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:

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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.

Join 85K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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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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TIME beauty

This Is the Age Americans Feel Best About Their Appearance

Senior Citizen Couple
An elderly couple is shown smiling in the snow. Matt Hind—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

And men are more confident in their looks than women

Your grandparents may feel better about their looks than you do. In a Gallup survey released Thursday, Americans aged 65 or older were most likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” that they always felt good about their appearance.

Sixty-six percent of the American seniors surveyed gave the two highest possible responses to feeling good about their looks, compared to 61% of 18-34-year-olds and 54% of 35-64-year-olds.

Gallup surveyed over 85,o00 adults to ascertain how Americans’ feelings about their physical appearance change over time. The results showed an overall dip in satisfaction upon entering middle age and a resurgence of confidence among senior citizens, but researchers also found variations regarding gender and race.

Men gave higher satisfaction rates than women at nearly every age, but the differential decreased later in life. African Americans (68%) and Hispanic Americans (67%) also felt more confident in their looks than white (55%) or Asian Americans (62%).

The survey did not, however, try to account for actual attractiveness among respondents, so any correlation between one’s confidence in their appearance and others’ perception of it could not be concluded. “However, older Americans’ looks are generally out of sync with the youthful standard of beauty that prevails in American culture,” Gallup said, “and yet they are most happy with what they see in the mirror.”

TIME Parenting

Kids Value Success Over Caring Because Parents Do

The co-author of a new Harvard study reveals what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient

Last month a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education issued a study—based on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students—which showed that teenagers value achievement more than caring, in large part because they think their parents do. The authors described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

The study drew quite a lot of attention—most of it focused on this key finding: Eighty percent of the students chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority. Only 20% picked caring for others.

I recently circled back to co-author Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist, co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project and a father of three, to explore what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient.

1. Given economic realities today, it seems understandable that parents are focused on their children’s success. And yet the underlying premise of your study is that focusing on success is a problem. Why is that?

We are not making the case that achievement and success are not important. It is “Success at what cost?” that we are concerned about. We are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and drug use in kids, especially in affluent communities. And a big factor is the pressure to achieve.

These kids are strung out. We’re also troubled that achievement comes at the cost of caring for others. In life we always have to balance our concern for others with our concern for ourselves. If you are playing basketball, you have to pass the ball. If you are studying for a test, it is important at times to help a classmate. But we are moving too far in the direction of self-interest.

2. You and your colleagues have created a guide to help parents raise “ethical caring kids,” Your first suggestion is to “make caring a priority.” How would you advise parents to do this?

It begins early in kids’ lives. When you’re at the playground, it means tuning into other kids and encouraging your kid to do the same—to reach out to a child who doesn’t have anyone to play with, for example. Ask your kids to write thank you notes; require them to be respectful to you and other adults; don’t let them fudge their community service; make them honor their commitments (if they’ve RSVPed yes to a party, make them go even if something more preferable comes along). It is the quiet, subtle, daily, steady stream of messages that parents give their kids that matter.

3. You say parents should “provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.” Can you explain?

Kids should pitch in as a part of everyday life and not expect to be rewarded. This means they should set or clear the table, do the dishes, pick up their clothes, take the garbage out. Save the rewards for uncommon acts of kindness, like helping a few neighbors dig their car out from the snow. Caring is like playing an instrument or a sport; you have to practice it all the time. That’s how it becomes deep in your bones—it’s how it becomes a part of who you are.

4. Kids naturally care about their family and friends, but you say parents need to expand “children’s circle of concern.” How do we do that?

It is harder for kids to care for people who are different from them: Boys may not care about girls. Privileged kids may not care about kids who are struggling. Kids may not care about people with disabilities. Teaching them to care for those who are vulnerable or marginalized is important in and of itself, and it also is the basis of justice. There are always opportunities to talk because these issues come up all the time—it’s about what’s on your radar. It’s not letting your kid treat the bus driver, or custodian or waitress as if they are invisible. It is the way in which you steer a conversation about the new kid at school, or point out an unkind act you witness on TV. It’s just noticing and having the conversation day to day.

5. You suggest that mom and dad each “be a strong moral role model and mentor,” for their children because kids learn by watching the actions of adults they respect. Can you elaborate?

One of the big pathways for kids to become moral people is that they want to be like their parents. Parents have to live these values—they can’t just espouse them. Teens especially have razor-sharp antenna toward hypocrisy; they are attuned to when we are not doing what we say. You have to be appreciative of the bus driver and the waitress. You have to help a neighbor. You have to not tell “white lies” a lot. And you need to listen to your kids and connect your beliefs and values to their moral questions. You also have to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes they are going to have a more mature moral understanding than you do. As parents we need to be able to admit our mistakes and talk about them. The goal is not to demonstrate that you are perfect. The goal is to demonstrate that you are an imperfect human being who is committed to becoming better.

