“Happiness precedes success, not the other way around.” – Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
Happiness is entirely an internal state of mind vastly driven by the meaning we put on events. The same event can happen to different people making one person happy and the other miserable. The difference is in how each individual perceived the event. According to Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds, studies have found that happiness is only 10% environmental. The other 90% comes from our genetics (50%) and our thought process (40%).
To be happier, we must either try to control external conditions (not always easy and only 10% of our happiness) or change how we experience external conditions. At a high level, happiness is driven by relationships, the meaning we place on events, our freedom to make a choice, and how much time we spend in flow (being fully engaged in what we are doing). There are several strategies to improve your happiness:
- Gratitude Attitude: Once a day, go through all the things you are grateful for. Gratitude is an incompatible with unhappiness. The reason we need to do this daily is the adaptation effect. Humans are very adaptable, which has many survival benefits and also some interesting psychological impacts. Someone who wins the lottery and someone who loses a leg will be at the same level of happiness in a year. So how do we overcome the adaptation effect? A good example is the wonderful smell of bread when you first enter a bakery. After a few seconds, we adapt to the smell and can’t smell it anymore (we are massive difference-detecting engines). We have to leave and come back to experience that wonderful smell again. It is the same thing with repeating what you’re grateful for, like your partner, friends, family, home, food, vehicle, etc. It makes all of these blessings new again.
- Playfulness and Humor: A playful attitude that has fun and finds humor in things will make you happier. Play takes up 20% of animals’ time, and is critical to social and brain development (see The Playful Brain).
- Experiences Instead of Things: If you want your money to make you happier, spend it on experiences rather than things.
- Physical Behavior Drives Mood: If you walk with a bounce in your step, those physical cues will make you happier. People that smile intensely live 35% longer (see For a long life, smile like you mean it)
- Small Acts of Kindness: Doing little things for others will make us happier.
- Affectionate Writing: For better relationships, write letters about what you love about that person. It will affect how you interact with them in many positive ways.
- Good Relationships: The longest study of its kind (75 years) found the number one factor in having a happy and long life was good relationships (see this TED Talk by Robert Waldinger)
- Positive Self-Talk: High performers practice positive self-talk. A negative inner dialogue negatively affects mood (see this TED Talk by Mariano Sigman).
- Increase Flow: People who spend more time in a high performance flow state are happier. This is because they are doing something they enjoy (see The Flow Genome Project).
- Positive Meaning: Assign positive meaning to your work and daily life events.
- Avoid Entitlement Thinking: One secret to happiness is not to lower you expectations, but to lower your entitlement thinking. That is not thinking the world owes us something, but rather that we can earn it.
Remember, happiness is a way of thinking. Happiness can make your journey through life much more enjoyable, fulfilling, and successful.