TIME psychology

How to Be Happy at Home and Fulfilled at Work

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Do what you’re good at.

Using your “signature strengths” — those qualities you are uniquely best at, the talents that set you apart from others — makes you stress less:

The more hours per day Americans get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain…

Using your strengths makes you feel better:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

Using your signature strengths on a daily basis can make you significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full month later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.

A job that lets you use your talents will make you consistently happier at work:

The more signature strengths were applied at the workplace, the higher the positive experiences at work. This study showed that character strengths matter in vocational environments irrespective of their content. Strengths-congruent activities at the workplace are important for positive experiences at work like job satisfaction and experiencing pleasure, engagement, and meaning fostered by one’s job.

Increasing the amount of flow you experience at work is largely the result of using your unique talents. That may be one of the reasons the most creative people focus on doing what they’re good at:

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

(2) Creative individuals leverage their strengths. They determine their strongest area and build their achievements around these potent intelligences. They do not worry about what they do not do as well; they can always get help from others and perhaps barter their areas of strength with those who have complementary skills.

 

Related posts:

What’s the secret to enjoying your work?

What 7 activities does Harvard happiness expert Shawn Achor recommend?

What 6 rules should be guiding your career?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME career

6 Things That Will Make You More Productive

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You’re only productive at work three days out of the week:

People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).

So how can you improve that?

Make It Automatic

The secret to getting more done is to make things automatic. Decisions exhaust you:

The counter intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

You need to break bad habits and develop solid routines. The secret to this is to do both at the same time: replace one with the other.

The things that effect our behavior perhaps more than anything else is context:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

First step? Hang out with friends who are productive.

A morning routine can be really good. Here are steps for creating one for yourself. A good example of one is here.

Get your head right

Mood matters. Happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful. As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

Proven methods for increasing happiness are here.

Imagining the stereotype of someone who excels at what you’re attempting can improve your performance. And don’t be confident — be overconfident. Overconfidence increases productivity:

We conduct maze-solving experiments under both reward structures and reveal that overconfidence is a significant factor in increasing productivity. Specifically, subjects exhibiting progressively higher degrees of overconfidence solve more mazes.

Being overconfident often gives better results than being objective and rational:

…moderate overconfidence in a contest can improve the agent’s performance relative to an unbiased opponent and can even lead to an advantage for the overconfident agent in absolute terms.

A little self-deception is one of the keys to optimal performance. In fact, a littlesuperstition won’t hurt. Someone wishing you luck actually does increase performance. Good luck charms inspire confidence which improves performanceon a variety of tasks.

Thinking about what you need to do, Rocky-montage style, is more powerful than envisioning how good it will feel to be done. Progress motivates you more than anything else. The best methods for beating procrastination are here.

Stop Multitasking

Your brain was never designed to multitask well:

To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

Across the board multitasking lowers productivity:

Our results show that multitasking is bad for productivity even if one is not concerned with average duration.

Neither gender is better at it:

We do not find any evidence for gender differences in the ability to multitask.

But if multitasking doesn’t work, why do you do it so often? It makes you more emotionally satisfied, even if it makes you less productive:

“…they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”

So if you’re drinking coffee, listening to music and checking your email as you read this blog post, try focusing on one thing at a time.

Tools And Environment Matter

Use checklists. Yeah, everybody says that. And you probably don’t consistently do it.

Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande analyzed their effectiveness in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. What happens when you consistently use checklists use across in an intensive care unit?

The proportion of patients who didn’t receive the recommended care dropped from seventy per cent to four per cent; the occurrence of pneumonias fell by a quarter; and twenty-one fewer patients died than in the previous year. The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the I.C.U. make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.

What makes for a good checklist? Be specific and include time estimates.

And sometimes you don’t need a to-do list, you need a not-to-do-list. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great makes just that suggestion:

…while puzzling over the research data on 11 companies that turned themselves from mediocrity to excellence, from good to great. In cataloguing the key steps that ignited the transformations, my research team and I were struck by how many of the big decisions were not what to do, but what to stop doing.

Environment matters too. Do creative work at home and boring work at the office. A disorganized mind makes you more creative but a disorganized officemakes you less productive.

Rest

Get enough sleep:

All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

You’ll probably waste less time on the internet if you get enough shut-eye. Having your sleep schedule off kilter can seriously reduce your effectiveness.

Everything you need to know about sleep is here. Naps and web breaks make you more productive too.