6. Your final suggestion is that parents need to “guide children in managing destructive feelings.” What do you mean by that?

When parents around the country are asked how they help develop their kid’s morality, they usually talk about teaching kids right from wrong and core values. But the reality is that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, they usually know the values and have a general sense of right and wrong. The problem is that they sometimes have trouble managing their behavior when they feel angry or envious or ashamed or inferior or helpless. That’s what causes them to violate others. The key is to give kids a range of strategies to help them manage these difficult feelings—from teaching them to take a deep breath or a time out to learning how to ask for help from a trusted adult.

7. You and your colleague reported that 96% of parents from earlier studies say that developing moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” but that 80% of the teenagers you surveyed said parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Besides role modeling the right behaviors, what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the message they mean to be sending?

Parents often tell kids, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.” They are not saying, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are kind.” Changing course is about changing the steady stream of messages—verbal and otherwise—that parents are sending their kids. The truth is, our children’s moral development is much more under our control than their happiness.

8. The irony about your study is that although happiness is rated as more important than caring, most experts agree that caring leads to happiness. So should kids be more caring because it will make them happier?

I don’t think we should tell kids to be caring because it is going to make them happy. I think we should tell them to be caring because it is the right thing to do. But I also think that caring is going to make them happier in the long run, because when you are more empathetic, you have better relationships. And it is really deep relationships with people who you appreciate and who appreciate you that are perhaps our most important source of happiness in life.

I should also note that in our study,caring was ranked second by a high percentage of teens. Almost all kids say that caring is important to them. But it gets sidelined with all this pressure to achieve. It is evident that kids—and their parents—value caring. It just needs to be drawn out more. It needs to be prioritized. That is the encouraging part of this.

TIME Internet

This Campaign Will Help You Quit Facebook for 99 Days

Social Networking Sites May Be Monitored By Security Services
Display of browser at Facebook.com (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

This will teach Facebook to mess with emotions

Can’t go 10 minutes without checking Facebook? How would you feel about giving it up for 99 days? This Dutch non-profit wants you to do just that.

“99 Days of Freedom,” a non-profit initiative from Dutch creative agency Just, wants participants to abstain from the social network for more than three months and participate in “happiness surveys” to see if their mood improves as a result.

Just’s Art Director, Merijn Straathof, explained that the project came from brainstorming after news of Facebook’s controversial mood experiments went viral. “As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: To a person, everyone had at least a ‘complicated’ relationship with Facebook,” Straathof said. “Then someone joked, ‘I guess that the real question is, ‘How do you feel when you don’t use Facebook?’ There was group laughter, followed by, ‘Wait a second. That’s a really good question!’”

Given that Facebook’s 1.2 billion users spend an average of 17 minutes on the site a day, Just estimates that 99 Days’ participants will save 28 hours of wasted time over three months. The non-profit’s directors suggest using that time to volunteer, learn a new skill or post to the group’s message board about what they’re doing with their Facebook-free time.

And while 99 days without Facebook may seem like an eternity to some, Straathof and his team do not mean for the experiment to be permanent. The group does not even ask participants to delete their profiles but rather post a “time-off” profile picture for the duration of the Facebook fast.

“Facebook is an incredible platform, we’re all fiercely loyal users and we believe that there’s a lot to love about the service,” Straathof said. “But we also feel that there are obvious emotional benefits to moderation.”

TIME psychology

The 8 Things the Happiest People Do Every Day

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Digital Vision.—Getty Images

Relationships, gratitude, and optimism are key.

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 seven 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 that 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 bring 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.

Join 85K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

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4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME

Undivided Attention: 6 Ways to Focus That Will Make You Happier

Give me your undivided attention for a second. (It’ll make you happier, I promise.)

You create your world with what you pay attention to.

There are a million things happening right now: some good, some bad.

Pay attention to the good, you’ll feel better. Pay attention to the bad, and, well … you get it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you. All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being …

Research shows that paying attention to positive feelings literally expands your world. Focusing on the negative makes it tiny.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Based on objective lab tests that measure vision, Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that paying attention to positive emotions literally expands your world, while focusing on negative feelings shrinks it — a fact that has important implications for your daily experience.

As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman famously said, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

As research has shown, lottery winners aren’t as happy as you might guess and paraplegics aren’t as unhappy as you might think. Why?

For each, being rich or being paralyzed eventually becomes one small piece of their very big life. In other words, they stop focusing on it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

“People think that if they win the lottery, they’ll be happy forever. Of course, they will not. For a while, they are happy because of the novelty, and because they think about winning all the time. Then they adapt and stop paying attention to it.” Similarly, he says, “Everyone is surprised by how happy paraplegics can be, but they are not paraplegic full-time. They do other things. They enjoy their meals, their friends, the newspaper. It has to do with the allocation of attention.”

And controlling that attention can be the key to your happiness.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lama and the Penn positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

So in a world of buzzing iPhones and relentless emails and text messages, how can you better control your attention and make yourself happier?

Here are six tips from research.

(I still have your undivided attention, right? Just checking.)

1) Reappraisal

How you react to things is more important than what actually happens.

Research pioneered by Arnold and Lazarus shows reappraising situations, focusing on the good elements of “bad” events, can be a huge step toward staying positive.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

direct your attention to some element of the situation that frames things in a more helpful light. After a big blowup over an equitable sharing of the housework, rather than continuing to concentrate on your partner’s selfishness and sloth, you might focus on the fact that at least a festering conflict has been aired, which is the first step toward a solution to the problem, and to your improved mood.

Sound like denial? Self-deception?

It is. And it works like a charm.

That’s why people happier than you do it all the time.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Directing your attention away from a negative experience not only is not as maladaptive as many of his peers think but, according to the Columbia psychologist George Bonanno, can be a superior coping strategy. Indeed, he finds that in the wake of an upsetting event, “self-deception and emotional avoidance are consistently and robustly linked to a better outcome.” Even when you’re reeling from a severe blow, such as a loved one’s death, diverting your focus from your grief can boost your resilience.

As I’ve posted before, more thinking can cure bad feelings. Meditation can increase your attention span.

2) Focus On Those Who Believe In You

How do politicians and salesmen stay so positive?

Part of it may be acting but they also have a tendency to selectively pay attention to positive reinforcers.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Individuals of sanguine temperament, such as certain politicians, CEOs and salesmen, seem naturally to excel at directing their focus away from negative targets. Research shows that when they confront a potentially unpleasant situation, such as some unfriendly faces at a gathering, these extraverts are apt to shift their attention rapidly around the room and zero in on amiable or neutral visages, thus short-circuiting the distressing images before they can get stored in memory.

3) Seek Flow

You don’t need more time “doing nothing” to recharge, you need more challenges that you find engrossing.

Flow” (being so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world falls away) is an active state of attention that research shows we like more than endless hours in front of the TV.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

In a stunning example of the kind of mind-set that undermines good daily experience, most people reflexively say that they prefer being at home to being at work. However, flow research shows that on the job, they’re much likelier to focus on activities that demand their attention, challenge their abilities, have a clear objective and elicit timely feedback — conditions that favor optimal experience.

4) Make Boring Things Into A Game

Even dull jobs can be more compelling if you change the activity into a game and make it a challenge.

This increases your engagement and makes you happier.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

With some thought, effort, and attention, says Csíkszentmihályi, you can make even an apparently dreary job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. “The trick,” he says, “is to turn the work into a kind of game, in which you focus closely on each aspect” — screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials — “ and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a rote activity into an engaging one.”

5) Schedule Challenges For Your Leisure Time

Schedule things in advance that draw you in and you’ll find yourself enjoying your free time more.

Most of us seek unscheduled free time for our leisure but given your brain’s lazy nature, you’re likely to waste that time doing what’s easy vs. what’s really fun.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Summing up, Csíkszentmihályi says, “If left to their own devices and genetic programming, and without a salient external stimulus to attract them, most people go into a mode of low-level information processing in which they worry about things or watch television.” The antidote to leisure-time ennui is to pay as much attention to scheduling a productive evening or weekend as you do to your workday.

6) Take Time To Savor

Take time to pay attention to and appreciate the good things in life.

Yes, “take time to smell the roses” is more than a cliche.

This is one of the secrets of the happiest people and it’s part of the basis for one of the most effective happiness-boosting techniques.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

One group was told to focus on all the upbeat things they could find — sunshine, flowers, smiling pedestrians. Another was to look for negative stuff — graffiti, litter, frowning faces. The third group was instructed to walk just for the exercise. At the end of the week, when the walkers’ well-being was tested again, those who had deliberately targeted positive cues were happier than before the experiment. The negatively focused subjects were less happy, and the just plain exercisers scored in between. The point, says Bryant, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

Results?

And what are the results of more focus and undivided attention?

Focused work and focused leisure not only make you happier in the moment but your selection of challenges to overcome are what forge you into the type of person you want to be.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Over time, a commitment to challenging, focused work and leisure produces not only better daily experience, but also a more complex, interesting person: the long-range benefit of the focused life. As Hobbs puts it, the secret of fulfillment is “to choose trouble for oneself in the direction of what one would like to become.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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