Whatever your objective – whether it’s lots of money, a meaningful career, recognition, health, deep relationships, personal growth or something else (perhaps all of the above) – your underlying motive will always be to be happy.
It’s crazy really but our yearning for that sweet happy feeling inside is what drives us in literally everything that we do in life.
So that certainly begs the question: Can we affect our own level of happiness?
Happiness researchers say yes! 🙂
Most peoples formula for success is: “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful and when I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.”
The problem is that this formula doesn’t work, neither does it match what’s been scientifically proven about happiness.
As you keep raising the bar and chasing bigger and better goals happiness will be on the other side of success and your brain will never get there.
What research has shown is that the brain operates in the opposite direction. If you raise your happiness levels in the present you’ll have more success because a positive brain has tons of advantages such as higher intelligence, increased creativity, greater energy levels and more.
It’s not success = happiness, it’s happiness = success. Tweet this!
So, how can you affect your own happiness? All you have to do is a few simple exercises for just a couple of minutes each day.
“Happiness depends upon ourselves” ― Aristotle
The list below contains 5 exercises that have been scientifically proven to increase long term happiness.
Read through the list and then go back and pick no more than 1 exercise. If you try to do them all at once you’ll likely get overwhelmed and end up doing none of them. For a minimum of 21 days, for 2 – 5 minutes, practice:
Research has shown that this exercise can actually rewire the brain to scan the world not for the negative, but for the positive first. Feelings of gratitude directly activate brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is considered the “reward” neurotransmitter and gives us a good feeling when it’s released.
That of course is a welcome response of its own, but it also reinforces our gratitude. Once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.
Now a virtuous cycle gets created causing our brain to focus its attention on positive stimuli rather than negative.
Action: Put a pen and paper next to your bed and write down 3 new things each night that you’re grateful for. Make sure to let the feeling of gratitude really manifest in your body.
Studies have shown that the process of writing things down forces us to basically “relive” the experience and in doing so, we double all the positive effects that the initial experience had on the brain.
This helps us reinforce our successes. On top of that, journaling has been linked to a bunch of other sweet health effects like strengthening immune cells.
Action: Get a journal and write a couple of sentences about 1 positive experience that you’ve had in the past 24 hours.
Most of us know what happens to the body as a result of exercise – we build muscle and stamina. But exercise also has some interesting effects on the brain.
When we work out, we release a protein called BDNF which has a protective and reparative element to our memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s the reason for the great feeling we get after working out.
At the same time endorphins are released in our brains tending to minimize the discomfort of exercise, blocking the feelings of pain and even cause feelings of euphoria.
Action: Now, you might be thinking that 5 minutes isn’t enough time for exercise. As you’re starting out your objective should be
testing how far you can run, how heavy you can lift and get discouraged or even injured forming a habit of consistent exercise. 😉
If you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle start out with short 5 – 10 minute walks and then expand from there. If walks are boring to you, consider walking with a friend or listen to your favorite music, podcasts or audio books.
The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time. That means your happiness gains will be the highest if you start right now!
Action: To get started with meditation simply relax with your eyes closed in a way that’s comfortable to you. Focus on the flow of your breath and if a random thought arises, acknowledge it without judgement and then let it go by bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath.
Meditate just for a couple of minutes as you’re starting out and increase the time span when you feel ready. Check out this mindfulness guide to get started.
Besides making us happier kindness has tons of other benefits like giving us healthier hearts, slowing our aging, making for better relationships and inspiring others to be kind. Pretty awesome right?
Action: Send one e-mail each day to someone in your social support network and thank them.
Action is the real measure of intelligence. – Napoleon Hill
If you find these exercises and their benefits interesting I urge you to please act on them. Merely reading this article won’t help; without action you’ll see no change.
Pick one of the exercises and commit to it for at least 21 days before adding the next one. Make it stick and become a habit.
Also, do not trust your memory. If possible, make the exercise a natural part of your daily routine. Perhaps do it at the same time every day or as a natural follow up to something else (like always meditate after waking up or always taking a walk after dinner).
A good idea is to set a recurring alarm at a specific time every day so that you don’t forget.
Make the exercise something pleasurable – some alone time dedicated to yourself to work on your own personal development.
Now I got 2 things for you to do:
1. Let us know in the comments which one of the exercises you’ve committed to and if you have any other tips on how to increase your happiness.
2. E-mail this article to 2 friends that you want to be happy 🙂
Lastly I’d like to give a huge shout out to Shawn Achor, who’s excellent TED talk inspired this article.