Happy New year to you all!
Its been a while since my last post so I thought I would share with you some self development work I’m doing directly as a result of trying to understand research about what gives people feelings of happiness.
‘Happy’ is defined in the New Oxford American dictionary as:
‘A feeling or showing pleasure or contentment’
In Shawn Achors book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ he presents findings from research into what makes people happy as opposed to the more researched questions about what makes people unhappy. He talks extensively about how shifting the way we think about things contributes to our general feelings of happiness .It may surprise you that according to research, only 10% of our total happiness comes from our external circumstances. Today what I wanted to share with you is the concept of a ‘happiness baseline’. Can we raise our own levels of feeling happy by actively doing something about it if happiness does come from the inside out?
According to Shawn and research, yes we can! We have more control over our well-being than scientists previously believed. We will all normally fluctuate between up and down on a baseline but it is believed that we can raise this baseline higher so everything will be at a higher level. Scientists believe that some of the big ways to shift our thinking are through:
Pursuing meaningful life goals
Scanning the world for opportunities
Cultivating an optimistic and grateful mindset
Holding onto rich social relationships
However there are some small proven changes we can make in our everyday lives that can improve our moods and raise our levels of happiness and if performed habitually over time. These are activities ( we choose to actively do them!) that you personally do that lift your spirits and put you into a more positive mindset. You might have some that do this for you already , such as going for a run or a creative pursuit. Here are some other scientifically proven ways to raise your baseline to have a try at:
Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy. Never meditated before? Try Headspace for a free trial of mindfulness practice or look for mindfulness/meditation groups in your local area.
Finding something to look forward to
Plan something good- Anticipating future rewards can actually light up the pleasure centres in your brain when you think about the event.
Commit Concious acts of Kindness
Giving to friends or strangers decreases stress and contributes to positive mental health. eg pick one day a week and plan 5 concious acts of kindness e.g. buying a coffee for someone behind you waiting or writing to someone you know and telling them how much you appreciate them, bake or make something for your neighbour or remove the rubbish from their front garden.
Infuse positivity into your surroundings
Decorate your desk with positive quotes , watching less TV and less negative TV, putting things away that feel negative, getting outside during the working day at least once if you work indoors.
Exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins. It is a mood lifter. Get moving somehow – walk, bike, run, stretch, play, jump!
Spend money (but not on stuff)
Spending money on experiences, especially ones with others produces positive emotions that are both meaningful and long lasting. Spending money on others also boosts happiness. Are you spending money on things or experiences? how much pleasure do your purchases give you and for how long?
Exercise a signature strength
Everyone is good at something- when we use a skill we are good at we experience a burst of positivity. Even more fulfilling than a skill is exercising a strength of character which is deeply embedded in who we are. Check out this Signature Survey test to find out some of your strengths if you don’t already know some and try using one each day for a week. Try and get into the habit of actively using these.
Currently I am trying to actively raise my happiness baseline through cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Each night I write down 3 things that I’ve felt grateful for that day. From small things to big things I have found that I feel positive when I go to sleep each night after scanning through my day with a positive reflection.
A couple of years back i tried the #100happydays Challenge . A #trend which i saw on Facebook and could not understand. The idea is that you find one thing that makes you feel happy and take a picture of it and do this for 100 days . Over a matter of a few days a strange thing happened. The more I documented my happy feeling through the act of taking a picture of it the more I noticed in my body the feeling of ‘happy’.
Right, I’m off to increase my happiness baseline by running round the harbour with my friend —–its pretty icy out there, i feel a bit slug like, but in pursuit of happiness- here goes it!!!!
Id really encourage you all to read ‘The Happiness Advantage’ for yourselves. Its all about neuroscience and is extremely positive and empowering. It encourages us at any age to pursue new habits of thinking and reap the benefits of our brains changing and adapting because they wonderfully can!