Happiness Tips and Techniques

The following happiness tips and techniques are NOT substitutes for having a large and meaningful (to you) purpose.  Neither are they substitutes for the other larger and more integrated issues spelled out in my book (The Happiness Paragraph).  They can be helpful, though, as tips or techniques to get you moving, to prevent burn-out, or to boost short-term joy so that you are motivated to get the bigger stuff done.

From The Happiness Advantage (By Shawn Achor):

  • Find something to look forward to.  It turns out that you can gain an immediate benefit to your mood (including a release of endorphins in your brain) simply by thinking about some future reward.  So, for example, if you are struggling to get motivated in working on some project - you can think about your favorite movie, person, or other reward that will occur later that day or week to give yourself a boost.  This also means that you can keep yourself motivated by planning ahead to distribute these little rewards throughout your day or week.
  • Commit conscious acts of kindness - Researchers have found that small acts of random kindness to others seems to boost your own mood.  An example is paying a toll for the person in the car behind you.  I personally haven’t tried this technique.  It could be that it only works for those who deeply believe in altruism - but even for the average person it may promote a sense of benevolence - in terms of making the world around you in a small way the way you want it to be.
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings -  This means making your work environment more positive and inviting.  This could include cleaning your office, adding photos of people and things that you love to the area, going out and walking in the sun for 20 minutes if it is a nice day.  This may also mean avoiding things that are too negative (certain people, TV, news stories) which you may know from experience tends to dampen your mood.
  • Excercise - Exercise seems to have a number of positive advantages.  Those who exercise feel that they are taking care of their health - which is itself a positive.  It is also known that those who exercise produce endorphins, which has an immediate effect on your mood.  It also seems to help people to feel more motivated overall, have feelings of mastery, and to produce flow.
  • Spend money - This might sound unusual - but there is some truth to this.  The idea, though, is not to spend money on material things (the benefits of which are usually far more fleeting) but on experiences.  These could be outings with friends or family, travel, seeings, plays, etc.  Unique experiences and time with others seem to add to people’s happiness for a long period of time - and the feelings involved are remembered and re-lived.
  • Meditate - Meditation shows up in a number of happiness books (not surprisingly - in Buddhist books too) as a beneficial activity.  Given we are looking here for short-term boosts in motivation and mood - this one seems to fit the bill.   The basic technique is to breath in and out - focusing only on your breathing.  When your attention wanders - you refocus on the breathing.  This may actually have benefit as a method of forced relaxation.  I would recommend trying it 3-5 times for 5 minutes each (scattered throughout a week) and observe for any benefits.

From The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin):

  • Focus on your energy level -   This was the first step in Gretchen Rubin’s project to get happier.  She worked to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.  All of these things can boost your energy level and improve your daily level of happiness.  Work on these habits to establish a healthy base for your happiness.
  • Organize and declutter your life - This can affect how you enjoy things both at work and at home.  For Rubin this meant throwing away a lot of things from home and consolidating what she had left over.  
  • Do something that involves growth of your potential - This is really a key issue and may not belong in a page called ‘tips and techniques’.   Repeatedly evaluating what you do to see that you are taking on greater challenges and engaged in things that excite you is a key part of staying happy.
  • Have novel experiences - These may be big or small - but new experiences can change your perspective and expose you to parts of life or yourself that you were not sufficiently aware of.  Novel experiences might be seeing a movie you wouldn’t ordinarily think was ‘your type’, going to a museum, exploring a new city that you are travelling to for work, reading books and magazines that are not your forte, meeting people that are new, traveling to unusual destinations.  Exploring your world and things that might offer you further challenges, experiences, and benefits should be part of your basic attitude towards the world.  Remind yourself that there is always something new to know, a different and helpful perspective, or a mystery out there that you want to figure out.
  • Work in short bursts - Many people (me included for a long while) don’t realize the benefits of breaks.  This is true for lots of activities - but might especially be true for creative work.  You should take frequent breaks (working perhaps a maximum of 90 minutes straight for intellectual work).  During breaks your mind ‘frees up’ and you can make connections you ordinarily wouldn’t have made.  Each of us may have a different amount of useful work we can do at in a straight sitting - so try to be sensitive about this aspect of your ability to work.
  • Frequently be silly or have fun - No matter what you do, learning to have fun with your life and work will add to your energy level and creativity.  There are many example of this happening, but I love the story that Richard Feynman told.  While he eventually became a famous physicist, at one time he was feeling burned out by working too hard teaching college physics classes.  He decided the solution was to purposely ‘play’ with physics - like he used to do as a kid.  Soon after this decision he was watching someone throw a frisbee across the college quad and he noticed the wobble in the frisbee as it flew.  He decided to 'play' by trying to figure out how the wobble speed compared to the rotation speed of the frisbee.  He solved the problem and felt himself loving the process - even though it seemed to have no relation at all to his work!  Once he was inspired, though, it started him on a mental path to discovering an entire field of physics (quantum electrodynamics).  Just by allowing himself to play and enjoy his field (instead of doing something 'important') he ended up going down a path for which he was awarded the nobel prize in physics!