As many of you who follow me know, I’ve accumulated an enormous amount of research data on the habits that are responsible for creating a life of abundance (wealth) or scarcity (poverty). But there’s more to living a “rich” life than the accumulation of money. Money, as an end to itself, does not create a “rich” life. A “rich” life exists only when we find happiness.
Happiness, unfortunately, is elusive. Most people are, in fact, unhappy and most of those unhappy people will do anything to pursue happiness. Unfortunately, some of the methods they use to pursue happiness are destructive. Drugs, alcohol, infidelity, gambling and many other vices, are examples of activities individuals engage in to find temporary happiness. These vices eventually become Poverty Habits. When these Poverty Habits no longer bring about their short term happiness, we tend to move on to another vice, which soon becomes another Poverty Habit. This trend often continues for an entire lifetime. It is a destructive trend that causes divorce, job loss, failing health and ultimately, an unhappy life.
Long-term happiness, I found from my research, comes from within, not from external sources. Pursuing happiness externally is a recipe for a failed, miserable life. You must make happiness a daily habit.
Some Background on Happiness
The book, The How of Happiness (http://www.amazon.com/The-How-Happiness-Approach-Getting/dp/0143114956), cites various studies on happiness. One such study determined the following:
- 50% of Happiness is Gene-Based
- 40% of Happiness is Activity-Based
- 10% of Happiness is Circumstance-Based
Your genetic makeup determines your “happiness baseline”. This is the baseline you revert to before and after happiness events and unhappiness events. This baseline is the reason why buying mega-mansions, expensive cars, jewelry etc. do not create long-term happiness. It is also the reason why events in your life that make you unhappy, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, and failure do not create long-term unhappiness. Eventually everyone reverts back to their genetic happiness baseline. Since only 10% of happiness is circumstance-based, pursuing wealth, as an end to itself, will only increase happiness incrementally. The only true way to increase long-term happiness is clearly to engage in activities that produce happiness. Thanks to my ten years of research on habits, I’ve uncovered what those activities are. All you need is one or two to increase your happiness baseline. Let’s go:
How to Create Happiness
- Manage Expectations – All too often we look at life with rose colored glasses. While optimism is critical to success, the biggest cause of unhappiness is not meeting expectations we set for ourselves. What we need, when we pursue a big goal, a dream or our main purpose in life, is a dose of reality. When pursuing a big goal, dream or your purpose, you need to break that journey down into manageable tasks that are 100% achievable. This guarantees that you will meet expectations and avoid unhappiness. It also sets you up to surprise yourself by exceeding your expectations, thus creating happiness.
- Practice Optimism – Optimism isn’t something you are born with. It needs to become a routine; it needs to become a daily habit. Successful people understand this. They practice optimistic thinking every day. It’s part of their daily routine. Some of the tools they use include: *Daily Meditation – 2-5 minutes each day morning and night. Visualize realizing your dreams and goals. See yourself living your ideal future life. *Vision Boards – 5-10 pictures of the things you want in your life. Tape these pictures onto cardboard, a scroll on your desktop or post them where you can view them every day. *Daily Affirmations – These represent short statements affirming the realization of your dreams and goals. *Cancel – Any time a negative thought or emotion enters your mind immediately recognize it and cancel it from your mind before it takes root. *Script Your Future Life – Successful people write out a few paragraphs of what their future, ideal life looks like. They read this script at least once a week. This script keeps them focused on the big picture and keeps them in a positive mindset.
- Live in the Moment – Have you ever been at a party, fun event or family gathering and your mind was elsewhere, thinking about work, projects that need to get done, issues you have with people, worrying over your finances, bills, etc.? What a waste of a good happiness event. Living in the moment means clearing your mind of all thoughts and enjoying the moment, enjoying the present. When you live in the moment you create a happiness event. When you allow other thoughts to interfere with a happiness event, you lose that happiness event forever.
- Overcome One Fear – Overcoming fear alters your thinking. It will reprogram your mind from negative to positive. It will increase your level of confidence. Doing something that scares you will take you out of your comfort zone and make you anxious and nervous. It will also exhilarate you. Human beings were not intended to be slaves to our fears. Our core fears reside in the limbic system portion of our brains. The neocortex, the most recent evolutionary portion of our brain, has the ability to consciously overcome our fears. When you take on a fear, both parts of the brain begin to compete against each other. The neocortex is far superior in terms of size. It has billions more neurons than the limbic system. It can easily overcome any fear. Become the master of fear and not its slave and you will experience happiness.
- Mentor Others – 93% of the wealthy who had mentors, attributed their wealth to their mentors. This is an eye opening statistic because it trumpets the financial importance of finding a mentor in life. Those that do find a mentor, realize great success in life.
Mentorship is a two-way street. The benefits accrue on both sides. Mentors learn from those they mentor, they create devoted, cult-like followers, they benefit financially (mentors and their mentees typically work together) but more importantly, the act of mentoring others is a happiness activity. It creates happiness for both parties.
