3 Steps to Happiness and Success

Some of the biggest potholes on the road to happiness come from bad advice from self-help “experts.” 

But here are three scientifically proven steps to being happier.  And since happiness causes success in other areas, not the other way around, these could be the most important tasks you perform.

 

Give Thanks

People who write down three things they’re grateful for and the reason those things happened show a 50 percent drop in medical claims over six months compared to a control group who journaled about nothing in particular (Emmons & McCullough). 

So get a notebook and write down three things you’re thankful for one day a week. If you’re a digital type, then go to www.thankfulfor.com.  There you can post (private or public) gratitudes.  They even have an iPhone app to make giving thanks all the easier.

 

Record Your Acts of Kindness

On another day of the week, write down two things you did for others out of kindness.  Studies show that reflecting on your own good deeds will lower blood pressure and put you in a better mood.  Plus, you’ll start to look for opportunities to do little acts of kindness, even as simple as smiling at a stranger.

 

Walk

A casual stroll of just 10 or 15 minutes can set you in a much better mood.  Do this three days a week. 

There.  Three free, simple acts to make you happier, healthier, and more successful. 

The Tea Party’s Real Purpose Is . . .

We talk about liberty, limited government, freedom, Constitutional principles, and the like. Those are all relevant to the purposes of the conservative grassroots movement.  But are they ends?  Or are they just means?

I believe they are means.  In the founders’ writings we find clues to the end, even they don’t state it explicitly.  Jefferson did.  Jay came close.  And Adams implicitly understood that end. 

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Let me ask this: what’s the point of all the work we did in the past two years?  I mean, some of us lost friends, homes, financial security, jobs, and family relationships over this tea party thing.  Some of us switched careers. 

Why?  Why go through this?

If the end is good government, then by what yardstick do we measure “good government?” And what sane person would put himself out for a better government in Washington?

In the end, we are doing this for ourselves as individuals and for our family and community.  We are doing this to improve our own lives, and with ours, everyone’s.  But, again, to what end?  How do we measure better lives?

The answer is in the Declaration and in dozens (if not hundreds) of writings from around the time of the American Revolution.  It involves a state of mind and a state of being, not a station or a title.

Find for that end, pursue that end, and demand that government permit you to pursue that end.  You’ll end up fighting for precisely what the Tea Party came about to promote. But you’ll recognize those things as means, not ends. 

Finally, let me put it this way: if all of our stated objectives are met and we’re still miserable, we will have failed. 

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

2 Ways to Make Christmas Season Happier

Is it better to give or to receive?

Before you answer, let’s look at some of the science behind giving. Then let’s look a little deeper.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies the psychology of happiness. About a decade ago, Dr. Fredrickson announced a formula for creating an “upward spiral” of happiness.  In other words, she identified what it takes to have happiness breed happiness.  The formula applies to individuals, families, groups, and even companies.

The baseline formula requires three good experiences to every bad experience.  If three-fourths of your interactions with a spouse are positive, your marriage will last. If less, it will fail.  If your best employees have more than three positive experiences at work for every bad experience, they will stay. Otherwise, they will leave.  Same for your customers.

Once you’ve established that baseline, there are things you can do start the upward spiral.  Yes, you can intentionally drive up the happiness index in your life.  First, though, let’s look at a simple way to get to that 3 to 1 baseline.

Writing down three things you’re grateful for every day, and an account for who or what is responsible, will elevate your happiness, according to several studies.  I heard about these studies from Dr. Shawn Achor who led positive psychology studies at Harvard until very recently.  If you’d like to use a convenient online journal for this, try www.thankfulfor.com.  It even lets you share your gratitude with the world on facebook or twitter if you choose.

The reason writing down gratitudes works to elevate your happiness is because it forces you to be on the lookout for positive experiences.  In other words, there are good things happening to you or around you all the time, but culture and work and school have trained us to ignore good things and look for problems to fix or complain about. 

Write down three things you’re grateful for five days a week for three weeks.  See if you don’t start noticing more and more positive things in your life.

This practice alone, though, probably won’t kick off the upward spiral.  That’s because being kind to others is far more powerful than having kindness done to us.  What’s more important than doing good works, though, is acknowledging them. 

The next step in the upward spiral, then, is to add two acts of kindness to your gratitude journal.  These are two acts of kindness you did for others that day. 

You can see what’s happening here, can’t you?  The gratitude exercises forces you to stop and take note of the good things in your life without ignoring the problems.  The kindness journaling requires that you actually perform two acts of kindness at least five days a week.  (If you want to be a self-serving jerk on weekends, go right ahead.)

The whole exercise takes about three minutes a day.  If you start today and continue these exercises through Christmas, the positive effects will last to Independence Day 2011. That’s according to research that has been replicated by Dr. Martin Seligman of Pennsylvania University’s Positive Psychology department. 

Finally, one of my gratitudes today:  I am thankful that you read my blog and will try this fun and happy exercise. 

Merry Christmas!

How Happiness Makes You Better

Earlier, I wrote about a little trick for making your day a little happier than it otherwise would have been. Now, there are a lot of reasons why I should wish to make you happier. But I have to admit that there’s something in it for me.