Keep Getting Better

How do you keep improving over time? You need feedback. Monitor what you do and what gets results over time. As Pete Drucker, author of The Effective Executive writes:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations… Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know.

Want to improve your ability to learn? Go here. Would you eventually like to be an expert? More here.

You should also review: how to set goals, be a great leader, improve teamwork, give an awesome presentation, and deal with lousy meetings.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who sorts all your email into folders? Stop it.

 

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

 

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Business

10 Scientific Steps to a Successful Career

Is your job not really doing it for you? Doesn’t have everything you need to feel satisfied, challenged and proud?

Or are you job-hunting but the options don’t seem that appealing?

You’re not alone. In fact, it’s an epidemic.

Job satisfaction is at its lowest rate since anyone started measuring it and nearly two-thirds of people would choose another career if they could.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level – 45 per cent – since record-keeping began over two decades ago.

We’re not satisfied with our jobs but we feel more and more rushed, cravingwork-life balance.

You know the Spanish “siesta”? It’s nearly extinct. Only 7% of Spaniards take one. We’re all just too busy.

Via How Should We Live?:

Around a quarter of Americans ‘always feel rushed’ according to a national survey, a figure which rises to over 40 percent for working mothers. In Britain 20 percent of workers say they don’t have time for a lunch break, while the siesta has almost disappeared from Spanish life: only 7 percent now indulge in the traditional afternoon nap.

But the funny thing is when you ask older folks for the most important lesson they’ve learned, what do they say? “Don’t stay in a job you dislike.”

In the Harvard Business Review Daniel Gulati broke down the top career regrets people have. #2 was “I wish I had quit earlier.”

In fact, people with no job are happier than people with a lousy job:

fulfilling-career

But we’re not getting much help. Personality tests like Myers-Briggs are supposed to predict your perfect career. Problem is, that test doesn’t work.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…there is ‘no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation… nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types’.

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone ask “What do you do?” and be able to reply with a smile because you feel so good about it?

There are fulfilling careers out there and you can get one. But first you need to know what makes jobs fulfilling and how to find the right one for you.

As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”9

So let’s dispel a few myths you might have about meaningful careers.

 

1) Money Isn’t Meaningful

Plenty of research says money doesn’t make us all that happy once you can pay the bills. I know, you’re skeptical.

But you don’t need to believe the pointy-headed researchers; ask people about their jobs and you hear the same thing.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…when people are asked about what gives them job satisfaction, they rarely place money at the top of the list. In the Mercer global-engagement scale – drawing on interviews with thousands of workers in Europe, the US, China, Japan and India – ‘base pay’ only comes in at number seven out of twelve key factors.

Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. – Debats 1999

Can you guess what Harvard Business Review says is the #1 career regret? “I wish I hadn’t taken the job for the money.”

Despite low pay and high unemployment artists have higher job satisfaction than most people.

In fact, artists are more likely to suffer from depression and other mood problems – and yet they’re still happier with their careers.

(For more on the biggest career regrets, click here.)

So money isn’t meaningful. What about prestige? Well, one kind is, the other kind isn’t.

 

2) Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is

Being in a top dog profession is nice but you don’t get meaning from it.

What you need is respect — where people appreciate what you do and admire you for it.2

Don’t be the head of the hospital; be the nurse who doctors ask for and patients trust.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

While most of us wish to enjoy a dose of social status, the feeling that we are respected by others for what we do and how we do it is one of the keys to having a meaningful career. As the sociologist of work Richard Sennett explains, respect enables us to feel like ‘a full human being whose presence matters’.

People are so busy looking at compensation they don’t think about the relationships they have at work. Research shows this is crazy.

A boss you trust is better than a 30% pay raise. Getting along with co-workers means promotions — and might save your life.

(For more on work-life balance, click here.)

Okay, okay — so chasing money and status doesn’t lead to a meaningful career. What does?

 

3) Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference

People who do work that benefits society show high levels of job satisfaction across the board.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A major study of ethical work by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon showed that those doing what they call ‘good work’ – defined as ‘work of expert quality that benefits the broader society’ – consistently exhibit high levels of job satisfaction.

When you look at some of the happiest jobs do you see a pattern? Clergy, firefighters, special ed teachers, physical therapists… They help people.

Research shows those who are other-focused are happier.

Via Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy:

Researchers have: they’ve found that happy people are ten times more likely to be other-oriented than self-centered. This suggests that happiness is a by-product of helping others rather than the result of its pursuit3.

(For more on a career that makes a difference, click here.)

Making a difference might involve a huge career change. Is there any way to find more fulfillment in the job you already have? Yes.

