A tremendous body of research supports that there are several simple techniques that you can use on a day to day basis and in any moment to make major improvements to your mood and cultivate a sense of joy.
I am happiness (and so can you!)
Listen up, people. This is the good stuff.
The science is in.
No matter what our life circumstances are, where we are from, or how much money we have, we always have the power to increase our levels of happiness. It's science. And it is awesome.
So when we decide to get behind the wheel of our own happiness, we need an idea of where to go.
There are a ton of different ways to increase happiness, but we are going to hone in on three that you can start doing today with minimal time and effort. All that they require is a little bit of your attention.
Different people will be attracted to different techniques, but each of them is powerful in its own way. They are things that we can start doing on a small scale. And as we continue with them, the effects will start to snowball.
They are happiness “life hacks.”
Did your parents teach you to say “please” and “thank you”?
Unbeknownst to most people, this advice is actually packed with some serious scientific punch. The quality of being thankful and a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness (gratitude) is one of the all-time power plays in the world of happiness (1).
Talk of gratitude is everywhere these days. If you look up happiness or self-development, you’re bound to find people talking about gratitude.
As it goes with anything popular, it has become common to a point where it can actually be annoying to hear about. Especially because being thankful seems like such an insignificant thing. What could thinking about one positive thing in your life actually do?
It feels like the answer is nothing, but when we look at the research, a powerful picture emerges.
Gratitude has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve your long term happiness. Period.
Three of the ways that gratitude improve your happiness include:
- Helping you recognize and appreciate the things in your daily life that are good and giving your mind something positive to focus on
- Boosting levels of good feeling neurotransmitters in your mind
- Helping you continue to extract happiness from positive changes in your life instead of getting used to them.
Over time, this practice becomes more central to your life, and that means more joy and more fun in your life as your brain rewires to be grateful.
Because what the science has found is that gratitude creates happiness, not the other way around.
So what holds us back from being more grateful? Often, it is because we are focusing on the things that we don’t have, instead of the things that we do. And although we all have our challenges, if you are reading this (on a computer or phone, on the freaking world wide web), you have a lot of things to be thankful for.
To use gratitude as a tool to improve your happiness, we simply need to acknowledge something that you are grateful for.
It could be anything.
Here's a starter list:
- Being alive
- The smile a stranger gave you
- A random act of kindness you witnessed
- Your pets excitement to see you
- The satisfying crunch in a piece of lettuce gave your sandwich (or the crunch from potato chips in your sandwich if you're a real pro)
Are you ready to dig in?
What do Steph Curry and LeBron James, Ariana Huffington, Anderson Cooper, and Oprah have in common... besides all being richer than God?
The answer is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is no longer a niche movement. It's in the mainstream, from Main Street to Wall Street. Tens of millions of dollars are being invested into research and tools that use mindfulness to improve performance and mental health.
So... what is it?
Mindfulness is a simple term that is often misused and misunderstood. It has been perhaps most aptly defined, by John Kabat-Zinn, as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.”
Although it sounds simple, don't underestimate its impact. Mindfulness is hands-down one of the most effective tools to improve happiness and overall performance.
Typically, when we are rushing through our day, jumping from one worry to the next, we are largely unaware of exactly what it is we are experiencing. To test this idea right now, check out this video:
Enjoy that? Good. Now let's learn some stuff.
Mindfulness is kind of like a superpower
By making a little bit of an effort to be mindful, we can train ourselves to become aware of what is happening in our world, and ultimately, this unlocks significantly improved happiness. There are several reasons.
1. Mindfulness allows us to have more controls over how we react to our thoughts.
Who is driving the bus in your head? Are you in control of your thoughts, or do they control you? Well, the neuroscience and anecdotal evidence are clear in supporting the age-old adage that what we think becomes who we are.
This shit sounds corny, but it is true.
Our thoughts are powerful, more powerful than we typically recognize. We all have a constant stream of thoughts occurring in our minds that govern our mental state – our level of focus, positivity, and how we will react to and influence the world around us.
2. Mindfulness helps us appreciate all of the awesome things around us that we so often overlook.
There’s a lot of good and beauty in the world that we miss when we are tightly wrapped up in our own minds. And when we recognize this good or beauty, we become happier...way happier.
Growing up and living in a society that hijacks our attention and focuses us on the next thing we have to do, negative interpretations of our surroundings, and constant distractions from our smartphones, we have blinders to the little things around us that can bring us great joy.
A mindful brain is one that has a little bit of space to breath and smell the roses, if that's what you're into.
