I have been curious about happiness for 20 years. It began when I noticed that I wasn't unhappy. I also noticed that not being unhappy didn't mean I was happy.
My happy isn't external. I'm not loud or flamboyant about it. I am not always at the beach jumping in silhouette. I'm not a "gusher".
I also don't judge people whose brand of happiness gushes. My happiness stems from being calm. I learned the word "unflappable" from my friend and mentor Barry Neil Kaufman and I like to think I'm pretty skilled at remaining unflappable even when everything around me is in chaos.
I have learned from master meditators like Deepak Chopra and the Hindu monks of Kauai. I've also studied under the PhDs who seem to study the phenomena of happiness far more than they embody it. I became the Chopra Center's resident "happiness expert" and in the words of Oprah "what I know for sure" is that each of us has an individual recipe for boosting our happiness no matter what level we begin with. If you want to be happier or conversely if you want to feel less stressed, anxious or depressed you have to put some effort to it.
If happiness was an equation, it might look like this:
Genetics + Circumstances + Mindset & Ritual = Happiness
Genetics account for up to 50%
Circumstances like having enough food, shelter and not living in fear another 10%
The remaining 40% is entirely up to out thoughts and our actions.
This article will outline seven science-backed areas where you can impact your happiness through regular practice. My personal goal is to teach you how to make the most out of your 40%.
According to a study done in 2009 by Steger et al those who felt a sense of meaning experienced greater life satisfaction, more optimism, and experienced more positive emotion. Meaning and purpose in life correspond with greater overall happiness, better health, resilience and connection to those who share your purpose. I see people becoming confused and thinking that their job has to be purpose-driven. This can be true and certainly is desirable but it can also set unrealistic expectations. Your job doesn't have to be the place your find purpose. Any altruistic activity contributes to a sense of meaning. When searching for purpose and meaning the real question is "What is important to me?"
Rituals for Purpose
Theme of the day/week/month/year- Choose a single word or short phrase to describe the day/week/month/year you want to have. (suggestions like GROWTH, COMPLETION, HARVEST, JOY or MINIMALIST) As you start to get purposeful about smaller segments of time it will act as a stepping stone to your larger purpose.
Write your eulogy- What do you want people to remember you for? Keep it short and sweet.
Describe your ideal self- Include who you are, what you are doing and how it impacts others. Don't edit yourself ot talk yourself out of anything.
Purpose Worksheet- Email firstname.lastname@example.org with Purpose Worksheet in the subject line to receive a helpful worksheet.
Purpose Meditation- Meditation helps you to tap into the wisdom beneath your awareness. Deepak Chopra suggests “Ask what your heart deeply desires and yearns to express and listen quietly for an honest response … don’t fixate on one response.” You can also try this guided meditation.
Positive Social Connection
The people you choose to spend time with can either lift you up or drag you down. Secure relationships allow you to feel that you belong somewhere rather than just fitting in. Relationships that encourage you to flourish are the ones where you feel simultaneously supported and encouraged. Positive relationships buffer anxiety and depression and keep us motivated and engaged. The can also contribute to a personal sense of meaning.
Rituals for Social Connection
These rituals are simple. Choose one or two and schedule them. What gets scheduled gets done.
- Ask a friend to lunch.
- Join a book club.
- Plan a romantic dinner.
- Write a letter to an old friend.
- Host a meetup for your work community.
- Adopt a grandparent.
- Join a sport team.
- Take a class.
- Make a list of 5 people you'd like to know better.
- Use the Questions for Connection to have a conversation scientifically designed to bring you closer. Click here to access the free download.
When you hold on you constrict your ability to experience positive emotion. Positive release is all about letting go of things that get between you and happiness. This includes things like forgiving yourself and others, getting rid of unrealistic expectations, dropping comparison and wanting to change the past. When you release these you open up a field of potential for new opportunities.
