Monday, November 1, 2010

improving your happiness

I came across the following 'guidelines for improving happiness' in this interesting article. I happily realized that I'm already applying many of these practices in my own life.

• Make the journey more important than the destination. Daily steps are more important than the grand arrival. Goals, therefore, are valuable in the opposite way they are often used, not to make sure we get to some specific place but to plot the journey. The nineteenth century French philosopher Alain noted: “A man is occupied by that from which he expects to gain happiness, but his greatest happiness is the fact that he is occupied.” Anything, no matter how small, that can improve the journey – a better cup of coffee in the morning, a more interesting route to drive home at night – is likely to bring the greatest amount of happiness to each day. So remember to reward (your kids, your employees, yourself) for undertaking the process as much as for the completion of the goal.

• Develop good relationships. Daniel Goleman's most recent book Social Intelligence points out how we humans are made to interact with others and to feel good because of those interactions. Getting to know the people at the office and building those and other relationships will only add to your sense of satisfaction.

• Put things in perspective. Acknowledge the bigger picture and concentrate on the positive aspects of your situation. Yes, your car is a junker and needs to be replaced, but thankfully you have the means to do that.

• Capture and hold on to your life's "peak experiences" (your happiest moments). Having children may not likely add to a person's overall happiness but what children often do add are peak moments that may well stand out in a parent’s memory high above the average of their total experience. Those are the memories you should return to over and over again.

• Be fully present. Daniel Kahnemann conducted an interesting study of the emotional experience of women during their day -- while at work, at lunch, leisure, etc. Surprisingly, the subjects didn’t enjoy the time they spent with their children or most of their time at work. The reason? Because they were not REALLY there, not really present with either their children or their colleagues—they were also contending with the phone, email, deliveries, repairs, etc. Women are better multitaskers than men. But there is a downside to multitasking. Doing a number of things at once can devalue everything, the way that playing several pieces of beloved music at the same time produces noise. So one way to achieve a greater sense of enjoyment is to be wholly present at whatever you are doing: conduct the new staff meeting and read the bed-time book with your full attention, without interruptions.

• Make small changes first. It is often hard to make major changes – in a spouse, job, or geographic location – because of the risks involved. Smaller changes can move you forward in small steps: give yourself an hour or two a week doing something you really enjoy or doing something that expands your sense of meaningfulness/worth – volunteer, take or teach a class, be with friends, etc.

• Balance your joys. Ben Shahar calls it the Lasagna Principle: if you eat even your favorite food all day every day, eventually you get sick of it. Similarly, we all need both time with and time away from what/whom we enjoy or love. Would you enjoy that donut more if you only had it once a week? Is visiting the relatives best done in one-day doses? By trial and error you can determine what optimum quantity of any given pleasure brings you the highest sense of enjoyment.

• Meditate. According to recent, dramatic brain research, we can lower the amount of brain activity on the right side (which produces negative feelings) and raise it on the left side (which produces positive feelings) through regular meditation, which can be sitting, yoga, walking, tai chi, chi kong, etc. Jon Cabot Zinn's testing with electrodes shows regularly meditating monks’ brains to be dramatically happier than non-meditators'. And only a few weeks of meditating a few minutes daily – which can be done on your lunch hour, even at your desk – is all that is necessary to improve the ratio.

• Breathe deeply. You can reverse much daily psychic and physical stress by taking three deep breaths. Try it when you are sitting at a red light or waiting out a tedious meeting.

• Be grateful. Appreciation increases the sense of satisfaction with life, and not just by highlighting good news. Developing the habit of writing down each night three things for which you are grateful has been shown to be the single most reliable way to raise your overall happiness level.

No comments: