Do you ever feel that regardless of how hard you work or how many goals you achieve, you are never truly happy? Then this is for you. Within this blog, I will explain how your happiness is a major component in your success and provide you with a set of easy to apply tools that will greatly increase your happiness right now. I will show you how to make the most of happiness to improve your performance and maximize your potential.
When asked the question “what do you want from life?” many people simply say “I just want to be happy”. This of course implies that they are not happy now. There is growing evidence to show that an increasing amount of us are not ‘happy with our lot’. Some people are able to identify the cause of their unhappiness. This is often an elusive target, just out of reach, “but if achieved, then yes, then we will be happy”. Some people want to lose that last 10 pounds, stop smoking, persuade their kids to move out on their own, or secure that big promotion at work. Unfortunately, all too often, we achieve our identified target but happiness continues to elude us and we remain unhappy. A re-evaluation of our goals in life takes place, alternative happiness targets are set and the cycle goes on and on. We have been programed to believe that success needs to come first and then we will be rewarded with happiness at a later date.
If this sounds familiar to you then you are not alone. In Shawn Achor’s best-selling book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ he explains that an alarming amount of us are unhappy and we are getting unhappier. A study of students from Harvard University, some of the most privileged and gifted young people in the USA, showed that 4 in 5 students suffer from depression. In 2010 a survey showed that only 45 percent of workers were happy at their jobs and that depression rates today are 10 times higher than in 1960. In addition, the age of those suffering from depression is getting younger. The mean onset age of depression in 1960 was 29.5 years old; today it is 14.5 years old.
The problem here is that our fast moving, high demand, materialistic world of instant gratification has taught us that happiness is the result of achieving success and that if we just work hard enough, we will be successful and therefore be happy. Shawn Achor argues that exactly the opposite is true: “when we are happy- when our mindset and mood are positive- we are smarter, more motivated and thus more successful. Happiness is at the center and success revolves around it.”
Achor shows that the most successful people in all aspects of life do not view happiness as a distant goal; awarded for high achievements, they live in the here and now. They recognize opportunity and capitalize on the positive, using every chance to benefit from the rewards. He describes happiness as having 3 measurable components: ‘pleasure, engagement and meaning’. These components combined results in positive emotions, which are the main driving force of happiness.
A study on over 275,000 people found that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives including marriage, health, friendship and in our jobs and careers. Happy workers have higher levels of productivity, achieve higher sales, perform better as managers, take less sick days, manage multiple tasks more effectively, have better job security and are far less likely to suffer from stress and burn out. Happiness is contagious and has a knock on effect; CEOs and senior management who are happy are far more likely to lead employees who are happier, healthier and more productive.
For decades it was thought that happiness was hereditary and genetically set. Recent studies however, show that this is not the case and we are far more in control of how we feel than previously thought. An increasing amount of evidence shows that with conscious effort we can permanently raise our happiness baseline.
Opportunities for happiness lie in the small, everyday moments of our lives but we are often blinded by other things to see them. By opening our eyes, recognizing and maximizing on the positive moments and opportunities all around us we can greatly improve our happiness and become more successful, right now!
Here are some ‘happiness boosters’ that if applied, can immediately improve your day. If you form these activities into habits you can permanently improve you work performance, promotion prospects, relationships and happiness and your life.
- Stress and anxiety are the two most significant inhibitors of effective learning, memory recall and mental productivity. Evidence shows that only 5 minutes of meditation and deep controlled breathing per day can raise your levels of happiness, lower stress, improve memory and immune function. This is not a complicated process that requires yoga mats and workout clothes. Simply find a quiet spot and a comfortable seat, close your eyes and take 5-6 deep breaths per minute. Breathe slowly and deeply, filling your lungs as completely as possible, hold your breath for up to six seconds then slowly exhale. Visualize you breath going in and out of your body, imagine your inwards breath filling you with positivity and your outwards breath expelling waste product and negativity from your system. This is not a snooze, you need to focus. If you find yourself drifting away and thinking about something else, gently put yourself back on track and concentrate on your breathing. This takes effort and practice but if you make this a daily habit, this activity alone with make you feel calmer, more content, empathic and mentally aware.
- Music can be magical. It can motivate us to run faster, workout harder, feel happy, sad, motivated, relaxed or mellow. While there are many types of music used to make us feel relaxed, when it comes to preparing our minds to be productive only one type of music has been proven to be effective and therefore reigns supreme. Classical baroque music is the only western music proven to improve learning and brain function and therefore increase productivity. Listen to this music in conjunction with the meditation technique described above and you will harmonize your body’s brainwave’s making them more receptive to learning, more efficient at recalling memory and improving your overall cognitive function. Listed below is a selection of baroque music that can be used to relax your body and tune your mind, priming it for learning and cognitive activity.
- Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
- Johann Bach – Any of the Brandenburg Concerti
- Johann Pachelbel – Canon in D Major
- Tomaso Albinoni – Adagio in G Minor
- Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso no 10 in F Major
- George Frideric Handel – Water Music
- Find Something to Look Forward To. Studies have shown that just thinking about something positive, such as the birth of a child, your wedding day, a pet or even a scene from your favourite movie, can increase your endorphin levels by up to 27 percent. If you can’t participate in something you enjoy right now, identify an event in the future and put it in your day planner. If you have previously taken part in a similar activity and have a picture, also put that in the page of your planner. When you need a boost of happiness remind yourself about the upcoming event by looking at the date and picture in your agenda. Now, close your eyes and imagine the activities you will be doing, the people you will be with, the food you will eat etc. Feel the sun on your skin, the sand under your feet or the wind in your face. Spending just five minutes anticipating the event in this way will activate the pleasure sensors in your brain almost as much as when you do the activity for real.
- Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. A study on over 2000 participants has shown that random acts of altruism and kindness decreases stress and greatly increases mental health. Researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky found that individuals who consciously completed five acts of kindness over the course of a day reported feeling much happier than a control group and that the feelings of happiness lasted for subsequent days. To apply this yourself, pick one day per week and consciously commit five acts of kindness. These acts do not need to be grand gestures but they do need to be done consciously and deliberately. One simple way that I find effective is to pay for the coffee of the person behind me in the queue, when I pay for my own morning coffee. I don’t say anything to the person and I am well gone by the time they come to pay themselves. However, the feeling of happiness and wellbeing it gives me, is well worth the $1.90 investment.
- Incorporate Positivity Into Your Surroundings. Our physical environment can have an enormous effect on our happiness and sense of wellbeing. We should therefore make a conscious effort to infuse our work and home environment with positivity and things that make us happy. If possible, put pictures of loved ones and positive experience at your desk or work-station. Actively look at these images and take note of the positive feelings they release. Make a conscious effort to go outside on sunny days and get away from your desk or work environment. If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen, try to do some of that work standing up perhaps by using a laptop. When spending valuable time at home try to watch less TV, violent programs can be particularly detrimental to your happiness levels especially if they are viewed late a night before you fall asleep.
- Spend Money on Positive Experiences. Studies have shown that the satisfaction gained from buying material items such as shoes, clothes and jewellery are extremely short lived, while money spent on experiences with other people has a lasting effect on our happiness. Picking up the tab for these experiences, known as ‘pro-social spending’, is even more meaningful and long lasting. Have a look at your own spending habits. Divide a piece of paper into two columns and title the columns ‘having and doing’, then track you spending over a month. Are you spending more on ‘having’ or ‘doing’? At the end of the month look at the things in the ‘having’ column and think about the satisfaction the purchase gave you and how long the feeling lasted. After this exercise you are likely to want to re-allocate some money from the ‘having’ to the ‘doing’ column.
- Do Something You Are Good At. Each time we use a skill, no matter what it is, we experience a burst of positivity that affects our happiness levels. If you find yourself in need of a jolt of happiness Shawn Achor recommends to do something you are good at. Whether you knock up a gourmet meal, blow their minds singing karaoke or paint the ceiling of the garden shed like the Sistine Chapel, the activity is irrelevant, just do something you feel you excel in. Once you have completed the activity sit back and admire your genius. If your want to experience an even bigger happiness boost, tap into a skill that utilizes one of your top five strengths of character. If you are unsure what these are take the free survey at viasurvey.org. A study on 577 volunteers found that when they consciously applied one of their ‘signature strengths’ every day they became much happier and less depressed that the control group.
- Humans are designed to participate in physical activity; it’s what we are supposed to do. Hunt food, build shelters, dig holes or play racquetball, we are all designed to move around and our bodies can be worked pretty hard. Advances in technology have made the workplace more sedentary with more and more of us spending our workday sitting, straining our eyes over a flickering computer screen. Our free time is often no more active, with the majority of us watching an average of 7 hours of TV each day. Computers and gaming are also ‘exercise zappers’ with scores of young people retreating to the sanctity of their bedrooms for marathon multi-player, online gaming sessions or to spend hours in online chat rooms. This lack of activity is physically and mentally damaging to our health. The positive advantages of exercise on out physical and mental well-being have been well documented. During exercise the body releases endorphins that make us feel better, reduce stress and anxiety and help us recall memory and think clearer. Knowledge alone however, is not enough. Otherwise 40% of doctors in North America (who are well aware of the dangers of a poor diet and lack of exercise) would not be overweight. So whether you walk the dog, ride a bike, play racket ball or get jiggy-jiggy with it down on the dance floor, you need to get moving! Physical activity is a powerful tool when it comes to lifting our mood and increasing our cognitive ability.
In his best selling book ‘Outliers’ Malcolm Gladwell introduces the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell presents evidence to show that 10,000 hours is the minimum amount of time needed invested in an activity before mastery is achieved. Bill Gates, The Beatles, Steve Jobs, top concert pianist, chess masters, and athletes have all served their 10,0000 apprenticeship period before becoming a master in their field.
If we believe that happiness is the reward for success and ‘postpone’ our happiness until a far off goal is achieved, perhaps waiting to achieve mastery, we will be miserable for a long time. However, if we accept that success evolves around happiness and we can change our happiness levels with small but deliberate changes, then we can change our lives for the better right now. Integrate these simple activities into your life and you will be a more productive employee, better manager and happier person.
Written by: David Quinn, CRS, CCDP
Project Coordinator, The Career Foundation
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Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Business, 2010. Print.
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Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. London: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
Paul, Kevin. Study Smarter, Not Harder. British Columbia: Self-Counsel Press, 2014. Print.