“Achieving success will make you happy.”
It’s one of the biggest lies fed to us by the media and our workaholic culture. Studies show that those who are more successful among us are not meaningfully happier than their less successful peers. In fact, many of them are less happy due to the increased stress and anxiety that traditional professional “success” can bring.
What’s interesting, however, is that while success does not lead to happiness, happiness does lead to more success.
Consider a few recent studies that can help explain why:
According to a study done by Gallup, “unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 1.25 more days per month, or 15 extra sick days a year.” (Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (2008))
One recent study showed that “doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state.” In another study, students who were asked to think about the happiest day of their lives before taking a standardized math test scored higher than their peers.
In a study conducted by renowned positive psychologist Martin Seligman studying insurance sales performance, optimistic sales people out sold pessimistic salespeople by over 85% when other variables were controlled for.
The research is clear that there are many benefits to being happy besides, well, being happy.
Below, I’ve outlined three proven, simple, and effective habits you can bake into your day to improve day-to-day happiness.
Meet Matthieu Ricard. He’s a Buddhist monk who has the highest observed levels of brain activity associated with happiness. His secret to happiness? A robust meditation practice, which has since been confirmed by multiple studies to improve our mood over time.
Fortunately, you don’t need to adopt the lifestyle of a monk to receive most of the happiness-inducing benefits of meditation. A simple 5 minute daily meditation practice, applied consistently over time, can improve your overall well-being. Meditation may feel a bit woo-woo for some of you. I get that, and used to feel the same way. but gave it a shot, and can speak from personal experience that it works wonders.
Just try spending 5 minutes a day consciously thinking happy thoughts, outwardly directed toward others. Don’t worry about if you’re “doing it wrong.” Approach it non-judgmentally, practice it consistently, and you’re certain to see results.
I’m not a meditation expert, but if you’d like to learn more, a comprehensive guide can be found here.
Consciously expressing gratitude has been scientifically proven to create long-lasting, positive feelings. In a 2003 study conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Berkeley, groups of students who were asked to regularly reflect on what they were grateful for exhibited “heightened well-being.” Over time, gratitude journaling has been associated with improved health and sleep quality, as well as creativity.
It’s really easy to get started. At the beginning or end of your day, simply list 5-10 things you’re grateful for, and spend a few minutes reflecting on them. If you’re like me, what you’ll find is that after a couple weeks of practicing this habit, you’ll find yourself spontaneously experiencing gratitude throughout the day, which has a huge impact on mood.
Shawn Achor, author of the Happiness Advantage, provides a really effective way to condition our brain to experience more happiness. According to Shawn’s research, simply writing down three good things each day, over an extended period of time, can have a profound impact on how we perceive the world around us. This change in our perception heightens our mood. Explains Shawn:
In just five minutes a day, this trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them. At the same time, because we can only focus on so much at once, our brains push out those small annoyances and frustrations that used to loom large into the background, even out of our visual field entirely.
What I find most encouraging is that those in the study who implemented this practice exhibited increased happiness and less depression, even after they had stopped the practice. By subtly rewiring our brain to perceive the world in a more positive manner, positivity recall creates long-term effects on our overall mood.
Our society glamorizes pain and suffering as a justifiable and necessary means toward success. But what the research shows is that not only can happiness and professional success coexist, but that happiness actually drives success.
And even if didn’t, life’s too short to be unhappy all the time, no? So whether you’re interested in improving your mood as a way of getting more done on the job, or just want to increase your overall quality of life, consider testing out one of the above strategies for the next few weeks.
Questions? Feedback? Let me know in the comments!