TIME Books

4 Books That Will Make You Happy And Successful

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What is the good life?

That’s the primary question I’m trying to answer with this blog.

Shortcuts and lifehacks are great. Surprising trivia is nice. But how can we really live great lives? I don’t have time for much less.

And I don’t like corny fluff. I want answers backed by research, expertise or deep insight.

Here are four books that really helped me. And I think they’ll help you too.

 

Find Direction In Life

What is it?

Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?

What did I learn from it?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen combines personal experience and MBA principles to provide a path for good life choices.

Confused about a rational but ethical way to find your life’s purpose? What your five year goals are? This is the book for you.

Video:

(Short on time? Just watch from 7:50-11:34 mins.)

Check it out here.

 

Be Happier

What is it?

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

What did I learn from it?

5 hugs a day makes you a happier person. We often pick the easy, lazy choice but it’s the challenges in life that bring joy.

These and many other great insights you can use every day to increase your smile-to-frown ratio.

Video:

This one is a very thorough overview of happiness research. Settle in to cover all the big points. Need a quicker version? Read this.

Check it out here.

 

Be A Good Person Who Succeeds

What is it?

Wharton professor Adam Grant‘s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

What did I learn from it?

People who give to others often get exploited and end up at the bottom of the heap. Not surprising.

But givers also come out at the top of the heap: happier, more successful and loved.

Adam Grant’s well-researched book provides a strategy for being the latter: a good person who succeeds due to their kindness.

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 42 seconds in to 4:02.)

Check it out here.

 

Have A Happy Family

What is it?

Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More

What did I learn from it?

Feiler does an excellent job of rounding up the latest research on what makes loving families thrive.

He gives surprising insights (kids should decide their own punishments), supports things we know in our hearts (grandmothers make a huge difference) and provides strategies you never would have thought of (the project management system used at the office can also help at home.)

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 5:38 to 8:28.)

Check it out here.

 

Sum Up

Again, they are:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Which books can teach you how to be the best you?

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How to Be a Genius: 5 Secrets From Experts

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Want to know how to be a genius? There are five things you can learn from looking at those who are the very best.

 

1) Be Curious And Driven

For his book Creativity, noted professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did interviews with 91 groundbreaking individuals across a number of disciplines, including 14 Nobel Prize winners. In 50 Psychology Classics Tom Butler-Bowdon summed up many of Csikszentmihalyi’s findings including this one:

Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor.

 

2) It’s Not About Formal Education. It’s Hours At Your Craft.

Do you need a sky-high IQ? Do great geniuses all have PhD’s? Nope. Most had about a college-dropout level of education.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

Dean Keith Simonton, a professor at the University of California at Davis, conducted a large-scale study of more than three hundred creative high achievers born between 1450 and 1850—Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Beethoven, Rembrandt, for example. He determined the amount of formal education each had received and measured each one’s level of eminence by the spaces devoted to them in an array of reference works. He found that the relation between education and eminence, when plotted on a graph, looked like an inverted U: The most eminent creators were those who had received a moderate amount of education, equal to about the middle of college. Less education than that—or more—corresponded to reduced eminence for creativity.

But they all work their butts off in their field of expertise. That’s how to be a genius.

Those interested in the 10,000-hour theory of deliberate practice won’t be surprised. As detailed in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, the vast majority of them are workaholics.

Via Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

In fact, you really can’t work too much.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

If we’re looking for evidence that too much knowledge of the domain or familiarity with its problems might be a hindrance in creative achievement, we have not found it in the research.

Instead, all evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, amassed tremendous knowledge of it, and continually pushed themselves to the front of it.

 

3) Test Your Ideas

Howard Gardner studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud and Stravinsky and found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing and feedback used by all of them:

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

…Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

Does testing sound like something scientific and uncreative? Wrong. The more creative an artist is the more likely they are to use this method:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

In a study of thirty-five artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi found that the most creative in their sample were more open to experimentation and to reformulating their ideas for projects than their less creative counterparts.

 

4) You Must Sacrifice

10,000 hours is a hell of a lot of hours. It means many other things (some important) will need to be ignored.

In fact, geniuses are notably less likely to be popular in high school. Why?

The deliberate practice that will one day make them famous alienates them from their peers in adolesence.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

…the single-minded focus on what would turn out to be a lifelong passion, is typical for highly creative people. According to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who between 1990 and 1995 studied the lives of ninety-one exceptionally creative people in the arts, sciences, business, and government, many of his subjects were on the social margins during adolescence, partly because “intense curiosity or focused interest seems odd to their peers.” Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents “because practicing music or studying math requires a solitude they dread.”