 

4) Use Your Talents

Aristotle once said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”28 He was way ahead of his time.

One of the most proven elements in work research is that using your strengths makes you feel great:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

fulfilling-career

(To find out what you’re naturally talented at, click here.)

But maybe you don’t like doing what you’re good at. What then?

 

5) Pursue Your Passion

Doing what you’re passionate about has wide-ranging positive benefits.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression.

Cal Newport points out a weakness in the “follow your passion” argument: most people’s passions are quite difficult to make a living at.

What’s interesting is that most often it is passion that leads us to “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice and subsequent expertise.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

The researchers also looked at the role of passion among 130 undergraduate students enrolled in a selective psychology course. They found a direct path from harmonious passion to deliberate practice: the students who were more harmoniously passionate about their work were more likely to engage in deliberate practice.

So following your passion and working hard may eventually make you great at what you love — leading you back to step 3.

(For more on finding your passion in life, click here.)

So when you use your talents or pursue your passion what is it you’re hoping to achieve? How do you know a job is the right one?

 

6) Find Flow

Flow is when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away — like when athletes are in “the zone.”

If you find a job where you’re spending most of your time in “flow”, you’ve got a winner.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

In a typical flow experience, we feel totally engaged in the present, and future and past tend to fade away – almost as if we were doing Buddhist meditation. In his renowned study of surgeons, Csikszentmihalyi found that when performing operations, 80 per cent of them lose track of time or feel that it passes much faster than usual. They’re in the zone.

(For more on flow, and how to achieve it, click here.)

Being “in the zone” is great. What else screams “this is a fulfilling job”?

 

7) We All Want Freedom

Autonomy is one of the keys to a great job. You want to feel you have control over your time and effort and aren’t always told what to do.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

For decades, industrial psychologists have observed that job satisfaction is directly related to ‘span of autonomy’, meaning the amount of each day during which workers feel free to make their own decisions.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, emphasizes the need for autonomy in his TED talk

 

So what have we learned about fulfilling careers?

They aren’t about money or status but offer respect and the chance to use your talents and follow your passion with autonomy.

I know what you’re thinking: Great. Now how do I find that job?

 

8) Stop Looking For Your Soulmate

There is no one perfect job you were meant to do.

There are many “yous” with many passions and many talents and therefore many jobs you could be fulfilled by.

Thinking about what you were “born to do” gets in the way because you’re waiting for some magic “click” and not busy developing skills.

How often does natural talent control what you can achieve in everyday life? In ~95% of cases, it doesn’t.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” He’s not counting the 2 to 3 percent of children who have severe impairments, and he’s not counting the top 1 to 2 percent of children at the other extreme… He is counting everybody else.

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

So you’re not fixated on some “perfect” job. How do you find the one that’s right for you?

 

9) Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”

In How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric recommends writing a job advertisement — but what you’re selling is you.

Talk about your talents, passions, values and personal qualities.

Don’t mention specific jobs but do include important things like salary requirements or geographic restrictions.

Then send it to 10 friends in different careers, from different walks of life. Askthem to tell you what jobs you are best suited for.

When people independently mention the same job, or there’s a trend, you know that’s an area worth further exploration.

(For more on how to find out what career is right for you, click here.)

Okay, but now how can you be sure they know what they’re talking about? There’s really only one way.

 

10) Ready, Fire, Aim

Here’s something you rarely hear: “Do not plan ahead. Do not start thinking.” Because you don’t know anything yet.

The problem with careers is when we make the decisions, we rarely know much about the thing we’re choosing.

35% of college graduates end up in a job that was not their major. Planningsounds good but as the old saying goes: “The map is not the territory.”

Ever talk to a cop or a lawyer and learn their job is not like it looks on TV? Exactly.

It’d be great if you could go try a bunch of different jobs for a month each. But that’s just not realistic for most of us.

So you need to talk to people, the people who are doing the job you think you want.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A final form of experimental project is conversational research. Perhaps less daunting than a radical sabbatical or a branching project, it can be just as effective. It simply requires talking to people from different walks of life who are engaged in the types of work you might imagine doing.

Is the job what you expected? Did they sound energized about it? Did it offer respect, use of your talents, passions and provide autonomy?

If the answer is no, keep looking. If it’s yes, and it fits everything else above, you’re probably onto a career that could be perfect for you.

(Here’s how to network, how to find a mentor and how to interview like a pro.)

So what’s all this mean in the end?

 

Sum Up

Here are the steps to finding a fulfilling career:

  1. Money Isn’t Meaningful
  2. Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is
  3. Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference
  4. Use Your Talents
  5. Pursue Your Passion
  6. Find Flow
  7. We All Want Freedom
  8. Stop Looking For Your Soulmate
  9. Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”
  10. Ready, Fire, Aim

Dostoyevsky once said:

The thought once occurred to me that if one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.

And guess what? Research by Duke professor Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, agrees. Watch his talk here.

 

In the end, I see it like this: You’re going to spend 80,000 hours working over the course of your life.

Yeah. 80,000.

Might be nice if you enjoyed it.

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More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Careers & Workplace

15 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier

The New Science of Happiness
Sophia Alexis—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Anyone can feel happier. It's easy. Science says so

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

By Jeff Hadden

Forget success. Forget fame. Forget fortune.

Happiness is something everyone wants, and wants to feel a lot more often–because where happiness is concerned, too much is never enough.

Unfortunately we all have a hereditary “happiness set point.” That means approximately 50% of our happiness is outside of our control. But that means 50% of our level of happiness is totally within our control.

So even if you’re genetically disposed to be somewhat gloomy, you can still do things to make yourself a lot happier. (Choosing not to do certain things will make you happier, too.)

So doesn’t it make sense to create habits and build a lifestyle that allows you to feel more satisfied and more fulfilled?

Check out this infographic on the science of happiness from Happify…and start making changes that will make you feel a lot happier.

TIME psychology

How to Get Happy RIGHT NOW: 7 Quick Ways to Feel Better

No theory here.

No nightly exercises for months.

You’re feeling sad or angry.

How do you get happy fast?

 

Sex, Exercise, Socialize

When researchers survey 5000 people from 83 countries, what do they learn about happiness?

We’re happiest when we’re having sex, exercising, or socializing.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

Using smart phones, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University collected a large sample of experiences and associated happiness. They also measured “mind wandering.” Their database currently contains nearly a quarter million samples from about five thousand people from eighty-three different countries who range in age from eighteen to eighty-eight and who collectively represent every one of eighty-six major occupational categories. Their findings confirm what had been found previously: happiness is high during sex, exercise, or socializing, or while the mind is focused on the here and now, and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering.

 

Try Smiling

Researchers asked people to do a bunch of different exercises to quickly increase happiness. What was most effective? Smiling.

Via The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life:

More than 26,000 people responded. All of the participants were randomly assigned to one of a handful of groups and asked to carry out various exercises designed to make them happier… When it came to increasing happiness, those altering their facial expressions came out on top of the class— powerful evidence that the As If principle can generate emotions outside the laboratory and that such feelings are long-lasting and powerful.

 

Downward Comparisons

Research shows comparing yourself to others can make you feel better — but only if you compare yourself to those worse off than you:

“Generally if people compare themselves to those who are worse off, they’re going to feel better,” continues Bauer, now a research associate at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a clinical psychologist at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Associates of Toronto. “When they compare themselves to people who are better off, it can make them feel worse.”

 

Do Your Taxes

Complex cognitive tasks like doing math can alleviate a bad mood:

…recent experimental findings have demonstrated that performing a cognitive task can take the edge off negative emotional responses and help people put things into a more neutral perspective ( Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Van Dillen & Koole, 2007)… The idea is straightforward: stuff your head with numbers, instead of irrational ideas about getting back together with your ex.

 

Take A Nap

Studies show we can process negative thoughts quite well when we’re exhausted — just not the happy ones. So get your rest.

Via NurtureShock:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine. In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

 

Let’s Review

So, again, the seven are:

  1. Sex
  2. Exercise
  3. Socialize
  4. Smile
  5. Downward comparisons
  6. Do your taxes
  7. Nap

(I’m not recommending you try them all at the same time… but if you do, I want to hear about it.)

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier

6 ways money *can* buy happiness

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME human behavior

4 Ways of Choosing Happiness from Within

What makes you happy?

Reflect on what you’ve done today. What do your behaviors say about your approach to happiness?

These are the question I usually ask students on the first day of my psychology courses. Often, their responses sound something like this: food, shopping, a new car, a better job, money, sex, an honest spouse, and nice teachers.

For many, this is a very familiar list as it represents a very common approach to happiness.

All of these answers refer to something outside of us. Hence, the common approach is to change the external conditions of our lives, and we end up treating happiness like buried treasure: something that we have to find, attain, and pursue.