No, I don’t get 3 cents every time someone registers on ThankfulFor.com.  But as a member of several grassroots organizations trying to change America, I want my teammates to be in the best possible spirits.  For one thing, happier people are usually more fun to be around. More importantly, though, science tells us that happier people perform better.

The Physician Study

Happiness improves mental (cognitive) task performance. In one study, doctors were given a test. The physicians had to diagnose conditions based on symptoms as quickly as possible. They were graded on speed and accuracy. But first, the doctors were segmented into 3 groups. Group A was primed for happiness. Group B was primed for cognition by reading descriptions of the very diseases they were about to diagnose. Group C was not primed at all.

The results?

Groups B and C performed about the same. But the doctors primed to be happy blew them both out of the water. Group A was 50 percent fast and 80 percent more accurate. So if you're sick, find the happiest doctor, not the smartest one.

And How Does This Apply to the Grassroots?

Over a year ago, I started drawing a rough chart of how our moods should change over time:

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When we started on February 27, 2009, we were full of anger.  Our solutions were very simple: gather and shout. 

By election day 2010, we need to be mostly solutions.  Solutions are much more difficult to advance than anger is to express.  That’s why a lot of people feel lost and argumentative right now.  In fact, I think some folks are resisting the change from high anger to high solutions. That’s understandable, too.  But it’s not good enough.

For the rest of 2010, we need to execute a strategy that results in more people voting for liberty than for despotism.  That requires everyone on the right being on top of his or her game.  Like the doctors who were 50 percent faster and 80 percent more accurate, must execute with minimal friction. Anger and in-fighting are the worst kind of friction.

So try happiness for 21 days.  If you don’t like it, you can also get pissed off at me and return it for a full refund of rancor. But I know you’ll like happy better. 

How to Be Happier

Happiness is a choice; anger is a tactic.

Anger will have to wait for a future post.  This one is about happiness. So let me ask: would you do something that took less than a minute if that something would make you happier?

Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania’s school of Positive Psychology has broken down happiness in more scientifically measurable components:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Purpose

Other research has shown how to increase your happiness score.  Before we discuss that, though, let’s dispel some notions.

When we talk about increasing your happiness, we don’t mean eliminating the bad or troubled things in your life. What we mean is increasing the happiness.  You can be despite your troubles—look at Job and Mother Teresa. 

Nor do we mean that you will rate yourself as “Hap- Hap- Happy!” if someone asks, “How you doin’?”

Before you wander away, though, consider this: if you do this thing for 30 seconds to a minute every day, early in the morning, at each point during the day, after each interaction, you will be happier than you’d have been if you hadn’t done this simple thing. 

Even better, if you do this for 21 days in a row, the effects will last for six months. 

Now, are you ready to be happier? Then here’s how. 

Every morning, write down five things your thankful for. 

That’s it.  If you want to get a reminder, register here and they’ll send you an email if you go twenty-four hours without recording things you’re thankful for.

This works by instructing your subconscious mind to notice and note things that are positive.  These could be very little things, like a little boy trying to close the tailgate of a very large SUV. 

As you catalog more and more positive things in your life, you’ll arm yourself with more and more solutions.  But if you only recognize problems, then you’re armed with more and more problems.

Try this for twenty-one days.  If you’re not satisfied, post comment.  If you are satisfied post a comment.

BONUS:  If you really want to make a difference, consider sharing the things you’re grateful for.  Tweet them or post them on facebook.  ThankfulFor.com makes this easy.

Zen to Done: Learning the Dream

ra100998.jpgFeeling confident, relaxed, and complete is a dream. Many people believe it's an impossible dream.  I'm learning otherwise. I'm into my third month of acquiring positive habits with Leo Babauta's Zen to Done method.  At the same time, I'm working the 30 day challenge.  What I've learned so far is that I hold onto too much.

  • I carried around anger and frustration over missed goals and failed or abandoned projects
  • I vilified good people (in my mind) because I wanted to get my way all the time about everything
  • I sabotaged myself by trying to do everything anyone asked of me
  • I was afraid to look weak, and that fear weakened me

The faultering economy, no doubt, led me to Zen Habits, which led me to Zen to Done, which led me to "The Power of Less," which led me to the Sedona Method, which led me here.  I plan to keep going.  You can, too.  Misery might love company, but awakening bliss loves it more.  The difference is that bliss can take being alone but misery cannot.

Here's my prescription for anyone who feels weak, overwhelmed, over-burdened, tired, angry, wronged, hurt, behind schedule, afraid, or lonely:

  • Today: Visit Zen Habits and poke around once this weekend
  • Week 1:  Commit to visiting Zen Habits once a day for 20 minutes 3 days next week
  • Week 2:  Visit The Power of Less for 20 minutes 3 days and decide if you'd like to read the book
  • Week 3:  Buy "The Power of Less" and read it.  (It took me only two days to read it, but I read fast)
  • Week 4:  Join the 30 Day Challenge to adopt any good habit you desire

In just 4 weeks you'll be on your way to a fuller life with less.  It's a better way to live.  Many people around will thank you for the commitment.

*UPDATE*  The Power of Less is now #47 on Amazon's Hottest Releases list.  Congratulations, Leo!