Are You Really Happy?
“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change, its the realization that we can.”
Are you happy? I mean really happy. Not the, “its socially unacceptable to be unhappy, so I’ll fake being happy till I can go home and cry again” happy. My whole life I’ve been told that things will make me happy. Cars, clothes, DVD’s, music, friends, family, money, a good job. Everything that is afforded to me in this life is supposed to make me happy, but for some reason I wasn’t.
Now, that is not to say I was unhappy, very far from it, what troubles me on a daily basis is seeing unhappiness so profound. Spiritual guru’s will often state that the only source of unhappiness in the world is the human mind. A bird will freeze to death on a wire and fall to the ground without ever feeling sorry for itself, yet so many of us struggle just to smile in the morning living with as many comforts as we can surround ourselves with. Being a beacon of joy usually wasn’t my style until I read this book The Happiness Advantage, by Sean Achor.
“Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” -Archimedes
It turns out that for about 10 years now, psychologists have been studying what they call positive psychology. Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement. That’s right, drag ass into the gym and talk about how you made yourself come in today, and let’s see how that workout is going to go. Not very well according to this new data. What the researchers found is astounding:
- Doctors put in a positive mood make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster
- When we are happy, our mindset and mood are positive, we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful
- A group of Nuns all born before 1917 were asked to keep journals. Researchers found 50 years later that the nuns who were more positive in their journal lived on average 10 years longer.
- Unhappy employees take 15 more sick days a year than happy employees.
- Positive emotions help us organize new information, keep it in the brain longer, and help us retrieve it faster later on.
So if we are not happy, how do we become happy? Author Sean Achor says everyone should find at least 5 different ways, here are his.
- Find something to look forward to
- Commit a conscious act of kindness
- Infuse positivity into your surroundings
Now I know you think I just threw that exercise bit in there because of my profession, but there was an astounding study done on people with depression. There were three groups of people studied. One group took medication, another group took medication and exercised, and a third group just exercised. After six months the exercise only group came out on top. They had the highest cure rate, and the least amount of relapse (only 9% compared to 38% and 31% respectively).
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” -Gandhi
One of the problems we have Achor says, is that we are not allowed to utilize our strengths on a daily basis, so a team of psychologists recently catalogued the 24 cross-cultural character strengths that most contribute to human flourishing. They then developed a survey so people can identify their top five. You can go to http://www.viasurvey.org and take the survey for free.
Studies show that we become significantly happier practicing our strengths because we feel like we are contributing something to the world, instead of being stuck in a cubicle all day. Very few people go to work happy every day. They worry about deadlines, meetings, and job titles. We need to forget about job titles and instead wonder what our customers would call our job if they had to describe it by the impact it had on their lives.
“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” -William James
I could go on, but I don’t want to give away the whole book to those that want to read it. It changed some of my viewpoints, and I actually practice of few things he recommends, seeing a noticeable improvement in my daily happiness. The heart of the challenge is to stop thinking of the world as fixed when happiness is, in truth, relative.
Leave a comment below if you have a happiness advantage for the rest of us!