However, this may not be a very effective approach. It might be hard to believe, but studies indicate that the circumstances of our lives only account for approximately 10% of our long-term happiness. Sure, we may get a happiness high after buying the new shoes or electronic device, but (as your closet may attest to) that high does not last very long.

Instead of enhancing our happiness, the common approach may be a detriment, since shortly after attaining our pursuits we may begin craving even more of it in order to recreate our previous emotional boost. We can become trapped in what positive psychologists (those who study human happiness) refer to as the hedonic treadmill—the non-stop desire for more or greater pleasures: the bigger house, bank account, sound system, etc…

It’s no wonder some of us never feel truly fulfilled. If we think getting more will make us happy, we can never be happy, since there’s always more to be had.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to improve our lives. It’s only saying that if we believe our happiness is solely dependent on crossing the finish line, it may be impossible to have a happy life if we continually push that line further out with each step.

Instead of the conditions of our lives, research indicates that our long-term level of happiness is more influenced by how we choose to think and what we choose to think about.

So based on this research, instead of searching for happiness on the outside, what can we do to choose happiness from within?

Don’t be Your Own Worst Enemy

While some of our suffering is the result of unpleasant experiences, if you take an emotional inventory of your day, you may notice that much of your suffering is actually self-induced—judgments about oneself or others, replaying unpleasant past experiences, or fixating on possible problems that have yet to occur. Even when rain does ruin your party, how much of your suffering is the result of you prolonging the misery with your own negative judgments about the experience? So choosing happiness from within includes choosing the contents of your own mind, directing your attention away from exaggerated negative assessments and imagined conflicts and towards more neutral or joyful thoughts.

Practice Gratitude

Due to our bias to focus on past failings, we often fail to give all the positive events in our lives their just due. In order to compensate, we can choose to dedicate some time to remembering what has gone well for us. Make it a habit to reflect on your day and take a short account of what experiences you may have taken for granted.

Savor Pleasant Experiences

How frequently do you choose to savor an experience? Did you actually savor your warm shower this morning or your most recent meal, or did the experience just pass you by? While gratitude helps to refocus our perception of our past, choosing to savor pleasant experiences gives us a way to appreciate that which that fills our present, thereby building our repertoire of positive memories.

Exercise Optimism

We don’t know the future. So, why choose to only focus on negative possibilities when neutral or positive events are often more likely? Instead, make an effort to exercise optimism. Choose to imagine what could go right with tomorrow and anticipate positive occurrences since we can often miss them if we aren’t open to seeing them. Choosing to be optimistic is not only more realistic, but it can invigorate our lives as we become more aware of the wonderful possibilities that lay before us.

These choices are not always easy since we are going against some natural tendencies, including our tendency to search outside ourselves for a happy life. It’s a difficult habit to break since at every turn advertisements advocate “happiness from without” rather than the less profitable “happiness from within” approach.

Yet, through practice, choosing happiness can also become habit. Through practice we can more deeply realize that happiness is not the result of what we bring into our life, but the consequence of how we choose to experience our life.

 

Javy W. Galindo is currently a popular Humanities and Social Science professor at John F. Kennedy University and De Anza College, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. His latest book, based on his graduate course on the psychology of happiness, is entitled Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails: A philosopher’s simple guide to the psychology of joy, satisfaction, and a meaningful life. Javy is also the author of The Power of Thinking Differently: An imaginative guide to creativity, change, and the discovery of new ideas. For more information visit www.JavyGalindo.com.

TIME psychology

4 Life Lessons That Lead to Happiness, Success and Longevity

University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky details the things research shows the happiest people have in common.

Via The How of Happiness:

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

I guess the blog post could end here. You’ve got your answer. But did you just want trivia? Or do you actually want to get happier?

The internet has become a firehose of ideas we never implement, tricks we forget to use.

Reading a list of things is easy. Implementing them in your life can be hard.

But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s get down to business.

 

“Happiness Subscriptions”

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. What’s that mean?

Lots of little good things make you happier than a handful of big things.

Research shows that going to church and exercising both bring people a disproportionate amount of happiness. Why?

They give us frequent, regular boosts.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says it’s really that simple: the things that make you happy, do them more often.

We have designated work hours. We schedule doctor appointments. Heck, we even schedule hair appointments.

We say happiness is the most important thing but fail to consistently include it in our calendars.

Research shows 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. You can change your happiness by up to 40% by what you choose to do every day.

happiest-people

And much of what you do, you do on autopilot. 40% of what you do every day isn’t the result of decisions, it’s due to habits.

Via The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

See where I’m going with this?