3. Mindfulness helps reduce a complex and damaging source of unhappiness caused by what psychologists call the "self-discrepancy gap".
This gap is the distance between who we believe we are right now, and who we believe we want to be (one could say, our BestMe). The bigger the gap, the less happy we are; the smaller the gap, the happier we are.
Mindfulness is a technique to make that gap much smaller by helping us focus on our present selves and the ways that we can use our own personal decision-making power to live the lives we want (2).
Before we go into detail, give yourself 50 mindful seconds right now. After you read this, do the following:
- Close your computer, put your phone on airplane mode, set a timer for 50 seconds
- Look forward and just a little bit down with a "soft gaze," don't stare too hard at anything
- Take a breath in through your nose, and notice the feeling of your breath coming in through your nostrils (it should be a little cool)
- Take a breath out through your nose, and notice the feeling of your breath exiting through your nostrils (it should be a little warm)
- Over the course of the next few breaths, keep your attention on the breath, and try and expand to notice the sounds around you (people talking, construction, typing, cars driving, etc.)
That's it! You've just practiced a bit of very focused mindfulness. Hopefully, you feel a good deal more relaxed and focused after that.
Mindfulness puts us in the driver’s seat of our own minds.
Are you ready to grab the keys?
Reframing Negative Thoughts
We love to beat ourselves up
Have you been here before?
You: "You guys ever hear the joke about how to make a tissue dance? Put a little boogie in it!" Oh god, no one laughed. Why didn't anyone laugh? It's because that's a terrible joke. Why did you think it was so funny. That's for five-year-olds. Nobody intelligent would ever think that's funny. You're so stupid. And now they know your stupid. If you were funnier, you would have had a smarter joke. And if you were smart, you would have done a better job at work today. You have no idea what you're doing over there. I can't believe they haven't fired you yet. I would fire me if I could.....
Friend: "Hey what was that? I couldn't hear you? Oh, put a little boogie in it! Hahaha, I love that joke :)"
Welcome to anxiety world, everyone. A world in which any glimpse of rational thinking gets sucked up by a vacuum and replaced with a downward spiral of negativity.
When we get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, it is easy to attribute everything that happens to us to personal failures. It’s hard to see outside of ourselves and understand the objective reality of our situations.
It's painful. It sucks. And it’s holding us back.
Like in the situation above, we often misattribute things to our own faults instead of considering other far more likely scenarios that have nothing to do with anything that is "wrong" with us.
The key to reframing negative thoughts is understanding how our thoughts come about.
How we subjectively evaluate a situation after it has occurred, an experience called cognitive reappraisal, has shown to have serious implications for our mental health.
There's actually a theory that in many situations, how we interpret a situation is what causes our emotions, not the other way around as you might expect (3,4).
The key is to learn how to objectively reappraise situations, instead of reviewing everything in our minds through this lens of negativity and self-doubt.
In order to get there, we have to recognize when we have negative thoughts. You can start doing this today by simply noticing when your head gets into a negative cycle of thinking. Simply noticing this is an incredibly powerful thing because it gives you the opportunity to step in and make a change – to reframe your thoughts (and mindfulness helps with this).
Once we’ve noticed we’ve got some negative thinking going on, there are two techniques that we can learn to reframe our thoughts:
First, it really helps to talk with a friend. They can provide an outside perspective that just may not have occurred to you while you're caught in the wash cycle of negative thinking. If you don't have a friend you can use the mental health social network, Koko, which helps you get anonymous help with challenging emotional issues.
Another technique is to become aware of the narratives you tell yourself and to rewrite them. We all have unconscious narratives that drive our actions without us knowing. And at any moment, if we can become aware of those narratives, we can change them. At any moment, just ask yourself "What belief is making me act the way I'm acting right now?"
If you can identify a core belief that is driving your behavior, you can then work to change the belief.
Dr. Sarah Roberts provides this example:
So if, for example, you get a less-than-stellar evaluation at work, it’s not necessarily “awful” and doesn’t mean that you’ll probably be fired soon; it simply means exactly what happened: you got a less-than-stellar evaluation this time around.
Seeing unpleasant or difficult situations for exactly what they are — without getting wrapped up in our stories about the situations — allows us to use them as opportunities for growth.
It’s important to be real about your situation and understand where your mind may be playing tricks on you (2).
This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one of the most popular therapy techniques for people with anxiety or depression (5). Based on hundreds of years of research, development, and practice, it can help you re-write your internal dialogue and significantly increase your personal power.
If you're interested, check out this little-known program that has had a seriously life-changing impact for members of our team who have used it.