As we are in the season of thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting on gratitude, abundance, and happiness. I recently watched a program on PBS entitled, “The Happiness Advantage”. Shawn Achor, a researcher on the science of positive psychology, spoke about his findings regarding the ability to experience more happiness in our lives.
In his presentation, Achor suggested that we tend to think that by accomplishing success and wealth we will ultimately find happiness. We think if good things happen to us (external factors) that we will see the happiness for which we yearn (internal joy). However, just the opposite is true. We find happiness by first working with our internal thoughts and attitudes. As we do this, the external begins to manifest events that bring us joy. The reality of finding and maintaining happiness in our lives is in understanding that we need to make a mental shift – literally change our brain. By engaging in some very simple daily acts and creating a source of positive habits in our lives, we can fundamentally shift to living in contentment and joy.
Here are five easy steps that Shawn Achor offers as a way of making that mental/brain shift in our lives:
1. Practice Three Gratitudes. Identify three specific events or things that have happened in the last 24 hours for which you can be grateful. By doing this practice your brain is actually lighting up when you are thinking and re-living that experience. By expressing a sense of gratitude for a particular experience you are in essence imprinting that experience as a positive one in your mind. He suggests
doing this activity for 21 straight days.
2. Journal. Journal or write down at least one positive experience. This act of writing, like stating something out loud, reinforces the brain’s belief. Anytime you are activating more than one of your senses, you are building neuron connections when you go beyond just thinking. You reinforce by the sound of your voice (which is why declaring positive affirmations can be literally life changing), and this is also done by the act of writing (or typing).
3. Exercise. The physical movements we add into our daily lives are also reinforcements to our brain. In the PBS special, Achor recommended adding three more smiles to your day. Smile at anyone you meet. By adding more smiles to your face your brain will register an additional level of the happiness ‘juice’ – dopamine. He suggested that if smiling feels like it may break your face, hold a pencil (horizontally not vertically) in your mouth to cause the corners of your mouth to go up. Additionally, the advantage to smiling is you get smiles back. Your actions are often mirrored right back to you.
4. Meditation. We need quiet time to focus and give thoughtfulness to our lives. This quiet refocusing is crucial to finding happiness. You can only rid the anxiety you feel by quieting the mind and focusing on what you desire.
5. Random Acts of Kindness. Achor recommended sending an email or connecting by a telephone call to someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances. This is not done via a FACEBOOK post. You need to send a personal note to someone you know. Spending even just two minutes connecting to that person will ignite dopamine in your brain again. Not only that, but your circle of real friends will start to expand and grow!
Achor acknowledged that most of us will say “I know all this stuff — this is nothing new!” But KNOWING is not the same thing as DOING! If you apply even one of these five techniques, you will find that your happiness scale may actually start to change. If you want to see huge changes then act on these recommendations for a minimum of 21 days.
View Shawn Achor’s ideas on gaining happiness to your life:
Or read his books: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (2010) and Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change (2013)
Here’s to happiness, gratitude, and abundance,