When people are asked what they want out of life, a majority of individuals will say that they want to be happy. One of the top 5 greatest regrets of people who are dying is that they wished they would have let themselves be happier. Would you say that you are currently happy, or that you are as happy as often as you would like to be? If not, how can we be more happy? Is it something that we have control over? Can we train ourselves to be more happy?
Studies show that we are each born with a baseline of happiness which is dictated by our DNA. We've all witnessed this, there are just some people who are naturally more happy than others. Some of us are just born with a higher baseline for happiness, while others of us have to consciously work on being happy. Research shows that we can fairly easily change our baseline for happiness. By implementing some basic techniques our baseline can change pretty fast, regardless of your age. Happiness is a skill that we can learn.
Research also shows that only 10% of our long-term happiness is based on external factors, the remaining 90% of our long-term happiness is based on how our brain processes things. Neurons that fire together wire together. What we think about actually changes the neuro structure. The mind can change the brain forever. We can be in charge of changing our own brain.
Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, is well known for his work on happiness. He says that we are programmed for negativity bias. He calls this the "caveman brain". It's part of what helped our ancestors survive in more primitive times. He states that positive thoughts need to remain in our short-term memory for several seconds, several times, in order to move into our long-term memory, whereas negative thoughts go straight to long-term memory. He gives this analogy, "The brain is like velcro for negative experiences and like teflon for positive ones". He suggests that we savor the good facts and experiences for 10 seconds or more and to make it as intense as possible. Let a good fact become a good experience. This exercise will cause our brains to take that positive thought and store it in our long-term memory.
Shawn Acher, a professor of positive psychology at Harvard and author of The Happiness Advantage, recommends spending 2 minutes each day on what he calls happiness hygiene. He feels that it's no different than other hygiene habits, such as brushing our teeth or washing your face, and should be incorporated as part of our daily routine. His research has found that by spending 2 minutes each day on happiness hygiene you can quickly increase your baseline for happiness. Here are his 5 happiness hygiene habits. He recommends that each day you pick one of these areas and work on it for at least 2 minutes.
1) Say three new things your are grateful for each day in detail. A gratitude journal is a useful tool to accomplish this, but it can be done without a journal.
2) Identify one meaningful experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours and write it down in as great of detail as you can (this ties into the savor suggestion above).
3) Send a thank you to someone. An email, phone call, in-person, text or message to praise or say thank you. Be thankful and appreciative for the good experienced in others.
4) Exercise - 15 minutes of cardio trains the brain to believe that your behavior matters (this one requires more than the 2 minutes).
5) Meditation - even 2 minutes of watching your breath is beneficial.
Dr. Richard Davidson is a professor of psychology and psychiatry and founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. Dr. Davidson's research has identified the following 4 elements to be critical to well-being and happiness.
1) Savoring positive experiences. Let the sun shine bright for the good stuff as long as you possibly can.
2) Your resilience. How rapidly do you recover from adversity? It's appropriate to express strong emotion when you feel badly, but avoid letting it persist. Bounce back into the life you choose.
3) Being generous. He states that the most effective way to increase happiness is through generosity. Altruism is a sure path to increasing well being. Become less self-absorbed and more focused on others. Being of service to and helping others.
4) Paying attention. Mindfulness is happiness. When we aren't attentive to what we are currently doing, we are often times drudging up negative things from the past.
Another key element mentioned in research on happiness is forgiveness. Forgiveness makes us happier. Research suggests not only that happy people are more likely to forgive, but that forgiving others can make people happy. Forgiving people tend to be happier people. Forgiveness leads to lasting happiness.
A sense of community and true, deep social connections are other triggers for happiness. Joy comes from connection to others.
The experts on happiness all speak to similar common core elements to achieving happiness. These elements are not external to our environment, they are internal and something that we very much have the ability to influence.
Studies show that happy people experience a 23% reduction in stress, a 39% increase in health, a 31% increase in productivity and have 34% more positive social interaction. It pays huge dividends to be happy!
Being happy and practicing happiness hygiene will cause a ripple effect to those around you. People desire to be around others who exude happiness. The vibration, the energy of a happy person is contagious, and it raises up the vibration and energy of everyone around. Let's all practice happiness hygiene and savor the positive experiences in our lives. Our world needs more happiness, more light to shine around. Take charge of your own happiness and see and feel the changes in your life. With happiness the more you have the more everyone has.
I would love to hear your feedback. Was this post helpful to you? Do you have a happiness hygiene practice already? Does it include something that isn't discussed that you can share with us? Let me know in the comments section or send me an email!