Are you happy with your level of happiness?
If not, do you know what you need to do to be happy?
People have been asking the question of how to be happier since the beginning of time and yet they still don’t teach it in school so a lot of us don’t have the first clue on how to create lasting happiness.
Here’s what most don’t understand. Happiness is a skill that can be learned and like any skill it gets easier and better with practice.
I'm going to share 5 things you can do to increase your happiness but first, a little foundation on the psychology of happiness.
Part of the problem in our quest for happiness is that our brain leads us astray. Positive psychology has identified 2 parts to your brain. One runs controlled processes and the other runs automatic processes.
Controlled processes are limited and we can really only think consciously about one thing at at time. Automatic processes run in parallel and can handle many operations at once, such as regulating heartbeat, hormone production, energy metabolism, etc.
The oldest part of our brain runs under our automatic processes and its main focus is on survival and it’s wired for things like food and sex. Anytime we eat food or have sex we get a burst of dopamine.
Dopamine gives us pleasure and we seek more of it. The problem is this pleasure is fleeting. This is true for little things and big things.
You eat food, you’re happy, you return to your previous state of happiness. You have sex, you're happy, you return to your previous state of happiness. You check your facebook, you have new likes, you’re happy, you return to your previous state of happiness.
You dream about a promotion, you get it, you are super psyched for maybe a day, 2 if you’re lucky, and you return to your previous state of happiness. You prepare for a big presentation, you nail it, you are super stoked for a day or 2, and more often than not you’re left with the feeling of, what next?
So for many of us happiness is short lived and we’re always chasing our next hit of dopamine.
We always think, once I have….., I’ll be happy. It’s the hedonic treadmill in the pursuit of happiness and we never get to the level we want.
Enjoy the Journey
There’s a principle from positive psychology called the Progress Principle. The Progress Principle tells us that pleasure comes more from making progress toward our goals than from achieving them.
So the key is to learn to enjoy the journey.
Learn to get the pleasure from accomplishing daily actions that will get you to your big goals. Big goals are good and we want to achieve them. Just understand that if that’s your only focus you’re missing out on a big chunk of happiness in your life.
Now that you have a foundation for happiness here are 5 things you can do to create lasting happiness in your life.
Gratitude - probably one of the most researched things that you can do to increase your happiness. Start each day writing down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. Don’t just rush through them. Spend a few moments on each thing you are grateful for, close your eyes and think of it, and really feel the positive emotions. Happiness can be a physical sensation and with practice you will build this up.
Meditation - when I first heard about mediation it was definitely on the fringe and considered more of a hippy thing. Meditation has gone mainstream and several large companies have mediation rooms and teach meditation to their employees. Famous actors, professional sports coaches/players, hedge fund managers, and the marines all use mediation. It’s almost as mainstream as jogging. Consistency is key. It’s better to do 5 minutes daily than an hour once a week.
Morning Sun - Try to get outside every morning and get sunlight on your body. UV-A light from AM sun interacts with tyrosine in your eye to make dopamine and tryptophan to make serotonin. Better living through chemistry and you can’t beat the sun. If you wear glasses put them up on your head (if you can safely do so) because glass blocks UV light.
Challenge - some people avoid challenge and that’s a big mistake. Learning to take on new challenges is key to creating high levels of happiness. The key is to slightly push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you get comfortable then it’s time to push yourself again. This leads to massive growth and lots of happiness along the way. Your skill level grows, you feel more competent, and you get the added bonus of increased confidence!
Connection - humans are social animals and crave connection. One of the commonalities of the Blue Zones (areas with high percentages of centenarians) are strong connections to family and friends. Anytime you increase your connection with people you increase your level of happiness. Facebooking doesn’t count! Visit someone in person or pick up the phone and call them and you’ll be glad you did :)