Almost everyone on the planet wants to be happier.
It’s such a universal fact of life that the United States Declaration of Independence exclaims Americans’ right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But HOW are we supposed to be happier?
If you ask most people this question, you’d probably get answers like:
“If I had more money, I would be happier.”
“If I had a better job, I would be happier.”
“If I had better genetics, I would be happier.”
These common answers are all misguided. Not to say that a great job, great genetics and money can’t make you happy - but the world’s happiest people rarely mention these factors.
Before we get into the application of this article, there’s one thing you need to understand:
If you don’t consciously and consistently take actions to make you happy, you will most likely be an unhappy person.
Put another way, the “default setting” of human beings tends towards unhappiness.
To understand why, you need to understand the negativity bias.
The human body and mind are not designed to make you happy. From an evolutionary perspective, the human body and mind have one function - to pass their genes onto the next generation.
You’re in the jungle, and there are some really tasty looking bananas about 20 yards ahead of you in a clearing. Your mouth starts to drool.
Mmmmmm…. You haven’t eaten in days.
However, from beyond the bananas, on the other side of the clearing, you hear an ominous, low, rumbling sound.
What do you do? Do you take a risk, and go for the bananas? Or, do you turn the other way and avoid the ominous, growling noise?
Well, you might do either. But, due to natural selection, the humans who were more influenced by positive emotion (I’m gonna get those bananas!) than negative emotion (I don’t wanna face that animal!) died out.
We can understand this from modern studies that show our brains reacting more strongly to negative information than positive information.
As a Psychology Today article states,
“Take, for example, the studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago.
He showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer).
Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity in the brain's cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.
The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity.”
Here’s an example of the negativity bias that you can connect to your everyday life: Think about how it feels when someone gives you feedback with equal amounts of negative and positive information. Let’s say you got the following piece of feedback on an article you wrote:
How would you feel? If you’re like most people, you would fixate on the “but ran a bit long” portion, even though you have 4 positive words before it.
Since our brain treats negative information with more importance than positive information, we must balance out this bias through conscious action towards happiness.
“The three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat). If we want to raise happiness we need to make both mindset and behavior shifts.”
- Positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor
Put another way, the three main sources of feeling happy are your:
Let’s break down each of these areas.
As a Spring of Life reader, you probably already know all about how important your health is, so we won't spend too much time here.
But, here’s the important point:
Your body and brain are biological machines. Your mood is influenced by many factors that have nothing to do with your situation in life such as:
All of these factors affect your hormones and neurotransmitters in huge ways.
For example, if you don’t get at least 7 (and preferably closer to 8 or 9) hours of sleep a night, that’s going to make you much more irritable than you would be otherwise.
This is backed up by an excellent sleep podcast with fitness coach and entrepreneur Jason Ferruggia in his interview with Dan Pardi, a sleep expert and researcher. They both noted that the first thing they observed when getting less sleep than normal was that they got cranky way easier.
Again, we won’t spend much time here - but if you want to be happy, you MUST take good care of your body.
“Change your story, change your life.”
- Tony Robbins
When you wake up in the morning, how do you react to the weather?
This little question is a litmus test for your mindset.
If you get salty when the weather isn't how you like it….
What does that say about your ability to handle uncomfortable situations?
We’ll put it to you this way: what stories do you tell yourself about the world? As Shakespeare famously said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Imagine how you’ll feel if you look at bad traffic and think, “Cool, I’ll have more time to listen to my audiobook.”
Compare that to telling yourself the story, “I’m going to be late to work and I hate traffic and this day sucks already….” This story, this interpretation of objective external events, will cause you to be upset.
Changing your attitude and beliefs is the work of a lifetime, but here are a few tools you can use to start telling yourself better stories today.
“At the end of the day, I can end up just totally wacky, because I've made mountains out of molehills. With meditation, I can keep them as molehills.”
- Ringo Starr
Meditation has been a popular subject of research in the West recently and with good reason:
A large meta-analysis of the research on meditation (a study that examined numerous other studies and summarized their findings) found that meditation is an exceptionally effective treatment for both anxiety and depression.
And, wisdom traditions throughout the ages have known how useful meditation is for creating a better frame of mind. Not only does meditation make you happier, it allows you to be aware of your own self-destructive thought patterns, which then gives you the opportunity to change them.
Your action step: Meditate for 2 minutes a day, every day, using the guided meditations at the free website/app Calm.com.
Entrepreneur and author James Altucher knows a thing or two about happiness, and it’s opposite: He made millions with his businesses, then lost it all in a divorce, only to rebuild again. He got out of his depression through what he calls “a daily practice” and one component of his approach is this:
Look at every problem you have as a difficult gratitude opportunity.
Let’s say you are worried about money. You can use this problem to reflect on the things you DO have that you can be grateful for, such as:
Even if you are in a truly rock bottom situation, you can be grateful that you can conquer your situation and then use it for empathy with others who are going through tough times.
No doubt this can be incredibly difficult. But the alternative is to let your problems define your emotions.
“Every problem is a gift - without problems we would not grow.”
- Tony Robbins
Once upon a time, there was a man named William James who considered committing suicide. He made a deal with himself: For one year, James would take complete and total responsibility for everything that happened to him. If at the end of a year, James’ life had not turned around, he would kill himself.
Long story short, James’ life was transformed, and he went for bad. Therefore, the emotional patterns of the people you spend time with is a huge factor that influences your own happiness.
One example: In a 2002 study, researchers divided students into different groups to complete a task and then placed within each group an actor who was instructed to either be warm, enthusiastic, irritable or depressed and sluggish. The students were unaware that the actor wasn’t one of them.
The study found that the self-reported emotions of the whole group, as well as the levels of cooperation and conflict, were strongly affected by the emotions the actor was expressing.
So, in the “irritable” actor’s group, the students showed more conflict and less cooperation than the “warm” actor’s group, which had the opposite results.
There are many possible mechanisms for this result, but they most likely boil down to tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.
Here’s your action step: Make a list of the 10 people you spend the most time with. Then, think about each person, and ask yourself, “Do I usually feel better or worse after spending time with this person?”
Obviously, even your very best friend will sometimes cause you to be upset. We are looking for patterns that consistently repeat themselves
Self-development guru Jim Rohn is famous for saying, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” And the saying has a lot of scientific support.
If your friend is going through a tough time, obviously you shouldn’t just drop them when they most need support.
But, if for years, that friend has been a source of pain and conflict in your life … you might need to let them go from your life.
We’ve examined the 3 big source of happiness: your health, your mindsets and your relationships. In order to help you become happier, starting today, we’ve prepared a list of 10 actions you can take to make yourself happier.
Think of it as your “happiness checklist.” You can download it for free and start feeling happier today.