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By Eric Barker
June 24, 2015
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s The Best Version Of You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Hedonic Adaptation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New! Different! Surprising!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sum Up

Research-backed happiness wisdom from Sonja:

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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