We have been taught that hard work equals success equals happiness. However, what researches are now finding in the field of positive psychology is that the formula is broken. Since our definition of success is always changing, happiness becomes unattainable. For instance, we might tell ourselves we will be happy when we get the job, but after landing the job we then tell ourselves we will be happy when we get the promotion or the new contract, later we tell ourselves we will be happy when we purchase the new car and then when we have the new car we might decide that we will have happiness when we buy a home and then, and then, and then…
As soon as we attain the thing that is sure to make us happy, a new “thing” now promises to give us happiness. It is a never ending and vicious cycle.
Depression rates in the United States are now 10 times higher than they were during the Great Depression. Studies show that these rates are continually increasing and begin at a much younger age, 14 as opposed to 29 1/2 in the 1960’s. We continually put more and more pressure on ourselves and on our children to succeed. Scientist call it a progress paradox which means despite all the technological, medical, and educational advancements we are becoming less and less happy.
Scientists and researchers at Harvard are now finding that the formula is backward and that our minds work the other way around. If you can find a way to get your brain to be happy, success will follow. So then, if we can change (reverse) the formula, we will maximize our brains potential and thus we will have happiness that is not off in the future but rather is now, in the present moment.
So how can we change the formula, how do we make ourselves happy if happiness is not obtained from things and success? It begins with training our minds to look at the world thru a different lens. We have been conditioned throughout our lives to believe a certain way and react on those beliefs. Now it is time that we question our practices and beliefs.
Shawn Achor, a researcher in the field of positive psychology at Harvard, says it requires us to train our brains like athletes. In doing this we increase our abilities of being more optimistic so that when challenges occur our brains are working at their optimal level. He continues to state that science can predict only 10% of a persons long term happiness when looking at external conditions such as the clothes one wears, the money in their bank account, the house one lives in, the car one drives and so on. He goes on to explain that 90% of a persons long term happiness has nothing to do with one’s external world but everything to do with how one’s brain perceives the world.
So if 90% of our happiness is in our control, shouldn’t we spend the time and effort to work on it? The obstacles stopping us from reaching happiness are not a lack of knowledge but rather in not doing what we already know. For instance, we know that exercise helps greatly in reducing depression and in elevating brain function, and yet many of us choose instead to grab a bag of chips and sit in front of the television… neither of which will help to produce happiness for us.
For the first time we have science behind happiness…We can “train” to be happy, we just need to make ourselves and our happiness important enough to do so. We can develop new habits, and studies now confirm that the number one predictor for happiness is quality time spent with family and friends. Exercising, 3 times a week for 30 to 40 minutes, is equivalent to some of our most potent psychiatric drugs in dealing with sadness, depression or anxiety. Gratitude… by choosing to cultivate being thankful for just 3 minutes a day has been proven to increase ones happiness. A gratitude journal is a great way of doing this, and remember, it only takes 3 minutes. Research also shows that by simplifying our lives, doing less rather than more, leads to greater happiness as well.
Happiness is contagious and infectious. Just as throwing a stone into a pond causes a ripple, you yourself can create a beautiful ripple that spreads to many. Studies have shown that just one person can spread happiness to 1000 people. It only takes one person to start a ripple effect and when we choose to start that ripple, we are choosing to spread happiness and in so doing we also become happier.
Just as becoming a great pianist takes practice, so too does it take practice to master happiness. By implementing and practicing these changes in our lives we can dramatically increase our happiness levels. We have the power to develop a higher way of thinking which leads to choosing happiness and in turn results in spreading happiness to others. It’s a win, win situation.