At the extremes, the amount of practice and devotion required can pass into the realm of the pathological. If hours alone determine genius then it is inevitable that reaching the greatest heights will require, quite literally, obsession.

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

My study reveals that, in one way or another, each of the creators became embedded in some kind of a bargain, deal, or Faustian arrangement, executed as a means of ensuring the preservation of his or her unusual gifts. In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence. The nature of this arrangement differs: In some cases (Freud, Eliot, Gandhi), it involves the decision to undertake an ascetic existence; in some cases, it involves a self-imposed isolation from other individuals (Einstein, Graham); in Picasso’s case, as a consequence of a bargain that was rejected, it involves an outrageous exploitation of other individuals; and in the case of Stravinsky, it involves a constant combative relationship with others, even at the cost of fairness. What pervades these unusual arrangements is the conviction that unless this bargain has been compulsively adhered to, the talent may be compromised or even irretrievably lost. And, indeed, at times when the bargain is relaxed, there may well be negative consequences for the individual’s creative output.

 

5) Work because of passion, not money

Passion produces better art than desire for financial gain — and that leads to more success in the long run.

Via Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

“Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior,” the study said. “It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or staying asleep? Or you get plenty of shut-eye but you’re not refreshed? Everyone wants to get better sleep. But sleep trouble is incredibly common.

And feeling tired the next day isn’t the half of it. By not getting enough sleep you’re reducing your IQ.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

And losing “beauty sleep” really does make you less attractive. Seriously.

Want to be miserable? Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

And if that’s not enough, lack of sleep could contribute to an early death.

Via Night School:

The results, published in 2007, revealed that participants who obtained two hours less sleep a night than they required nearly doubled their risk of death.

We need answers before sundown. So I figured I’d call somebody who has them.

Richard Wiseman is professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.

On his YouTube channel he has a number of great videos including this one on sleep tips.

Richard is going to tell you the #1 mistake you make when it comes to sleep, how to take awesome naps, how to get more quality sleep and the surprising secret to why you wake up in the middle of the night. And much more.

If you’re not too tired to keep reading, let’s get to it…

 

The #1 Mistake That’s Screwing Up Your Sleep

If you’re already exhausted, here’s the main takeaway you need from this interview:

Your smartphone is the devil. Your iPad is Lucifer. Your TV cackles with glee when you have insomnia.

They all give off blue light that your brain mistakes for sunshine. And that tells your grey blob it’s time to wake up, not go to bed.

Stay away from them during the hour before you try to nod off. Here’s Richard:

Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen. In the middle of the night you wake up and think, “Aw, I’ll just check Twitter, email or Facebook,” and, of course, you’re being flooded with that blue light. You’re not going to be getting back to sleep very easily for the next hour or so.

So your smartphone is the devil? Okay, not really. In fact, sometimes it can be the best friend your sleep schedule has. Huh?

When you’re dealing with jet lag, I encourage you to indulge in all the blue light device bliss you so urgently crave.

They can help shift your circadian rhythm forward. Awesome, right? Your phone has a new feature you didn’t even know about. Here’s Richard:

You can use that blue light to your advantage, because when you’re bathed in blue light you become more alert. To get your circadian rhythm where it needs to be in the new time zone you can stimulate yourself with the blue light from smartphones and iPads.

(To learn the 4 things astronauts can teach you about a good night’s sleep, click here.)

Okay, modern technology is a double-edged sword. What else are you doing wrong?

 

A Good Nightly Routine Is Key

Just like a good morning routine is incredibly powerful, one before bed is a game changer as well. First step?

No booze. It seems like it helps but it’s actually a big no-no. Here’s Richard:

Drinking alcohol an hour or two before you go to bed is not a good idea. You’ll fall asleep quicker, but it keeps you out of deep sleep. In the morning you wake up feeling pretty terrible.

Richard says thinking positive thoughts before you go to bed is helpful and can promote good dreams. One of the biggest things that causes insomnia is thatanxiety about getting to bed.

When those awful thoughts start running through your head at night, try this little game. Here’s Richard:

Just think about a country or a vegetable or a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. You just slowly work your way through and that can take your mind off negative thoughts.

Worrying keeping you awake? Richard says to keep a pad and pen by the bed and write those thoughts down to dismiss them. Mindfulness training can help with this too so give meditation a try. (Here’s how.)

