We’ve been taught how to be happy completely incorrectly. Many believe that happiness comes when something happens to you, like you get the job you’ve been searching for, or you complete that big project you’ve been working on; you equate success with happiness.
Which is somewhat true, just in reverse. Let me explain.
When we succeed at something, we don’t actually feel that much happier. Usually we just think, “Okay, what’s next?” Side-note here that a quick fix would be creating a habit of choosing to celebrate your success before even having that thought BUT what I’m here to discuss today is not this quick fix, it’s a complete mindset shift.
Happiness doesn’t come from success. Success comes from being happy.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has been studying happiness for over a decade. He’s drawn the conclusion above and found that when you’re happier, every single business or education outcome that can be tested for, like productivity or sales, rises dramatically.
It’s been found that happiness is not just something that happens to you. Happiness is a choice you make. Your brain is like a muscle: you learn actions and gain muscle memory and just like any other muscle your brain remembers repeated actions. If your repeated actions are thinking about the worst parts of your day, that becomes the default action for your brain and it can be harder to focus on the good parts of your day. Luckily, even if you’ve been pessimistic your whole life, you can teach yourself happier habits.
One of those habits is, of course, mindfulness. I love this quote from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on the subject: “Mindfulness is for making us aware of what is happening right now. Not only are there always conditions of happiness present in me, but they are also all around me.”
This quote from his book No Mud, No Lotus applies especially if you are going through a rough patch, stuggling with depression, or just looking for ways you can manage any emotional baggage you might be carrying.
With mindfulness, we learn to breathe, meditate, and find conditions of happiness all around us. You can read a few tips I have on beginning to meditate here.
The one thing that’s really helped me find more happiness in my life has been making a list of good things that have happened in the past day (or the past few days if I haven’t journaled in a bit) and another list of things I’m grateful for. When I’m having a rough day I can go back through my journal and read these lists and remember the things that have made me happy. Know that without the lows there would be no highs, and it’s part of life’s natural equilibrium to have a high point one moment and a low point the next. The trick is to know this, and maybe even appreciate those low moments that challenge us to be present and remember that there is happiness available to us. We all fail at times, this is a fact, but if we can learn to love ourselves even through failure like we love and accept our family and friends we’ll all be a little kinder and happier.
The easiest, most uplifting habit I recommend is giving love to the people you know. Send a quick text to someone thanking them for something they did recently, praising them, or just let them know you’re thinking of them. Both you and them get a little boost of happiness and you deepen your connection. Social connection is actually the greatest predictor of happiness, and the practice of sending a positive message to people in your social circle over a period of time sends your social connection levels off the charts.
To recap, three habits you can cultivate to become happier are:
1. Mindfulness and meditation
2. Journaling lists of good things that happened and things you’re grateful for
3. Sending positive messages to people in your social group
Because it’s something I try to ask myself often, I made this phone screen background as a reminder. It asks “How can you choose happiness today?”
For me it’s a simple reminder to make that choice and to cultivate good habits to truly train my brain for happiness. I hope it can help you too. You can get it for free by clicking below.