Happy things need to be a habit. Part of your routine. Part of your schedule.

Stop waiting for random happy events, you need a “happiness subscription.”

So how do we take that list and make them things we actually do every day instead of more forgotten trivia? Let’s get started.

 

1) Wake Up And Say ARG!

Even scientific happiness advice is often corny. I’ll say that now so we can get it off the table…. But it works.

And this is why you might want to say ARG when you wake up. It’s an acronym that stands for:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Recollection
  3. Gratitude

I’ve written about the importance of a morning ritual and how research shows your mood in the morning affects your entire day. So start right.

Anticipation is a powerful happiness booster. It’s 2 for the price of 1: You get the good thing and you get happy in anticipation of the good thing.

So think about what you’re looking forward to. Got nothing you’re looking forward to? Schedule something.

Recollecting great moments has a related effect. Memories allow us to relive the good times and kill stress.

Via The How of Happiness:

People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.

And gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

And the combo often leads to optimism. Another powerful predictor of happiness.

So, corny as it may be, wake up and say ARG! And then do a quick bit of anticipation, recollection and gratitude.

(For more on optimism click here.)

All that’s fine and dandy. But what do you do once you’re out of bed?

 

2) Savor Your Morning Coffee

Take a moment and really enjoy it. Smell it. Taste it. Appreciate it. Corny? Maybe.

But other research shows savoring — appreciating the good moments – is what separates the happiest people from the average Joe.

I imagine some of you are saying, “Well, I don’t drink coffee.” And please imagine me saying, “That’s not the point.”

It can be anything you do every morning.

And embedding savoring in our little daily rituals is powerful becausestudies show rituals matter.

Here’s Harvard professor Francesca Gino:

You can think about rituals that you yourself might engage in prior to consumption experiences. What they do, they make us a little bit more mindful about the consumption experience that we are about to have. Because of that, we end up savoring the food or whatever we are drinking more, we enjoy the experience more, and in fact, we’re also more willing to pay higher prices for whatever it is that we just consumed. Once again,rituals are beneficial in the sense that they create higher levels of enjoyment in the experience that we just had.

(For more on how savoring can make you happier click here.)

So what other habit can we build into our schedule that boosts joy? How about one that can make you as happy as sex does?

 

3) Sweat Your Way To Joy

When you study people to see what makes them happiest you get three answers: sex, socializing and exercise.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

Their findings confirm what had been found previously: happiness is high during sex, exercise, or socializing, or while the mind is focused on the here and now, and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering.

People who exercise are, across the board, mentally healthier: less depression, anger, stress, and distrust.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

A massive Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families published in 2006 showed that exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all.

Don’t like exercise? Then you’re doing the wrong kind.

Running, lifting weights, playing any sport… Find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

(For more on how sweating can increase smiling — and make you smarter too — click here.)

Okay, time to head to work. What’s the best thing to do when you start the day? It’s not about you — but it will make you happier.

 

4) The Five Minute Favor

Who lives to a ripe old age? Not those who get the most help, ironically it’sthose who give the most help.

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.

And a great way to do that without taking up too much time is Adam Rifkin’s “5 Minute Favor”:

Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.

So take five minutes to do something that is minor for you but would provide a big benefit to someone else.

It’s good karma — and science shows that, in some ways, karma is quite real.

Yes, some who do a lot for others get taken advantage of. But as Adam Grant of Wharton has shown, givers also succeed more:

Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.

(For more on the best way to get happier by being a giver, click here.)

Alright, you have to start work for the day. Ugh. But there are ways that work can make you happier too.

 

5) Life Is A Game, And So Is Work

Like the research shows, the happiest people have goals.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

In his studies, the psychologist Jonathan Freedman claimed that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves—both short-term and long-term—are happier. The University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized don’t just activate positive feelings—they also suppress negative emotions such as fear and depression.

Many of us feel like work can be boring or annoying but the research shows many of us are actually happier at work than at home. Why?

Challenges. And we reach that state of “flow” only when a challenge presents itself. So how can work make us happier?

Three research-backed things to try:

  1. To the degree you can, do things you’re good at. We’re happier when we exercise our strengths.
  2. Make note of your progress. Nothing is more motivating than progress.
  3. Make sure to see the results of your work. This gives meaning to most any activity.

(For more on getting happier by setting goals click here.)

Enough work. You’ve got some free time. But what’s the happiest way to use your free time?

 

6) Friends Get Appointments Too

You have mandatory meetings in your schedule but not mandatory time with friends? Absurd.

