Well, for a start the way we have been taught to look at happiness is faulty. We have always been told… work hard, achieve stuff and happiness falls on the other side of this achievement. Which is why you see so many people working hard to achieve society’s checklist of human achievement - qualifications, good job, money, house, partner, marriage, kids… happiness!! And so many people are surprised that once they have achieved all this, this magical ‘Happy Ever After’ is still so elusive!
I think Disney and Rom Coms have a lot to answer for. There is no happy ever after… for anyone. We are bombarded with images of happy people in happy families living THEIR BEST LIFE on social media #blessed. And forever comparing ourselves to them, and thinking our lives do not live up to this idealised view. Why can’t we just be happy?
Happiness is so difficult to achieve as humans are hardwired to look for the danger, to compare ourselves to others and to suffer. Why is this? Because the cave people who were successful in passing on their DNA were the ones who err-ed on the side of caution when spotting something that could have been a bear or bush on the horizon. They were the ones who realised that humans survived better when they lived in a tribe. The ones who were never satisfied with what they have, those who wanted a bigger cave, more tools, more food… We literally evolved to be anxious, people-pleasing and unsatisfied with what we have.
My favourite quote for happiness is from Shawn Achor - Happiness is the joy in striving towards your potential. It is not a destination, it is a journey. And also - happiness comes before success. To be happy (and by happy, I do not mean the state of happiness you get when cuddling puppies or opening presents) you need to create a meaningful life.
Happiness research shows that our long-term happiness is not determined by our genetics or where we are in life, our external world. 90% of long-term happiness is predicted by how you see the world - if you think an event is going to be either good or bad, you will be right - because your brain looks for ‘evidence’ to back up your beliefs.
Changing your mindset is all about re-training your brain to look for the good, the positive things that you can see in your life now. It’s not about putting happiness off until you have the new iPhone, lost weight or when we go ‘back to normal’. It is about changing your mindset to spot the good stuff now. Just as a little side-note… this is not about always being positive. A meaningful life is one filled with struggle. You can not love without risking heartache.
Ok, does this sound a bit tricky? What can I do to re-train my brain? It is surprisingly simple actually. Research has shown that if you do one of these things every day for 21 days your brain will be more attentive to the positive, your mindset more positive and you will feel happier.
Make a note of 3 things you are grateful for in the last 24 hours
Take two minutes to write down a positive thing that has happened to you in the last 24 hours
Send a quick email or text to someone you know to thank them or praise them
Do just 10 minutes of exercise
Take 2 minutes to focus on your breathing
By my calculations, it should only take 20 minutes each day to do all of these activities, but as I have already said… you only have to do one of these things every day to feel the benefits.
So which activity are you going to choose? Set an alarm to do it at the same time each day, so you don’t forget.