One of the key habits of very happy people is that they know what makes them happy, AND they consistently prioritize those things in their life. For their book, How We Choose to Be Happy, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks interviewed 300 very happy people to determine what made them so happy. They discovered 10 universal principles that these 300 people all employed. One of those principles was “centrality.” These happy people were very clear about what brought them joy, and they made sure those things were central in their life.
Here is a quick way to discover what makes you happy. Take a piece of paper and a pencil or pen, and for 30 seconds write down a list of all the things that bring you happiness, contentment, and joy. Write quickly without stopping to analyze; just brainstorm a list as quickly as possible. When the 30 seconds are over, review your list. What do you notice about your list? Does anything surprise you? What gets in the way or prevents you from bringing more of these things, people, places, or activities into your life? What can support you in bringing more of these items into your life? If you can, share your insights with a friend or family member. Then pick one of the items from your list and schedule a time in your calendar in the next week to enjoy it. If this works for you, then schedule a time in your calendar each week to enjoy the item, and you are off to a great start in prioritizing what makes you happy.
Dan Gilbert presents research and data from his exploration of happiness — sharing some surprising tests and experiments that you can also try on yourself. This presentation was made at the TED conference, and is one of the Top 10 TEDTalks on TED.com, at http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/top10.
Sharon Salzberg has recently published a new book called Real Happiness: Learn the Power of Meditation: A 28 Day Program. Here is the review from the publisher:
“Thousands of years prove it, and Western science backs it: Meditation sharpens focus. Meditation lowers blood pressure, relieves chronic pain, reduces stress. Meditation helps us experience greater calm. Meditation connects us to our inner-most feelings and challenges our habits of self-judgment. Meditation helps protect the brain against aging and improves our capacity for learning new things. Meditation opens the door to real and accessible happiness.
“There is no better person to show a beginner how to harness the power of meditation than Sharon Salzberg, one of the world’s foremost meditation teachers and spiritual authors. Cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, author of Lovingkindness, Faith, and other books, Ms. Salzberg distills 30 years of teaching meditation into a 28-day program that will change lives. It is not about Buddhism, it’s not esoteric—it is closer to an exercise, like running or riding a bike. From the basics of posture, breathing, and the daily schedule to the finer points of calming the mind, distraction, dealing with specific problem areas (pain in the legs? falling asleep?) to the larger issues of compassion and awareness, Real Happiness is a complete guide. It explains how meditation works; why a daily meditation practice results in more resiliency, creativity, peace, clarity, and balance; and gives twelve meditation practices, including mindfulness meditation and walking meditation. An extensive selection of her students’ FAQs cover the most frequent concerns of beginners who meditate—“Is meditation selfish?” “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” “Can I use meditation to manage weight?”
This is a wonderful, funny video, which shows that it is never too late to start to practice gratitude. In this video, we hear from Selma Baraz, a Jewish mother in her 90s, who talks about how practicing gratitude transformed her life. She describes how her life used to be about complaining about everything, until her son James Baraz suggested she try a simple exercise.
James Baraz is co-author of Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness, and is also one of the founders of Spirit Rock Meditation Center.
During the holidays, a wonderful gift you can give yourself is to consciously look for things in your life to be grateful for. Here is a nice, brief article from a Harvard Medical School website, called Harvard Health Publications. It provides a summary of the latest research showing the benefits of practicing gratitude in your daily life and of keeping a gratitude journal.
Express Your Gratitude This Holiday Season
‘Tis the season to be jolly! Yet for many people, the holidays can also be synonymous with stress. One way to make sure you experience the warmth of the season is to slow down and remember to acknowledge all the things and people in your life that make you feel grateful.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. And because, in the process, you recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside yourself, gratitude also helps you connect to something larger than your individual experience — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish positive experiences, have better health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
As a signature strength, gratitude is felt and expressed in multiple ways. It can be applied to: the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of your childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking things for granted as they come), and the future (being hopeful and optimistic that there will be good things arriving).
Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami examined the impact of keeping a gratitude journal. All participants in their study were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on five things. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily hassles or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on hassles.
Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, appreciating what you have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make you happier, or thinking you can’t feel satisfied until your every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack.”
“Try keeping a gratitude journal and make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one the gifts you’ve received each day.”
To keep a gratitude journal, you can use a blank notebook or journal, or purchase a published gratitude journal, which has supportive quotes and exercises. Here is a gratitude journal that we particularly like. It is a small, thick journal with blank pages interspersed with helpful quotes and simple gratitude exercises.
Another way to make a daily habit of practicing gratitude is to ask someone to be your “gratitude buddy” and to email him or her every day with a list of the top five things you are grateful for each day. Ask your gratitude buddy to email you every day with the top things he or she is grateful for. This is a wonderful practice, and a beautiful way to share the gifts in your life with another person.
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, photographer, translator, and bestselling author. He worked as a scientist in the field of cellular genetics before leaving for France to study Buddhism in the Himalayas 35 years ago. He is actively involved in scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain. This is a wonderful, clear description of the nature of happiness and how we can experience greater happiness by training our minds. Highly recommended!
In this video, Roxanne Makasdjian reports on research being done on the science of happiness at the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley. The video features the work of Christine Carter, Dacher Keltner, Rudy Mendoza-Denton and Robb Willer. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Center is a pioneer in the cutting edge field of happiness research. This video will give you some valuable, science based insights about how to be happier.