Think Of Getting Happier Like Getting Fitter
I've taken to describing Happiness Lab® as being a little like Fitbit®. Wearing a Fitbit doesn't in itself make you fitter... it just makes you aware of how much you move about. The same is true of Happiness Lab, only about your emotions and happiness rather than your movement.
If any of us wants to lose weight or get fitter or healthier we know we need to make changes - we need to eat differently, exercise more... indeed build better habits. We all know that there are a host of approaches, diets, fads that we can follow - some work for us, others don't.
The same is absolutely true for improving our happiness - there are a load of practices, habits and approaches to boosting happiness, some (like diets) with pretty short-term impact, others proven to have a long lasting and sustainable impact and just like improving our health, the things that are worthwhile all take practice and a little effort.
How happy are you?
Quite often we think of happiness as being about our overall life satisfaction i.e. "how is my life going compared to how I imagined it would be?" This is why we place so much value on that next house, the new car, that next promotion, in the belief that they will make us happier. The truth is, they do have an impact on our happiness but it is neither as big as we imagine or very long-lasting, their effects wear off reasonably quickly... and our happiness levels return to their previous levels (and in some cases lower than they were before).
You'll probably have noticed that a lot of what is written about happiness is about the control we have over it, yet we have relatively little short-term control over whether our life is working out as planned... do we?
We often neglect day-to-day happiness... how the content of our daily lives affects how we feel, possibly because we're so busy chasing the things that we believe will make us happy, and failing to tune in to how we feel in our lives as we live them. This is really fundamental to our beliefs about happiness and informs the definition of happiness that we use at Happiness Lab...
"happiness is the sum of our overall life satisfaction +/- the balance of positive or negative emotions that we experience daily"
It's this daily balance of positive or negative emotions that we believe is largely in our control - but our appreciation of what's happening around us, how it makes us feel and how we choose to let that affect us is something that represents a great opportunity in the workplace.
It's why we based Happiness Lab around the simplest of principles - a daily question "how happy do you feel right now?" a really straightforward question (although it does take a little more thinking about than you might imagine and a little bit of practice too)... encouraging us to really think about how we're feeling and what's influencing that emotional state?
I am not a formal practitioner of mindfulness, but this process of taking a moment each day to think about how I'm feeling serves as a moment of mindfulness... helping me to tune in to my emotions and, in a way not dis-similar to keeping a food diary, making me more conscious about the choices I make.
Ultimately, that's the point - when we understand more about how we're feeling, what's driving those feelings and learning our own triggers and patterns, we can put that understanding to work - for ourselves, with our colleagues and indeed for whole companies.
The emphasis for companies is really on creating the right conditions for people to be happy, and whilst work is significant influence on our happiness - life trajectory, having purpose and meaning... not to mention the emotions we experience there every day - employers can't really make us happy... that's largely down to ourselves
One place we might start is by trying to improve the ratio of positive to negative emotions that we experience each day... the goal here isn't about being 100% happy or eliminating all negative emotions - variety in emotion is healthy - we just need to be conscious of the balance and there are techniques that we can practice that help us to do just that.
If you're able to get a group of colleagues doing it together, you may find that the benefits are increased as your team performance and interactions get better as a result of more positivity and happiness which in turn promotes kindness and pro-social behaviour.
So, if you're interested in something that you can work on alone (even without a tool like Happiness Lab to help you), here are a few exercises that you could try over the next few weeks that will do for your emotions what 10,000 steps a day will do for your physical health.
1. Take note of the good things
We're biologically wired towards negativity - that's why we can so often fixate on the bad things around us. In order to overcome this predisposition, we need to take note of the good things that happen in our daily lives.
Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on it. Make a note of 3 good things that have happened on that day - it's important that this is an actual note (preferably in a book/journal for this purpose so that you can refer to it another time), making a list in your head doesn't achieve what you'd want it to.
Focusing on good things like this teaches us to notice positives around us and practicing it for a period of time will most likely result in you noticing more good things happening in the moment and appreciating them more when they do.
For an extra happiness boost, refer back to your "good things" list from time to time to remind yourself of all the great things that happen around you.
2. Do things for others
There is an external orientation to happiness. The more we do things for the benefit of others, the happier we tend to be ourselves, this is largely because collaborating and helping each other is hard-wired in humans (believe it or not).
You've no doubt heard about the effect of "Random Acts of Kindness". Their effect is significant and even witnessing them has shown to result in improved happiness... you don't even need to be involved to feel good about kind acts.
There are many ways to practice Acts of Kindness but here's a way that you might try for a dose of positive emotions. Pick a day over the coming week, and on that day, do 5 things (that you wouldn't normally do) for other people - things that they wouldn't expect you to do either. Interestingly, doing 5 things on a single day has shown to have a bigger impact on the happiness of the giver, than doing one thing on five consecutive days. To maximise the effect - try to do 5 different things, for 5 different people (they don't even need to know about it) and then at the end of the day, take a few moments to write down what you did and how it felt (perhaps include how you think they may have felt too).
3. Make time for happiness
We all lead very busy lives in pursuit of that giant happiness hit from the new car or promotion (which won't be giant and won't last long... sorry), and because we're constantly chasing future happiness we forget to do the things that we really enjoy along the way.
Take a few moments to reflect on times when you've been really happy - think about what you were doing, who you were with and make a list. Identify a couple of things that you think you could repeat... often the things that people come up with here are socialising with friends, or spending quality time with family, or enjoying your favourite sport or hobby.
Once you've identified the things you think are repeatable - look at your schedule for your week ahead, and find a couple of slots to allow yourself to do those things that you really love. The point here is not trying something new that you think might make you happy, but doing those things that are proven to bring you happiness.
Make sure you actually go through with it... the benefits of increased positivity and happiness will far outweigh those extra 45 mins in the office.
There's never a better time than right now
As I said right at the beginning, increasing happiness is not dissimilar to getting fitter... only with a little less sweat and lycra! Like diets and exercise, it's easy to put it off until tomorrow... but with happiness related activities (particularly the ones I've shared here) you can't use the excuse that you don't have your kit...
Creating happier workplaces and better cultures is not something that will happen overnight but with a bit of sustained focus and persistence, and a good dose of individual and collective responsibility... every company can become the kind of place that we'd all like to work for, and never want to leave.
In the meantime, focus on what you can to do to be more positive and happier and enjoy all the benefits that they bring.