Still can’t sleep? Get up. Don’t accidentally make a Pavlov-style association between your bed and *not* sleeping. Here’s Richard:

The issue is often they’re staying in bed awake for ten minutes or more and they start to associate bed with being awake instead of being asleep. Get up, do something which is not stimulating, and then get back to bed.

(For more science-backed tips on a nightly routine that will bring you amazing sleep, click here.)

So your winding down ritual is in order. What about naps? (Yes, I know they’re amazing.) How can you and I make them *more* amazing?

 

How To Nap Like A Pro

Don’t go down for more than an hour. 20-30 minutes is great — but even five minutes can give you a big boost. Here’s Richard:

Anything over an hour is probably not a great idea, but twenty or thirty minutes of napping is incredibly good for creativity and focus. Naps can make a massive, massive difference. Even five minutes increases reaction time and focus.

NASA found pilots who take a 25 minute nap are 35% more alert and twice as focused.

Via Night School:

Research by NASA revealed that pilots who take a twenty-five-minute nap in the cockpit – hopefully with a co-pilot taking over the controls – are subsequently 35 per cent more alert, and twice as focused, than their non-napping colleagues.

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night’s sleep.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task.

Worried you won’t wake up in time for something important? Richard recommends drinking a cup of coffee immediately before laying down. The caffeine will kick in after about 25 minutes.

(To learn the 5 scientific secrets to naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

All this is great for getting some sleep… but what about when you can’t stay asleep? Not a problem. Literally.

 

Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night Is Natural

Research shows we evolved to sleep in two distinct phases. So don’t worry. Do something for a little while and then head back to bed for round 2. Here’s Richard:

We’ve evolved to have what’s called segregated sleeping. If you wake up in the middle of the night that’s perfectly natural. Before electric light people would talk about “first sleep” and “second sleep.” In between they’d go and visit their friends or play games. So if you do wake up in the middle of the night, that’s fine. Get out of bed for twenty minutes and do something. Don’t lay there feeling anxious.

Is this fragmented sleep bad? Far from it. Bloodwork showed that the time between the two sleeping periods was incredibly relaxing and blissful.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

The results showed that the hour humans once spent awake in the middle of the night was probably the most relaxing block of time in their lives. Chemically, the body was in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at a spa…

(For more on the science of why we sleep in two chunks, click here.)

But here’s a problem everyone has had: ever sleep for over eight hours and you still feel groggy and awful? Here’s why.

 

Want To Get Better Sleep? Remember “The 90 Minute Rule”

Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes. Wake up in the middle of one and you’ll feel lousy no matter how long you’ve been in bed. So plan your sleep schedule in increments of an hour and a half. Here’s Richard:

Sleep scientists all use the “90-minute rule” which is basically a sleep cycle which is moving from light sleep, to deep sleep to dreaming and repeating that again and again. That cycle is roughly ninety minutes. You’re best off waking up at the end of a cycle. Plan your sleep in ninety minute blocks to tell you the best time to be falling asleep. Then you go to bed about ten, twelve minutes before that because that’s how long it should be taking you to fall asleep.

(For more on how to have the best night’s sleep of your life, click here.)

I could use a nap now, frankly. But before any of us nod off, let’s round up what Richard had to say so tonight is a restful one. (And we’ll get one more tip that can help make sure your nighttime habits don’t backfire.)

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about getting more quality zzzzzzzz’s:

  • Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
  • A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts and play the alphabet game.
  • Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
  • Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Remember the “90 minute rule.” Think about when you need to be up and count back in increments of 90 minutes so you wake up sharp.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better?

John Durant offers a piece of advice I follow: forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.

I wish you great sleep and blissful dreams.

And as Anthony Burgess once said:

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Why You Spend Too Much Money and How to Stop

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • The word sale makes us less likely to comparison shop and yellow tags fool us into thinking we’re getting a discount even when we’re not.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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10 Ways a Little Kindness Can Change Your Life

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How to Be a Better Person: 7 Steps Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Research also shows little things can make a difference:
  1. Play music with positive lyrics.
  2. Clean smells and the odor of cookies both make you behave better.
  3. Keep the area warm.
  4. Get outside in nature.
  5. Read fiction.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Humor Can Improve Your Life: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

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2 Things That Lead to a Happy Life, Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

I’ve posted a number of times about two nearly-lifelong studies: the Terman Study (covered in The Longevity Project) and the Grant Study (covered in Triumphs of Experience.)