Rituals for Release
Celebrate "Let Go" Successes- Make a list of all the big things that you have let go of. Include past break ups, jobs you didn't get, things you tried and failed at, things you wanted to do or be that you no longer want. The longer the list the better. Gather evidence to prove to yourself that you can let go.
List What's Holding You Back- Do you know what's keeping you from letting go? Fear of failure? Limiting belief? Make a list. Then burn it. The only thing that holds you back is your thoughts. Figure out a new way to think and change your ability to move forward.
Create a Personal Affirmation- A phrase like "that was the old me" or " Your actions no longer affect me" can do wonders to get you away from habitual thinking patterns.
When you become curious about how you interact with those around you it opens your ability to see your strengths and your weaknesses. It allows you to understand that different doesn't mean better or worse, different means unique. We are all unique and in order to effectively communicate with others becoming aware of ways you can be the same or different will help honour who you are while also accepting others who are not like you.
Rituals for Self-Knowledge
Personality Assessments- Try any of these personality assessments. I'm hooked on knowing how I am alike and how I am different.
Facial Resting Posture- Get a friend or family member to take candid pictures of your face at rest when you aren't aware they are photographing you. Do you look the way you feel? If not work on having your outer match your inner.
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day what would you want to do today? Obviously you can't live every day ticking items off a bucket list but you can find some joy in every day. For me a walk on the beach is something that brings me great joy and is easy to fit in my day. Think of the small experiences (a good book, a fabulous glass of wine or a walk through the art gallery) that you can weave into your weekly schedule.
Rituals for Experience
Joy Day- Pick something that feels fun and put it on your schedule. I do this every Friday. Choose something that takes a few minutes or a few hours.
Being present and mindful are shortcuts to happiness. Happiness doesn't come from wealth, achievement, and external success. True happiness comes from being comfortable in your own skin without external barometers of success. When you practice mindfulness through either meditation or activity that keeps you present you strengthen your ability to savour the good without getting dragged into the "what ifs" of fear and the "what nexts" of our conditioned ego. Mindfulness is a fancy way of saying 'be present". The benefits of being present include increased resilience, better immunity, pro-social awareness and more happiness coupled with less anxiety/pain/depression.
Here's mindfulness is a nutshell:
INTENTION- Set the stage for what is possible
ATTENTION- Present moment awareness
ATTITUDE- How we pay attention; with acceptance, curiosity, kindness, compassion, self-trust
Rituals for Mindfulness
Learn to Meditate- try an APP like Insight Timer or CALM
Walk Mindfully- Take a walk where you notice the sounds, sights, smells with heightened focus
Listen Mindfully- Have a conversation where you wait for the other person to pause before speaking. Then respond succinctly. Keep an open mind. Let the conversation unfold without and agenda. Ask clarifying questions like "tell me more about that" or "how did that feel".
According to Robert Emmons "Gratitude can potentially satisfy some of our deepest yearnings- our ceaseless quest for inner peace, wholeness and contentment." Gratitude includes both being aware and thankful; when good things happen, fostering a sense of awe and wonder and accepting gratitude when it is given to us without belittling our role. Gratitude forges a bond to socially connect people. It keeps us out of comparison and envy and in the moment. It allows you to be a participator rather than a spectator.
Rituals for Gratitude
3 Good Things- At the end of each day, write down three good things from that day. No good thing is too small.
Gratitude Letter- Write a letter to someone who positively impacted your life that you may not have thanked. Make sure you include what they did, why it was so important and how it impacted you.
Receive Well- Often we are better at giving thanks that we are at receiving it. Take a week to practice receiving gracefully. Don't belittle your role by saying things like "It was nothing." Instead feel the gratitude fully and acknowledge it.
To hit your peak happiness potential, you have to work at it. Neuroscience has shown how much we can change our brain. If you want to be happier you have to flex the happiness muscle more. I'd love to hear your happiness rituals. What do you do regularly that makes a difference in your ability to flourish?
Please comment below or send your tips via email. Together we can spread happiness.