The Path to Happiness and Sucess: 7 Ways You Can Make This Your Best Year Yet

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In his book Paradise Lost John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Over 300 years later I have seen this basic premise hold true in the lives of many professionals and business owners.

Many of the clients we’ve worked with saw their current role or business as a coveted opportunity. After a while many have lost sight of that reality and now ruminate on the constant demands, the competition, the changing business landscape. Your mind is a powerful tool, and a double-edged sword. Here are some practical ways to maintain a healthy outlook and a positive trajectory throughout the new year.

Common belief is that success leads to happiness. But in fact new research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience proves that the equation is actually the other way around. We become more  successful when we are happier. Practical experiments have shown this to be true in numerous situations. For example, doctors that were put in a positive mood prior to diagnosis were able to come to the correct diagnosis a full 19 percent faster. Students performed higher on exams after being prompted by positive mood enhancing triggers. Optimistic salespeople outperform their peers by 56 percent.

Our brains are actually wired to perform their best when they are in a positive state of mind. Unfortunately, so often in this modern world we sacrifice happiness for success at the cost of lowering our mental success rate. Our incessant drive to perform no matter what the cost leaves us drained of the very essence of what is needed to actually achieve that elusive success. Here are some practical ways to become more happy.

 

Meditate, Pray, Be Still

Neuroscientsists have discovered that monks who spend years practicing meditation actually grow the left prefrontal cortex of their brain, the part of the brain responsible for positive feelings. This isn’t to suggest you should spend years in isolated silence. Taking even five minutes a few times per day to focus on your breathing and be still, to pray without distraction, to remove yourself from the outside world, has the effect of increasing your feelings of contentment as well as empathy and awareness. Research shows that making a regular practice of this will actually improve your immune function and permanently rewire your brain to higher levels of happiness.

How To: Schedule 5 minutes per day for meditation.

Have something to look forward to

Often the mere anticipation of an event delivers the most enjoyment. Studies have shown that people who thought about a planned event they were looking forward to actually raised their endorphin level. Anticipation lights up the same areas of the brain responsible for pleasure as much as the activity itself. Give yourself an advantage by planning a vacation, night out with friends, or even small rewards like craft beer or dark chocolate after work.

How To: Plan a fun event, put it on the calendar or promise yourself a “treat” at the end of the day.

Be kind, on purpose

Sonja Lyubomirsky, leading researcher and author of The How of Happiness, found that individuals told to complete five acts of kindness over the course of the day reported feeling much happier than the control group. Those feelings reportedly lasted for several days after the experience. To benefit from this, pick a day, or two, per week that you will consciously perform five acts of kindness. These must be premeditated for this to work. You cannot look back on the day and try to find five things that could be considered acts of kindness to check off your list.

How To: Pick a day this week to perform 5 planned acts of kindness.

Surround yourself with positivity

Think about your surroundings. Is your workplace a drab environment of gray and tan? Do you have pictures and mementos of people and experiences that you love and enjoy? While you do not always have  complete control over your surroundings you can find ways to infuse positive emotions. Heading outside on a nice day can also pay big dividends. A 2005 study published in Psychological Science showed that just 20 minutes outside in nice weather boosted positive mood, enhanced working memory, and broadened thinking.

How To: Put up pictures of loved ones, vacations, inspirational images. Take a walk at lunch or on break.

Exercise

Here it is again. We are big proponents of exercise, and for good reason, there are so many benefits beyond the obvious health improvements gained from regular activity. Physical activity can boost mood and enhance productivity in many other ways, by reducing stress and anxiety, improving motivation and feelings of mastery, and helping you get into that feeling of being totally engaged that you get when you are at your most productive. There are study after study proving the benefits of exercise. If you aren’t getting at least 20 minutes, four days per week you’re missing out on a lot. Discipline begets discipline. If you discipline yourself to exercise consistently you will see it spill over into other areas of your life.

How To: Make it a priority. This one you can knock out two birds with one stone; combine with the method above by running or taking walks outside.

Buy memories, not things

Do you believe that money cannot buy happiness? Well that is only partly true. Money can buy happiness so long as it is spent to do things, rather than have things. In the book Luxury Fever, Robert Frank explains that the feelings of happiness we get from buying things are ridiculously fleeting, while the feelings we get from spending money on experiences, especially with others, have lasting impact. Spending money on others, called “prosocial spending” has been shown in research studies to have increased positive feelings more than spending money on oneself.

How To: Determine your spending habits. Record your [discretionary income] purchases for a week or a month. On a sheet with two columns record money spent on others in one, and money spent on self in another. At the end of the period take stock of where you spend most of your money as well as your general level of pleasure each brought you. Adjust as necessary.

Play to your strengths

Each one of us is endowed with certain strengths. Are you often sought out for advice? Maybe you can craft some amazing cocktails, or easily put together a delicious dinner. Do you have a particular artistic talent or are really good with kids? Whatever it is, every time we exercise a particular strength we experience a surge of positive emotions. If you are low on the positive emotion scale revisit one of these skills. If you want to dig deeper and find your character strengths there is a great resource at www.viasurvey.com where you can discover your top five for free.

How To: Figure out what some of your skills or character strengths are ( you can survey your friends to find common threads if you are unsure what those may be) and make some time to enjoy doing some of the things you do best.

This post was adapted from THE HAPPINESS ADVANTAGE by Shawn Achor. A great read we highly recommend.

Have you found a particular way to increase your level of happiness or productivity? Share your recommendations below. 

 

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