7 Happiness Habits, Backed-by-Science

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Although happiness is a timeless and universal human quest, only in recent years has research turned its focus on how happiness can be sustained and increased. Science has now confirmed that with certain practices, we can change the neural pathways of our brain. Happiness is a set of skills we can learn through practice.

 

pie-chartThe research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with 50% of our happiness level coming from our genes, and as much as 40% from the choices we make and our intentional daily activities. (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005)

 

So, what does this all mean? Putting the 7 habits into daily practice really does affect our happiness…science says!

 

 

 

DAILY HABIT # 1: MINDFULNESS, MINDSET, FOCUS

The Science: Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment, is increasingly recognized in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings.

 

The mind is highly trainable through various mindfulness practices like meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness practices in improving psychological well-being continues to grow exponentially. Just a quick scan of the National Institute of Health’s PubMed database reveals over 500 scientific studies on mindfulness/meditation and the brain!

 

Anyone can stand to benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness — particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterized by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions.

 

The Practice: For the next 24 hours, don’t believe everything you think. Rather, be a selective sifter of your thoughts; it’s possible to observe the fluctuations of the mind without becoming them. Identify your automatic thoughts. Are they positive, negative, fearful – what do you say to yourself when you are not paying attention? PAY ATTENTION to how thoughts make you feel. You alone create your day, thought by thought, choice by choice.

 

DAILY HABIT # 2: GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, LOVE

The Science: Research has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression.

 

Developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias – the tendency to cling to the negative things in our environment. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows. In fact, it only takes 21 days of writing down three things for which you are grateful every day to begin reaping the benefits. Moral of the story? Count your blessings, daily, it has a measurably positive effect on our well-being.

 

The Practice: Gratitude is an orientation that becomes a habit with regular mental rehearsal. Upon waking tomorrow, let your first thought be, “Thank you for this breath.” Notice how saying an “Awakening Appreciation” to yourself, before you even open your eyes, can shift your entire day. For the next week, start each day simply, in appreciation for the gift of life. When you wake with a grateful heart, that feeling of appreciation cascades into the rest of your day, and beyond.

 

DAILY HABIT # 3: BODY WELLNESS, MOTIVATION, SELF-CARE 

The Science:  Happiness is good for your health. And vice versa. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.

 

What’s more, if you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits, such as, exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals.

 

Taking care of your physical wellness may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.

 

The Practice: In a bad mood? Move. Movement is medicine. In fact, did you know that the APA now includes exercise as a proven treatment for depression? “In 2010, the APA finally caught up with Hippocrates, who recommended that all people in a bad mood should go for a walk—and if it did not improve, walk again. Sedentary behavior causes brain impairment, and we know how: by depriving your brain of the flood of neurochemistry that evolution developed in order to grow brains and keep them healthy.”   ~John Ratey

 

In the next 24 hours, get out of your head and into your body more. Think of movement and healthy eating as “happiness triggers” rather than thinking of them as exercise and dieting. What is one “happiness trigger” you will commit to today?

 

DAILY HABIT # 4: COMPASSION, GIVING BACK, ALTRUISM

The Science: Happiness and altruism are intimately linked – doing good is an essential ingredient to being happy, and happiness helps spur kindness and generosity.

 

Research suggests that how we spend our time and resources is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending it on oneself. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”

 

The Practice: In the next 24 hours, do something for someone who can never really repay you.  This can be as simple as reminding someone of their strengths and potential. It’ll surely elevate that person. Notice how it makes you feel, too. When we do good, we feel good.

 

DAILY HABIT # 5: AUTHENTICITY, VULNERABILITY, FORGIVENESS, LETTING GO

The Science: When Dr. Brené Brown conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection, a thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. To be clear, vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be your authentic self. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. When you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance toward life, people will meet you there in that openness, allowing you to experience true connection.

 

Forgiveness is a byproduct of living authentically and vulnerably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error or malintent, but rather a patient encouragement of growth. Practicing forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive; recent research shows that it has tangible benefits for ourselves as well. So the next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own happiness!

 

The Practice: You feel real freedom in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth. Every morning, before the demands of your day steal you away, dedicate a few moments to breathe-in who you truly are. Then, trust this truth to guide you through your day. The moment you stop caring about what other people think and start living by what’s in your heart, is the moment you will finally feel FREE. Remember, “Be you. The world will adjust.”

 

DAILY HABIT # 6: SOCIAL CONNECTION, NATURE CONNECTION, EMPATHY

 The Science: Our busy lives often leave us stretched for time to connect with others, but science suggests that social connection should be tops on our to-do lists. Dr. Emma Seppala from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) says that when connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health, and even increase immunity and longevity.