While different in some respects, both followed a sample of people from youth until death and provided insights into what makes for a happy life.

What two big ideas do they both strongly agree on?

 

1) A Happy Childhood Matters More Than You Think

The Grant Study found being happy when you’re old is tied to having had a warm childhood:

Vaillant concludes that a loving childhood is one of the best predictors of mid and late-life riches: “We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.”

The Terman Study realized that “Parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death.”

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

The long-term health effects of parental divorce were often devastating— it was indeed a risky circumstance that changed the pathways of many of the young Terman participants. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. Parental divorce, not parental death, was the risk. In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future.

Sadly, our own childhoods are not something we can change, but this is something to keep in mind if you are or will be raising kids.

2) Relationships are the Most Important Thing

What was the Terman study’s most important recommendation for a longer life?

…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

Read that sentence again. It wasn’t receiving help from others, it was giving it:

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

The Grant Study found that “the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Vaillant’s insight came from his seminal work on the Grant Study, an almost seventy-year (and ongoing) longitudinal investigation of the developmental trajectories of Harvard College graduates. (This study is also referred to as the Harvard Study.) In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

“Vaillant was asked, ‘What have you learned from the Grant Study men?’ Vaillant’s response: ‘That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.‘”

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

The Grant Study realized there was a single yes/no question that could predict whether someone would be alive and happy at age 80:

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved.

More on the Terman study here. More on the Grant Study here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How to Find Happiness: 3 Secrets From Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You’ve probably read a lot of stuff on the internet about how to find happiness… but you’re still not jumping for joy.

Some of the tips feel corny… so you don’t actually do them. Others stop working after a while so you stop following through.

What gives? Isn’t there a solution that really works and keeps working?

I’m with you. I want answers. Who has them? Sonja does. So I gave her a call.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor at University of California at Riverside and one of the leading experts on happiness. She’s the author of two great books on the subject:

Okay, let’s find out why all these tips we see again and again may not be working — and what will make you happier.

 

What’s The Best Version Of You?

A lot of what you read about becoming happier sounds downright corny. Counting your blessings, doing good for others… all those cliches your wise grandmother told you to do.

But here’s the thing: the cliches are often true. Grandmom knows a lot. Here’s Sonja:

Psychologists often have to confirm the obvious, or what your grandma might tell you. It happens to be the case that in most of what I study, the folk wisdom is correct. People who are randomly assigned to be grateful once a week for six weeks, they actually do become happier and their relationships are improved. People who do acts of kindness get various benefits.

But if it feels corny — even if it works — you often don’t follow through. So what addresses that very real issue?

Sonja says that the best method is the one that clicks for you. Maybe you’re already showing gratitude. Maybe you’re the most gratitudinous person on the planet. (Yeah, I made that word up.)

But there’s an area of your life that could use a boost, something that will move the needle and that’s where to start. Here’s Sonja:

You have to find the strategy that works for you. You pick one thing that you think you’ll feel natural doing, that you want to try, that you think you’ll enjoy. For me, it’s savoring. I don’t think I savor enough. So now when I’m with my kids I just enjoy being with them and try not think about what I have to do tomorrow. Everyone can choose something like that. For someone else it might be starting an exercise program. For another person, it might be trying to improve a friendship you’ve kind of let go; you haven’t really called that person in a while. Choose one goal and then just take small steps towards it.

So don’t feel like you have to do something that sounds silly to you. But what is going to click for you?

Ask: “What’s my vision of my best possible self?”

When your life is perfect, what is it like? And that can tell you what’s really important to you and what your values are.

Research shows that thinking about your best possible self doesn’t just clarify goals — it can also make you happier just by thinking about it. Here’s Sonja:

Imagine your life in ten years and that your goals have been accomplished. You’re living your best possible life. Think about that in different domains. I did this once with students and they said to me, “I didn’t even know what my goals were.” So they were forced to articulate their goals. Some people said to me things like, “Yeah, I didn’t think my goals were feasible until I wrote about them,” and they realized there were concrete steps they could take.

(For more on what makes the happiest people on Earth so happy, click here.)

Great. But I have bad news. That happiness trick is going to stop working after a while.

Huh? Why?!? Don’t worry: it’s not your fault…

 

“Hedonic Adaptation”

That’s just a fancy way of saying: You can take ANYTHING for granted.

Yes, anything. Researchers looked at people who suffered terrible accidents and ended up in wheelchairs. Guess what? Eventually, they adapted and were happy again. Hooray!

