Dedicated to everyone who is up to the challenge of living a life full of happiness. #BetheBoss of your life, start today.
Is happiness something we can cultivate or is it a result of our environment?
That my friends is the million dollar question. New scientific research is shedding light on the answer, and the results are promising when it comes to cultivating your own happiness.
First lets understand “how” our brains work when it comes to being happy so you have a better understanding for yourself and a better shot at being and staying happy. According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “science has shown we actually can hack our own brain through a process called experience dependent neuroplasticity – meaning our brain learns from our experiences.”
We all want to be happy, it’s a desire almost as strong as our need to breathe. Some would rather not be alive than to be alive and miserable while others don’t care too much at all. Our instant gratification generation is obsessed with chasing happiness, like it’s some kind of achievement or ultimate goal in life.
Studies have shown that our life circumstances are only 10% of our happiness; Making the way you respond to your experiences the most telling indicator of your well-being.
With such high expectations for being happy, it’s natural to feel that we’ll get there only through monumental effort. It doesn’t have to be so. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple mental shift to set us on track to a happier and more fulfilling life.
Here are 9 ways you can put youreslef back on the path to happiness:
- Stop thinking “Once I get this…then I will be happy”
This common mindset traps us in the vicious loop of constantly waiting for the ideal conditions to be happy. For many this looks like a lot (and I mean a lot) of waiting for all those little duckies to align. The irony is that people who are ruled by this mindset are typically only temporarily happy when they do get what they want. Soon they will be dissatisfied again with the new normal. It’s human nature to keep wanting more. Avoid setting rigid expectations for what it takes to finally be happy and allow yourself to be open to new possibilities.
- Focus on happiness and stop trying to escape stress
Life will always throw unforeseen problems and obstacles into your path – that is what makes life, well um…life. It’s impossible to escape the natural unknowns of life and it’s accompanying stressors but instead of trying to eliminate it, work on creating sources and moments of happiness to balance out the tough times. The more difficult life gets, the more you need at least one outlet to release the stress and recharge your for life’s journey. Start looking in the areas of career, relationship, money and wellness.
- Redefine your criteria for success
The definition of success is completely subjective and far from linear. In fact, subscribing to another persons definition of success is a recipe for unhappiness. It ties happiness and fulfillment to a specific outcome. Life rarely bends to our will. Rather than determining success by the results of others or what we achieved, make success fail proof by defining it as the completion of a challenging process. It’s your commitment to the goal that counts, not our bank balance, job title, number of social media followers or entitlement to a luxurious lifestyle. Take stock everyday for what you have accomplished no matter how small and keep a journal to remind you of your progress and growth over time.
- Stop the drama and challenge your negative self-talk
We set ourselves up for unhappiness by making mountains out of molehills and engaging in binary all-or-nothing positions. Said another way, it’s a victim mindset that latches on to something and begins collecting evidence to support that theory. Such thought patterns often lead us to overreact or be uncompromising. Each time you find yourself caught in these negative thought patterns, challenge the validity of your perceived reality. Get yourself back on track by asking yourself, “Is this the whole picture?,” “Am I being fair in my judgment?,” “Will it matter a year or five years from now?” and “Is there something I can do?”
- It’s okay to say no or to ask for a compromise
Often we believe that we can’t say no to the conditions imposed on us or negotiate for more acceptable terms. That is simply untrue. There is always a win-win scenario if you look long enough. When we don’t, we see situations as something cast in stone and ourselves as prisoners with no hope for escape. One thing is certain, if you don’t try to speak up (responsibly) for your needs and express your concerns – you are destined to get what you have. Look for ways and opportunities to insert yourself if you feel you are being set up for failure. An example of such communication would be “I need (insert request here) because…” as this could open up the conversation and allow you to speak to your concerns.
- The rule of 3
At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. The good things could be anything — bumping into an old friend, a positive remark from someone at work, a pretty sunset. Celebrating even the smallest of wins has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you start journaling the good and positive, the better you will get and feel.
- Acknowledge someone (daily)
Acknowledging another person for something they did or are doing can go a long way. Showing others that you are noticing takes the emphasis on you and negative thoughts you may be having at the present time. Take a minute to say thanks or recognize someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work. A great way to go about this is by sending 1 daily email to someone or a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
- Do something nice
A random (or not so random) act of kindness has been scientifically proven to increase happiness levels. Something as small and simple as making someone smile works. Pausing to do something thoughtful has the power to get you out of that negativity loop. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture of sorts – it can be something as simple and small as buying someone a coffee.
- Mind your mind
Mindfulness is a hot topic and one that I have written about extensively on Linkedin. Although much has been discussed about this practice – the key is to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. I know, it’s not as simple as it is to write that statement so take a look here for some support. Opening our awareness beyond the narrowness of negativity can help bring back more balance and positivity into the picture. Regular practice of mindful meditation has been shown to affect the brain’s neural plasticity reducing the “gray matter” which is associated with stress and anxiety in the brain.
So you may be thinking that our brains are working just fine and why mess with something that’s not broken? But the fact of the matter is happiness isn’t something that happens to you. Happiness is something you can teach your brain to experience more fully.
The next time you are feeling down, unhappy or even unproductive – remember that the reason is quite (scientifically) simple: your brain is hardcoded to pay more attention to negative experiences. It’s a self-protective characteristic not something your parents taught you so don’t go blaming them. Our brains are simply doing what they are designed to do which is protect us and constantly monitor our surroundings.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, then maybe take neuropsychologist and Ph.D Rick Hansons suggestions:
- Take in the goodWhen you appreciate and maximize the small, positive experiences, he says, “increasingly there’s a sense of being filled up already inside, or already feeling safe inside, or already feeling loved and liked and respected. So we have less of a sense of striving … Insecurity falls away because you’ve got the good stuff inside of yourself.”
- Focus on the positive experiences with the greatest personal impact
We have three fundamental needs for safety, satisfaction and connection, he explains. So if you have a safety-related issue like a health scare, you’d want to seek positive experiences that boost your feelings in that sector. If the issue is connection-related, you should focus on small moments of positive interaction with others. And if you’re anxious and feeling threatened, it would help to feel stronger and more protected inside.
- Be on your own side An essential ingredient of happiness, is setting an intention for joy and then insisting upon it. “We don’t get on our own side; we don’t take a stand in which we are for ourselves, and that’s foundational,” says Hanson. He explains that if someone we love is upset or worried, we try to help them move beyond that state of mind. But when we are upset or worried ourselves, we often don’t help ourselves the same way. Instead, we tend to stay upset and ruminate over things longer than we need to.
- Maintain a sense of wonder
Einstein once said, “He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.” And when it comes to taking in the good, a sense of wonder is key. Experiencing moments as fresh and new, with a childlike awe, allows them to stick in the brain for longer, potentially becoming part of our lasting emotional memory.
Try starting here: work on noticing where you are in the present moment and what you’re focusing on. Look out for negative signals that can narrow your current reality and cause a downward spiral. If that’s not enough to start you on the path towards more happiness, then think about this:
You have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, So make sure you don’t think, “Why do I suck?” 50,000 times a day, or you may just collect enough evidence to support that.
How do you go about creating your own happiness? The floor is yours.
Not-your-typical Personal and Executive Master Certified Coach.
Joshua Miller is a creative and impactful leader. His career experience has spanned both the advertising world and the world of leadership and organizational development. In advertising, he was responsible in delivering campaign strategies for Fortune 100 companies. Now he innovates and delivers results when supporting executive talent development and change management for the same clients.
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