At the gym, I’ve been listening to a Calm mindfulness app masterclass called “Discovering Happiness.” The presenter is world-renowned happiness expert, Dr. Shaun Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage (and his new book, Big Potential). At the end of the podcast, Dr. Achor shares five scientifically-proven strategies for increasing your happiness level. In effect, each of these strategies is a Happiness Habit because you can do them repeatedly– for the rest of your life!
One of Dr. Achor’s strategies that I’ve been using daily for almost two weeks now is the Gratitude Happiness Strategy, which takes only two minutes per day. I am amazed how well it works! I’ll be sharing more about it at the end of this article. But, for now, let’s take a look at personal happiness levels and what the research says about them.
Are You Feeling Less Happy Lately?
A couple of weeks ago I found myself feeling sad and discouraged – even tearful at times. I was easily distracted. It was hard to focus. I wasn’t getting enough done, and I just wasn’t myself. I realized that I wasn’t feeling very happy. Quite frankly, it was a bit scary.
I decided I better do something to turn things around! So, even though I had listened to the “Discovering Happiness” podcast a couple of months ago, I listened to it again. In fact, I listened to the five strategies part of the podcast two more times and started doing a daily gratitude exercise.
And then the politically-motivated pipe bomb mailings occurred last week all across the U.S. And, just a few days later, another mass shooting occurred – this time in Pittsburgh.
Re-listening to the podcast – and implementing the Gratitude Happiness Habit – helped keep me centered and focused last week. Despite last week’s discouraging news, I felt calmer, more focused, and happier than I did two weeks ago. To my surprise, I also noticed that I was more productive and successful in meeting my goals.
How Prevalent is Unhappiness?
I was curious if others had been feeling like I was feeling. So, last week I started paying close attention to social media posts, and I also did some research on happiness.
On one of my social media groups, a member posted last Thursday that she was just “down” all day and couldn’t shake the feeling. Dozens of others responded that they were feeling the same way. A group member who suffers from chronic pain responded that both her chiropractor and pain management therapist told her that a lot more people are currently seeking their services because of elevated levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and physical pain.
A recent American Psychological Association article about “political stress” reports that many Americans are worrying about the future of our nation. NBC reported in May, 2018, that major depression is on the rise in all age groups, but most strongly among young adults.
If you feel more weary, pessimistic, unhappy, stressed, depressed, or anxious – or in more physical pain – than usual, you’re not alone. Certainly, stress-related emotional and physical illnesses are on the rise. Happiness levels are down.
So, what can we do to be happier?
The Happiness Habit –Nature or Nurture?
You might think that people are either happy or unhappy. To some extent, that’s true. People tend to be predisposed genetically toward low, medium, or high levels of happiness.
But, wait! Genetics is only part of the formula for achieving happiness!
Researchers in the field of positive psychology (otherwise known as “the science of flourishing”) report that:
- 50% of happiness is determined by genetics.
- Only 10% of happiness is based on circumstances.
- A whopping 40% of happiness is based on habits!
Positive psychology scientists have demonstrated through numerous studies that, to a high degree, happiness is within your control. But, just like developing optimum sleep and eating habits, developing an optimum happiness level requires daily practice.
What we spend our time and mental energy focusing on really can become our reality – Shaun Achor
Getting Started – the Gratitude Happiness Habit
Of the five strategies for discovering happiness that Dr. Achor suggests, I decided this is the one on which I wanted to focus: Identify three NEW things for which you are grateful each day for 21 days AND state WHY you are grateful for those things.
Thinking about something that I am grateful for has been part of my mindfulness practice for a while. But I was practicing gratitude only when I happened to think about it – perhaps once per week or two days in a row at times. I was usually thankful for the same things – e.g., my health, family, and job.
Interestingly, when positive psychology researchers asked research participants to name three things for which they are grateful each day for 21 days, they usually answered the same three things! After analyzing the data, researchers found that repeating the same things each day was not very effective in raising happiness levels. That’s why Dr. Achor suggests three NEW things each day.
By digging deeper and coming up with three NEW things for which I’m grateful each day, I’ve found that I’m grateful for things that I never thought about previously:
- Doing yard work for my neighbor since she does not have the financial resources to pay for yard help and can’t do it herself. I feel good when I give back to others.
- Having a cat that is healthy and offers unconditional love. Who doesn’t want and need unconditional love?
- Having good use of both hands. Just think of the things you couldn’t do if you didn’t have use of two hands!
- Having an exercise buddy to meet five days per week. It helps me get out of bed and to the gym!
Gratitude – a Daily Happiness Habit
During the first few days I did the gratitude exercise, it took me longer than two minutes to come up with three NEW things for which I am grateful. I think that’s because my brain is not yet grateful for so many LITTLE things that truly do make me happy.
And perhaps what happened was that my neural pathways automatically migrated to doom and gloom daily news. Therefore, I just wasn’t being very grateful! But now, I’m finding myself coming up with three NEW gratitude thoughts each morning in two minutes or less.
Finally, I think that one of the reasons my happiness level is higher is that I am remembering the three “gratitude thoughts” one or more times during the day or before I go to bed at night!
Training for Happiness
If we truly want to be happy, we need to train our brains to be grateful for NEW things every day – ideally, for the rest of our lives! Researchers have found that the longer we implement daily happiness habits, the more our happiness increases.
Brain training is similar to body training – e.g., doing cardio or strength-building exercises. In order to keep the body in shape, we need to exercise at least three times per week! As you may have already guessed – doing cardio exercise at least three times per week is also one of Dr. Achor’s five strategies for increasing happiness!
I’ll write more about exercise and Dr. Achor’s other happiness strategies in my next blog post!
Do You Want the Happiness Habit?
If so, we recommend that you first become more aware of your current happiness level. These surveys can help you get more insight into your specific “happiness set-point”:
Once you get your results, we suggest that you go ahead and try the Gratitude Happiness Habit strategy for the next 21 days.
If you have trouble coming up with three things each day that for which you are grateful, we recommend that you download the Calm app November (2018) calendar here: https://blog.calm.com/relax/30-days-of-gratitude.
Developing the Happiness Habit – or any habit – takes time, patience, and support! Reach out to your family and friends for support. If you think you may need a coach for that extra boost, please Contact Us for a free 30-minute consultation to learn how our coaching programs work!
A very happy November and Thanksgiving to you and yours!