The Truth About Happiness

When asked “what do you want out of life?”, most people reply “happiness”.  Of course everyone wants to be happy…and for good reason too.  According to a study of 275,000 participants, happy people are more productive, healthier, make more money and have higher performance ratings.  Teams with encouraging managers outperform other teams by 31% and people who negotiate with positive emotions during business deals can out negotiate others more easily.  Did you also know that positive emotions expand your visual cortex, cause you to be more verbally creative and increase your intelligence by 3%?

On the other hand, people who are primed with negative emotions get what is called “tunnel vision”.  They have such a narrow focus on the negative that they don’t see all the other wonderful things and opportunities going on around them.  Plus, unhappy employees take 15 more sick days per year than happy employees on average.

What would it take to make you happy?  Finish this sentence; “I will be happy when …”.  My guess is that like many people, your answers would be something like: when I retire, when I have more money, when my kids are happy, when I have more time, when I lose weight, when I get in better shape, or when I own a home.  We tell ourselves that when we arrive at a certain destination…then we will finally be happy!

What really happens is we set a goal and generate a vision in our heads of how wonderful the moment will be when we finally achieve it.  Our mind exaggerates how it thinks we might feel when we reach our destination.  There is great anticipation and joy as we get closer and closer to our achievement but what happens when we finally get there?  Think of a time when you set a big goal for yourself and actually achieved it. Was that moment as momentous and climactic as you thought it would be?  For some of us, that moment may very well have been as glorious as we had dreamed…but often times we have thought “this is not what I thought it would be like”.  Why is that?  Why do our minds play tricks on us like that?

The good news is there is a secret formula that the happiest people on the planet all seem to know.  Actually, I think that the majority of us already know the formula deep down, we just haven’t applied it to our lives for a variety of reasons (that’s a whole other topic).  Here are 8 traits that happy people share:

  1. Spend your focus on the here and now. Do not dwell on worries about the future or the guilt and regret from the past.  Many of us believe that if there is some sort of disaster and we lose all our “stuff”, we will be broken and finished forever.  The truth however, is that when these things do happen, yes it is crushing and devastating in the moment…but we get over it a lot quicker and bounce back a lot stronger than we think we will.  Sometimes the worst things that could possibly happen to us turn out to be the best things to ever happen to us. So stop worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet!  Was there a time in your life when the rug was pulled out from under you and you were knocked to your knees?  Were you thinking “this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me, my life is over”?  When you look back, do you see how you may have been over thinking the situation? How much better are you as a person now as a result of that tragic event?
  2. Look at the world through a positive lens.  Have you ever noticed that things seem to go more smoothly for the people with a glass is half full worldview?  There are way too many Debbie Downers who waste their breath on negative words.  These people have been exposed to the same negative patterns over and over throughout their lives and are stuck in a cycle of negativity. Not all of us are programmed to look at the world in a positive way and so, we need to retrain our brains to be more optimistic.
  3. Exercise!  You don’t have to join a gym…just do something to break a sweat and get your heart rate up. I don’t need to go into all the science and studies behind the benefits of exercise with you because I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.  All I will say is that exercise decreases depression and is KEY to happiness.
  4. Do nice things for other people.  Doing something nice for a family member or friend is great.  Doing something nice for a stranger is even better!  It decreases stress, deepens your amount of social support, trains your brain to scan the world for the positive and helps you understand how you can affect change in the world.
  5. Build strong relationships.  You absolutely MUST be socially connected to other people.  Did you know that you are 30 times more likely to laugh when with other people than when on your own?  Don’t become psychologically isolated.  Instead, push yourself to reach out for quality relationships and it will bring you joy to your life.
  6. Find meaning in your life.  I know, this is easier said than done for a lot of people but finding meaning helps you make sense of your own world.  Who are you? Why are you here? What are you good at? What is important to you? If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?  What is your life mission statement? How are you a better person because of negative things that have happened in your life? What are you instilling in the people around you on a regular basis?
  7. Demonstrate gratitude on a regular basis.  This concept is a fundamental part of happiness.  People who daily write down what aspects of their life they are thankful for often have more energy, are more forgiving, are less depressed, are more emotionally intelligent, sleep better and have less headaches.
  8. Meditate. Find a quiet space to just sit and be silent for a few minutes.  Close your eyes and breath naturally.  The idea behind meditation is to practice focusing your attention. Some will focus on their breathing or body functions, others will zero in on sounds, some will choose an emotion, while others will turn it into a spiritual experience and use it as an opportunity to pray.  Whatever your purpose for meditation, don’t worry or stress about whether or not you’re “doing it right”.  Figure out what works for you and go with it and make it a positive experience!

Remember, happiness leads to success and not the other way around.  Your behavior matters and you are in control of your own happiness.  If you can take charge of that aspect of your life, success will come your way!