- Volunteer – When you volunteer, you are giving back to your community. You also get to meet new people and grow stronger relationships. Volunteers derive an emotional satisfaction in helping others inside their community. Volunteering is a happiness activity.
- Exercise Daily – Exercising is a Happiness Habit. While the activity itself is not a happiness event, when completed, it creates a feeling of overall happiness. We feel happy because we’ve done something that is good for our body. The more you exercise, the happier you will be.
- Learn Every Day – Believe it or not, learning something new will make you happier. When we learn something new, the brain creates new neural synapses (connections), and this neural stimulation creates a physiological feeling of self-satisfaction and increased confidence. We simply feel better about ourselves. This is not an accident. These physiological feelings of happiness are the brain’s way of rewarding us for engaging in good brain behavior. The brain’s secondary purpose (the first being to keep us alive) is to learn. When we learn new things, we actually increase the mass of our brain (new neurons = new mass). The brain is one of the very few internal organs whose mass increases by use. The more we engage in learning, the more the brain will reward us with feelings of happiness. Each time you learn something new, therefore, you are creating a happiness event. Devote 20-30 minutes each day, reading something that will help you on the job or increase your knowledge in some hobby or passion you might have. Learn and be happy.
- Daily Meditation – Meditation is good brain management. It’s like a vacation for the brain. It reduces stress, triggers the creative forces within our subconscious and increases telomerase (An enzyme that keeps telomeres healthy. Telomeres close off each chromosome’s DNA. When telomeres fray, cells die. This is why we age. Our cells stop dividing and die and this leads to aging). If you’ve never meditated, set a goal of meditating for sixty seconds every day in the morning, immediately after waking up, or at night, right before bedtime. It will make you feel more relaxed and induce a state of happiness. Every time you meditate you create a Happiness Event.
- Practice Gratitude – Have you ever noticed some people are always upbeat, positive, enthusiastic and seem happy? Being in a positive, upbeat emotional state fosters happiness. You may think some are just genetically predisposed to be this way, but you’d be wrong. Wealthy, successful people I found in my research, have certain Happiness Habits that create this positive mindset. Somewhere along the line these people discovered one of the secrets to happiness: Practicing gratitude. There is always something to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude, every day, provides a reality check on our lives. It stops negative thinking in its tracks. It changes our thinking from negative to positive. When we force ourselves to reflect daily on all of the blessings we have in life (health, a job, a home, a family, friends etc), it stops us from thinking about all the things we don’t have and this changes our perspective. A prerequisite for success and happiness in life is to function from a positive mindset. Every day express gratitude for five things you are grateful for in life. Create an attitude of gratitude every day and, in time, you will add another Happiness Habit to your life. The more Happiness Habits you have, the more happiness events you create and the happier you will be.
- Associate With Happy People – Birds of a feather flock together. If you want to be happier you need to associate with other happy people. You need to spend a minimum of one hour a week with other happy people. You also need to reduce the time you spend with unhappy people to less than one hour per week. When you make new acquaintances with other happy people, they will, in time, introduce you to their relationships, who also happen to be other happy people. The more happy people you associate with in life, the happier you will be.
- Laugh Every Day – The more you laugh, the happier you become. Laughter reduces stress and pain, it also fires up your neurons and, much like aerobic activity, it increases blood flow. It boosts your immune system by creating infection-fighting antibodies and also triggers the release of endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being. Every day read something, listen to something or watch something that makes you laugh. Start out your day with a good laugh. It’s like a form of meditation that’s also fun and easy.
- Set One Big Goal – Pursuing a goal creates happiness. Research shows that we are genetically engineered to be goal oriented. When we pursue a new goal we activate existing neurons or create new neural connections (synapses). New dentrites and synapses form inside the brain when we pursue a goal. The brain likes this and releases certain neurochemicals that create a feeling of pleasure or happiness as we learn new things in pursuit of our goal. Every time you learn something new in pursuit of your goal you trigger a happiness event. This physiology is why those who pursue goals consider the pursuit more gratifying than the actual realization of the goal.
- Be Creative – Human beings were intended to be creative. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Creative pursuits unleash our inner genius. We all have the creative gene. When we pursue anything creative, it triggers positive emotions and creates new neural pathways. Our brains like it when we create new neural pathways, so it rewards us with an infusion of neurochemicals that produce a feeling of euphoria. Every time we engage in a creative pursuit, we create a Happiness Event.
- Pursue Your Main Purpose – Most people are not following their own main purpose in life. They are following someone else’s. It may be a main purpose of a mother, father, spouse, or some other significant presence in their life. When you are not following your main purpose, you are not happy. You do not look forward to Monday’s or any other work day. You see life as drudgery and anxiously await the weekends, holidays and vacation time. You pursue post-work activities that are often unhealthy, such as excessive alcohol consumption. You are often mired in negative, depressed thoughts. That’s not what life intended for you. Life intended that each of us pursue our own individual main purpose. Doing so awakens our inner genius and stimulates the creative parts of our brain that make humans so unique. You will not be happy and successful in life pursuing someone else’s agenda. You need to pursue your own agenda; you need to follow your own individual main purpose in life.