 

Relatedly, happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those to whom we are connected. Studies show that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. In other words, happiness is contagious! This extends to the 3rd degree of contact (a friend of a friend of a friend).

 

The Practice: In each of us there is a little of all of us. For the next 24 hours, humanize strangers you encounter on the street. Notice, how does your perception of random people change when you treat each as though you are meeting your long lost friend? ”A person experiences life as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion to find the reality of Oneness.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

DAILY HABIT # 7: PURPOSE AND MEANING, STRENGTHS, SOUL

The Science: Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. In fact, science has shown that, “The brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.” ~ Shawn Achor

 

What’s more, researchers have found that the type of work you do is key: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. As Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar says, “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.” In addition to seeking work imbued with a sense of purpose, scientists have discovered that people thrive in environments where their strengths are emphasized. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state, or what psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to long-term meaningful goals.

 

The Practice: Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose. You’re alive for a reason. Find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive today…what if, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning. “

 

 

The science of happiness speaks for itself. But you don’t need science to prove that happiness is found in simple day-to-day habits practiced intentionally over time. Test it for yourself. Sign up today for Project Happiness’ FREE daily habit tips, bridging the science of happiness into strategies for your everyday life: http://projecthappiness.com/happiness-habits-2/

 

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5 Reasons Why it’s Important to Commemorate Special Occasions

 

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“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.” – Brene Brown

Since the dawn of civilization, man has given high priority towards the commemoration of special occasions. We can see this in the pagan rituals conducted by our tribal ancestors during initiations, the ancient Egyptians’ celebrations during the annual harvests, the elaborate coronation ceremonies during the Middle Ages, and the gruesome acts of human sacrificial offerings that were made by the Mayans.

 

The list of the number of rites, rituals and celebrations that the people on our planet partake in is almost endless and incredibly diverse. Commemoration rituals can be as simple as treating ourselves to a spa day after accomplishing something challenging at work to a full blown 3 day wedding extravaganza to share the happiness of our blessed union with our loved ones.

 

All around the world, special events and celebrations like weddings are even led up to with great gusto. The market for invitations, save the dates, and other types of celebration reminders are prolific and extremely popular. In fact there is a ubiquitous industry for the celebration of practically all mainstream holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

 

Every culture, nation and tradition has developed its own unique ways of honoring special occasions. Their customs and traditions are a direct product of their cultural background, history, religious beliefs and even the geography of the region they live in. We see this in religious and cultural festivals around the world like the Carnival in Brazil, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest in Germany and Diwali in India.

 

As eclectic as these practices are, if we take a closer look, we’ll see that there is a common thread of themes that connects each and every one of them. We will see that all of these occasions center on universal human experiences such as love, sadness, joy, reverence, success and sacrifice.

 

No matter which country you visit, you will notice that we all rejoice in the same things, such as a happy relationships, the birth of a child, professional or personal victories and other milestones. Similarly, we all mourn the same things, such as losing a loved one or facing a major setback or disaster.

 

It seems that as a species we are instinctually driven to honour the significant moments in our lives. There are deep underlying needs that drive us to engage in celebrations. As a result, we have found so many wonderful ways to meet these needs and create more meaning in our lives.

 

There are, however, skeptics out there who perceive these celebrations as being fluffy, ostentatious and prodigal. These practical traditionalists view these occasions with an eye of cynicism, preferring to maintain a stance of reticence and living their life in a moderate and simplistic manner.

 

Of course everyone is free to live their life in a manner of their choosing, but they would be missing out on a lot of life’s “goodies” by excluding themselves from participating in gatherings that pay homage to the important milestones in life. Here are some significant benefits that they would miss out on:

 

  1. Cultivating a sense of community:

    One of the most opportune times to bond with our families and friends is during special occasions. Whether we come together to celebrate happy occasions such as a bridal shower or a more sombre occasions such as a funeral, we get a chance to connect with those we love and care about on a deeper and more profound level.

  2. Instilling a sense of meaning and significance to our lives:

    The unique rituals and practices that highlight important milestones such as weddings, graduations or birthdays all serve an important purpose. Participating in the customary rites (cutting cakes and drinking champagne) connects us to the significance of the role that an occasion plays within the grand scheme of our lives. It instills a sense of reverence and appreciation for the gift of life and connects us to a more omnipotent force.

  3. We will create lasting fond memories:

    The human mind tends to recall memories that carry a high emotional charge to them. When we commemorate a special occasion, we are essentially placing a mental bookmark on an experience, thereby making it easier to remember it in the future. The photos, videos and other forms of memorabilia from those occasions serve as triggers that we can use to re-live those pleasant experiences in the future.