One study says that as much as 70% of happiness comes from your relationships with other people.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:

Contrary to the belief that happiness is hard to explain, or that it depends on having great wealth, researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explain about 70 percent of personal happiness. – Murray and Peacock 1996

Why does church make people so happy? Studies show it has nothing to do with religion — it’s about the socializing. It’s scheduled friend time.

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

After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

And if you have the cash, pay for dinner with a friend. Money definitely can make you happier – when you spend it on other people.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

Harvard professor and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Michael Norton explains in his TED talk:

Don’t have the cash for that? No problem. Take turns paying. Duke professorDan Ariely says this brings more happiness than always paying half.

(For more on how to have happy friendships click here.)

What’s the final thing happy people have in common? They cope with adversity. So what should we do when life gets tough?

 

7) Find Meaning In Hard Times

Research shows that a happy life and a meaningful life are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s hard to be happy when tragedy strikes. But who lives longer and fares better after problems? Those who find benefit in their struggles.

Via The How of Happiness:

For example, in one study researchers interviewed men who had had heart attacks between the ages of thirty and sixty. Those who perceived benefits in the event seven weeks after it happened—for example, believing that they had grown and matured as a result, or revalued home life, or resolved to create less hectic schedules for themselves—were less likely to have recurrences and more likely to be healthy eight years later. In contrast, those who blamed their heart attacks on other people or on their own emotions (e.g., having been too stressed) were now in poorer health.

In many cases, Nietzsche was right: what does not kill us can make us stronger.

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

A substantial number of people also show intense depression and anxiety after extreme adversity, often to the level of PTSD, but then they grow. In the long run, they arrive at a higher level of psychological functioning than before… In a month, 1,700 people reported at least one of these awful events, and they took our well-being tests as well. To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three— raped, tortured, and held captive for example— were stronger than those who had two.

So when you face adversity, always ask what you can learn from it.

(For more on how to make your life more meaningful — without terrible tragedy — click here.)

See that? I took the eight things happy people do and squeezed them into just seven habits. You can thank me later.

Now how do we tie all of these happiness boosters together?

 

SUM UP

If you want every day to be happier try including these seven things in your schedule:

  1. Wake Up And Say ARG!
  2. Savor Your Morning Coffee
  3. Sweat Your Way To Joy
  4. Do A Five Minute Favor
  5. Make Work A Game
  6. Friends Get Appointments Too
  7. Find Meaning In Hard Times

We’re all quick to say happiness is the most important thing… and then we schedule everything but the things that make us happiest. Huh?

So what’s going to make you happy today? Have you thought about it? Is it on your calendar?

Reading happiness information is useless trivia unless you use it and you won’t use it unless it’s part of your routine.

If happiness is the most important thing then make it the most important thing.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

MONEY consumer psychology

Hey, Impulse Spenders: Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

shopping bags
Martin Barraud—Getty Images

If you make too many impulse purchases and later regret them, there is a simple cure: gratitude.

A study recently published in Psychological Science shows that an attitude of gratitude tempers impulsive urges. In the study, participants had the option of receiving $54 now or $80 in a month. The researchers then induced moods of happiness, neutrality, or gratitude. Participants in the happy or neutral groups preferred the smaller sum immediately—the typical response in delayed gratification experiments.

The surprise came from those who felt grateful. They preferred to wait for the larger sum, which is the smarter, if less immediately gratifying, option.

The authors don’t say why gratitude forestalls impulsiveness, but their findings make sense within the context of my own research. I’ve found that people typically purchase impulsively for one of two reasons. They do so 1) to counteract a sense of emptiness, boredom, or void in their lives; or 2) because they are not fully focused when making a purchase. Gratitude can be the antidote in both of these scenarios.

Fill the Void
Impulsively snapping up a bargain or a trinket (or more) can provide an emotional boost, even a genuine momentary thrill. A void you feel—which can range in magnitude from simple boredom to a deep emotional need for human connection—is temporarily filled in the act. Sometimes the pleasure of some new “find,” or just the distraction of the transaction is subconsciously more what people are shopping for than whatever it is that’s actually being purchased.

People that “fill up” with impulsive purchases in this manner are often thought to be motivated by simple greed. What I’ve found, though, is that the catalyst is not so much greed or materialism, but emotional relief. Momentary lapses of impulse control are frequently fueled by an urge to feel something different—to get out of a funk and change your mood.