But researchers also looked at lottery winners… Yup, people eventually adapted to that too. Ugh.

We all take things for granted. We never experience something and then BOOM — we’re happy for the rest of our lives.

When we say “I’ll be happy when X happens” we’re just not telling the truth. That great job, that dream wedding, that beautiful baby — none of them is the final key to happiness we think it will be. Here’s Sonja:

“I’m not happy now, but I’ll be happy when I have a baby, when I move to that city where I’ve always wanted to live, or when I get that job, when I have that career I want… then I’ll be happy.” Actually, our happiness really lies inside of us, and so people who aren’t happy at their current job probably won’t be happy at their next job either. We carry ourselves from one job to another. The idea is that most people are not really aware of the power of hedonic adaptation. Yes, that job or relationship or that move is going to make you happy… but it’s not going to make you happy for as long or as intensely as you think it will, because we adapt.

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

Depressing, I know. But we ain’t done. Not by a long shot. Here’s what you can do about it…

 

New! Different! Surprising!

Habits are awesome for getting things done and they make our lives much more efficient.

But because of hedonic adaptation, habits can be a big problem for happiness — you can get in a rut.

But there’s a solution. Actually, there are three:

  • Novelty: Try a new angle. Watching Netflix on the couch feeling stale? Go to the movies.
  • Variety: Try different strategies. Gratitude isn’t doing it anymore? Try savoring.
  • Surprise: Not sure how something will turn out? Awesome. Grab that special someone and take tango lessons. Or sumo wrestling classes.

To beat hedonic adaptation, we need to keep things fresh. Here’s Sonja:

Novelty, variety and surprise can prevent or slow down adaptation. So, with relationships, let’s say you get married and you get a happiness boost. Studies show that it takes about two years for people’s happiness levels to go back to what they were before the wedding. That doesn’t mean that you’re not happy with your marriage, but we get used to it to some extent. So we want to introduce some variety and novelty and surprise to the marriage in a positive way. Don’t watch Netflix every Friday night; mix it up. Do different things with your partner. The kind of things that can lead to more surprises, again in a positive way. Same thing with a job. Open yourself up to new opportunities, challenges, taking risks, learning new things, and meeting new people.

When I talked to one of the leading experts on love, Arthur Aron, he said the same thing: doing something new and exciting has enormous power to spice up a relationship — and make you happier.

I know, I know, you need a concrete answer of what to do. But you also need something tailored for you. Well, here’s a great way to find that:

Ask yourself: “What would I do if this were my last month?”

When you feel like good things are going to end, it dramatically shifts your perspective. You take advantage of opportunities. You do the things you know you love. You get off the couch and see those people who mean so much to you.

And she’s done the research — answering this question has power. Here’s Sonja:

We asked students at George Mason University in Virginia to pretend that it was their last month before they move far away. Every week they’re supposed to do something to savor their last time with friends or family. To go on that hike that they’ve always wanted to go on, to go to the restaurant again that they really love, etc. And they got happier. They increased in measures of flourishing, positive emotions, and well-being.

(For more on how to stop being lazy, click here.)

Okay, lots of stuff here and we don’t want this to be yet another internet happiness list that doesn’t produce results. Let’s round this up into something you can use…

 

Sum Up

Research-backed happiness wisdom from Sonja:

  • Ask “What’s the best version of me?“: This can tell you what you value and what’s missing in your life. Now you know what interests you and can get you closer to that perfect, happy life.
  • New! Different! Surprising!: You can and will take anything for granted. So spice up the things that make you happy by adding novelty, variety or surprise.
  • Ask “What would I do if this were my last month?”: If you felt you’d never be able to do that fun thing again or see that special someone again, you’d get off your butt. So ask the question — and then do that stuff.

Happiness doesn’t have to be complicated. Research shows simple things like hugs really do make us happier. And as Bil Keane once said:

A hug is like a boomerang – you get it back right away.

I’ll be sending out a PDF with more joy-inducing tips from Sonja in my next weekly email. (Including the answer to the one thing you do all the time that killshappiness.) To make sure you get it, sign up for my weekly email here.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

10 Secrets About Sexual Satisfaction, Backed by Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Here’s a list of scientific factors associated with sexual satisfaction.
  • What women look for in one night stands and long term relationships is very different.
  • Age difference has a big effect on how sexually satisfied husbands and wives are.
  • Here‘s a list of what keeps men and women sexually satisfied over time.
  • Increasing the amount of good sex you have is more about self-esteem than getting kinky.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

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New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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