  4. It adds fun and excitement to our lives:

    Celebrations can be incredibly fun and provides us with the perfect opportunity to engage in the joys of life such dance, song, food, play and laughter. Who doesn’t look forward to the fun-filled occasions where we can let our hair down and take a break from our mundane existence? The little kid within us still relishes in the excitement of an upcoming celebration and this is an emotion that we deserve to indulge in as adults as well.

  5. We take our place in the circle of life:

    When we commemorate special occasions, we are essentially connecting with our humanity and the commonality that we share with all those who have been long gone before us. We tap into the timelessness of the human spirit when we take the time to pay respect to the important rites of passages that were celebrated by our ancestors in the yesteryears.

 

 

HAPPINESS WITHIN REACH: The Open Secret

I want to be happier

 

“I want to be happier. I just don’t know how.” In my work as Stanford faculty, presenter and leadership coach, I hear this confession from adults, 18-80. We live complex, stressful and often disconnected lives, often bombarded by media that convinces us that buying all kinds of stuff will make us happy, beautiful, successful, prestigious, and even more loveable individuals. Sometimes it does, in the short run. The real problem, however, is that this media-created trance can blunt our quieter universal quest for deeper joy and kindness. But there is very good news. Deep happiness is within reach.

 

By peering into the lives of the happiest people, we can discover the research-based secrets about the quality of “happiness.” What makes the happiest people more joyful and kinder?

 

Let’s begin with your unique life. Take a “time-in” and think about this: What makes you happy? Stop reading, make your complete list, and when ready, place your experiences within these 3 categories:

 

1. SHORT TERM PLEASURES: Feeling the rush of sensory pleasures, such as great food and wine, great sex, sports, entertainment, is terrific. The happiest people intentionally organize their lives so they have time to kick back and enjoy life. But here’s the catch- these experiences are fleeting. We want more, we crave more, and we’re bombarded by media that encourage us to get out there and grab “more” pleasure. But the problem is that our brains have faulty wiring. The harder and stronger that we pursue that great rush of pleasure, the more we want. The more we want, the more unhappy we become. And as unhappiness soaks into our day, the more gratification we seek to avoid the discomfort and find another pleasure jolt. Whether the rush comes from food or drugs; money or prestige; gambling or overwork, this downward cycle inevitably leads to discontent, social comparison, restlessness, depression and even addiction. Enjoy those healthy fun pleasures, but understand that they alone will not result in sustainable happiness and contentment. Sorry!

 

2. FLOW:   Does your “this makes me happy” list include experiences that lead to that zesty feeling of a “YES” fist pump?   Maybe you love untangling complex coding problems, mastering a new level of communication skill or fixing a gnarly machine? This great feeling of accomplishment, called “flow”, sparks curiosity, adds vitality and helps us thrive.   The happiest people deliberately seek out engaging challenging experiences and they love achieving new levels of mastery. But here’s the secret: Those happy folks also know how to fail! Why? Inevitably, the “flow” urge prompts us to take new risks and step out of our comfort zone. And what do we find there? When we outgrow our current competency level, we hit the “don’t know how” zone, which feels like incompetence or a setback. If we stick with it – keep trying, and keep failing, the time will arrive when we mastered the new skill set and we experience the great feeling of flow. The happiest people understand that gaining mastery requires resilience- to bounce back after a setback or failure, and eventually enjoy that great experience of flow.   Nelson Mandela reminds us that “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Flow, being fully engaged, mastery. These are powerful ingredients for deep life satisfaction.

 

3. MEANING: Did your list include connecting with others, offering compassion, being kind to yourself? Meaning is the real sweet spot for the happiest people. Happy people know how to notice and savor the good that surrounds us so often in our day. Think about this – if you hang out in the zone of negativity or threat or stress, you’ll find something to criticize in almost every second. The happiest people chose to be happy – they deliberately focus on and seek the positive benefits of each moment. We call this a positive mindset. But here’s the trick- life is never trouble free. Even the happiest people also struggle and face disappointment and adversity.   They understand that pain is part of life too, and deep meaning and purpose arise when we deliberately reframe life’s difficulties into opportunities for meaning and compassionate action. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, reminds us: “Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Meaning isn’t an abstract or general life principle. It’s a vibrant, deliberate frame of mind that recasts life’s inevitable difficulties into purposeful thought and action.  Almost nothing imbues our lives with meaning and purpose as intensely as when we contribute to the happiness of others and when we treat others and ourselves with kindness and patience. The Dalai Lama teaches,” If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

 

Happiness IS within reach. Enjoy life’s healthy pleasures. Challenge yourself to grow, engage with life and master new accomplishments and skills. Above all, discover your unique capacity to bring greater joy and meaning to your personal life, as well as to the greater good of our communities. When you seek opportunities to help others and heal the world, you’ll find that you will truly flourish as your days will be imbued with wonderful sensual pleasures, inner peace, meaning and purpose. And that’s the open secret to deep, sustainable happiness.