Feelings of gratitude, not just for possessions, but for almost anything—a friendly encounter, a cool breeze, a tasty lunch, a nice text from your kid, a beautiful landscape—are nourishing. It’s harder to feel a void or sense of emptiness when you pause and notice how much you have. It makes sense that everyone, not just shoppers, exhibit greater levels of impulse control when they feel thankful.

Get in Focus
Consumers’ minds nowadays are drawn in different directions by nonstop multitasking, and anxiety and sleep deficiencies are on the rise as a result. Focused decision-making, particularly on seemingly non-urgent tasks such as shopping, is on the decline, as is truly focusing on anything, it seems. No wonder I increasingly hear, “What was I thinking when I bought this?” from shoppers I interview. An exhausted, distracted brain pays less attention to everything and therefore has less bandwidth to forestall impulsive purchasing.

The calming focus of gratitude can help. A few seconds of thankfulness is not only a mood elevator, it’s a fast and simple mindfulness exercise that improves focus and can stave off mindless, impulsive spending.

But if you’re trying to rein in impulse spending, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply force yourself to pay closer attention to purchases, rather than trying to focus on feelings of gratitude? Well, no. Focusing on purchases is actually harder than it seems. Why? It’s boring when compared to the thrill of the purchase, and therefore consumers are apt to forget they’re supposed to be mindful and think twice about what they’re buying.

Also, paying close attention to purchases comes with the possibility of arousing negative emotions—feelings concerning problems with debt or budgeting, or pressures about responsibility and what you should or should not do. Our self-protective, irrational brains are likely to look for an easy “out” to get rid of these bad feelings, ironically often by simply losing focus and doing things mindlessly, impulsively. That’s why so many consumers experience a mismatch between their good intentions and ultimate actions when it comes to shopping.

Gratitude is a gentle way to force focus, and it creates a sense of abundance that transcends the need for a momentary shopping boost. As a bonus, there are lots of other benefits to feeling and expressing gratitude—most notably, happiness.

_____________________________________________________

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

TIME psychology

4 Easy Ways You Can Resolve Life’s Toughest Questions

How To Work More Efficiently

Use the Eisenhower Matrix.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower supposedly once said: ‘The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones’. Eisenhower was considered a master of time management, i.e. he had the ability to do everything as and when it needed to be done. With the Eisenhower method, you will learn to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent.

Whatever the job that lands on your desk, begin by breaking it down according to the Eisenhower method (see model), and then decide how to proceed. We often focus too strongly on the ‘urgent and important’ field, on the things that have to be dealt with immediately. Ask yourself: When will I deal with the things that are important, but not urgent? When will I take the time to deal with important tasks before they become urgent? This is the field for strategic, long-term decisions.

 

How To Be Happy

Try the “Flow” model.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

After interviewing over a thousand people about what made them happy, (Csikszentmihalyi) found that all the responses had five things in common. Happiness, or ‘flow’, occurs when we are:

• intensely focused on an activity

• of our own choosing, that is

• neither under-challenging (boreout) nor over-challenging (burnout), that has

• a clear objective, and that receives

• immediate feedback.

Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people who are ‘in the flow’ not only feel a profound sense of satisfaction, they also lose track of time and forget themselves completely because they are so immersed in what they are doing. Musicians, athletes, actors, doctors and artists describe how they are happiest when they are absorbed in an often exhausting activity – totally contradicting the commonly held view that happiness has to do with relaxation.

 

How To Remember Everything You Have Ever Learned

Use the Supermemo model.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

Imagine that you are learning Chinese. You have learned a word and memorised it. Without practice, over time it will become increasingly difficult to remember. The amount of time it takes for you to forget it completely can be calculated, and ideally you should be reminded of the word precisely when you are in the process of forgetting it. The more often you are reminded of the word, the longer you will remember it for. This learning programme is called SuperMemo and was developed by the Polish researcher Piotr Woźniak.

After learning something, you should ideally refresh your memory of it at the following intervals: one, ten, thirty and sixty days afterwards.

 

How To Deal With A Dilemma

Use “The Rubber Band Model.”

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

Is this a situation you are familiar with? A friend, colleague or client needs to make a decision that could irrevocably alter their future: for example to change career, move to another city or take early retirement. The arguments for and against are evenly balanced. How can you help them out of their dilemma?

Copy out the rubber band model, and ask the person to ask themselves: What is holding me? What is pulling me?

At first glance the method seems to be a simple variation of the conventional question ‘What are the pros and cons?’ The difference is that ‘What is holding me?’ and ‘What is pulling me?’ are positive questions and reflect a situation with two attractive alternatives.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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