If you’ve suspected that happy people get better work evaluations and higher pay, you’re right. At least, that’s been the conclusion of numerous scientific studies.
According to Professor Martin Seligman (author of Authentic Happiness), “…it turns out that adults and children who are put into a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of laboratory tasks, such as solving anagrams.” Ah, that means happiness improves motivation as well. More good news.
Recent research has shown that happiness levels can be increased with a minimum amount of effort. Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California (author of The How of Happiness) has conducted happiness research with thousands of men and women. Among her conclusions: A full 40 percent of your happiness level is completely within your control. You may have received “unhappy genes” and suffered unfortunate life circumstances, but you still have a clean 40 percent at your command.
Lyubomirsky outlines 12 tasks that you can pursue to bolster your happiness levels. But before we talk about those, let’s put to rest three big myths about happiness.
Myth #1: Happiness is something that you find, like Shangri-la. It isn’t, so don’t go looking for magical kingdoms.
Myth #2: Our circumstances determine our happiness. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “If only … would happen, then I’d be happy.” It doesn’t work that way.
Myth #3: You either have it or you don’t. I’ve already mentioned that you control as much as 40 percent, so you can make improvements.
12 Happiness Tasks
Now to the 12 tasks that Professor Lyubomirsky says do help. These are simple tasks. You don’t need to tackle all 12 at once. Start with four that sound appealing. Later, you can work on the other eight and astound yourself with the results.
- Express gratitude. You can tell others or you can write down five every evening for a week.
- Cultivate optimism. Keep a journal. Entitle a section, “My Best Possible Future” and regularly spend time describing various aspects of your life as you’d like them to be 10 or 20 years from now.
- Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. Cut down on how often you rethink your problems and compare yourself to others. Cut down on thoughts, such as, “I wish I hadn’t said that! I should have said …”
- Practice acts of kindness. I agree with Robert Wright (author of Non-Zero, another book you should get) that altruism is built into our genes. It has contributed to our survival. As Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.”
- Nurture relationships. Spend time and energy cultivating and enjoying new relationships, or healing ailing ones.
- Develop strategies for coping. Practice ways to handle (or get over) stress, hardship and trauma.
- Learn to forgive. Write a letter in which you try to let go of your anger or resentment toward someone. You don’t have to mail it.
- Do activities that truly engage you. These are activities that you find challenging and absorbing. I call them “flow activities.” You know you’re in flow when you lose track of time. If you’re interested in this topic, read the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
- Savor life’s joys. Pay close attention, and replay life’s momentary pleasures and wonders, through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another.
- Commit to your goals. Pick one of your goals, or several, and devote time and effort to pursuing it.
- Practice your religion or spiritual creed. Devote thought and energy, not merely lip service, to your beliefs.
- Take care of your body. Engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet. Smile and laugh—it’s good for your health.
So, pick your “top four” and devote regular attention to them. Later, work on the other eight and see how high you can raise your happiness level.
Remember, you can increase your happiness, optimism and motivation. Make it happen. It’s within your control!
About the Author
Nancy Clark is CEO of WomensMedia.