I will be so happy when I pass my driving test! I will be so happy when I start my new job! I will be so happy when I get my new phone! We have been told so often that we can expect to be happy only after we accomplish a difficult task or get something that we have coveted. When you last had a really good meal, can you remember how long you stayed happy for? When you last saw a great film, how long did you keep that wow buzz? The old theory of happiness says that happiness follows success. We are coming to realise that this is not quite how it works for long lasting happiness.
Sean Achor works with hundreds of the top US companies to boost productivity through improved workplace happiness. He sees sales personnel perform better, medical staff make fewer mistakes, sickness levels decrease after staff have gone through his workplace happiness programmes. So what is the new happiness theory and how can we apply it? The new happiness theory says that we should start by being grateful for what we have to build a solid core of happiness. What you focus on expands, so as you think about the best bits in your life, like your good friends, your good health, your family, your home, your neighbourhood, your general level of happiness will improve. Then the magic happens! When you become happier, people around you will sense it. You will become more open to opportunities. And with more opportunities, success will follow, and you will become even happier! A truly virtuous cycle.
What does success mean to you? We all want to be successful, but does that mean having more stuff, more holidays, a bigger house, a flashy car? Do you crave respect, power, the ability to control other people and have influence over events? Do you want to help more people, do you want to make a difference, to leave a legacy, to contribute to society? Your definition of success will determine your why, and your strong why will maintain your motivation to take action, and obtain results.
Last Winter I was travelling down by train to a conference down in Central London and had booked accommodation for the night before to make sure that I would be fully prepared for the early morning start. Rain started to pour down as I made my way in the dark from Paddington to the Traveller’s Rest. Squinting through my fogged up glasses I could make out the sign in the distance, fantastic! Stepping inside into the busy reception was greeted by a friendly Australian. Have you booked? Yes! ID please. Certainly! I am sorry you can’t stay here. Excuse me? This is specifically for young people, we have an age limit of forty. Sorry, but you’re not alone, lots of people miss this detail in the small print on our website. And this is a hard rule? Yes. And there is nothing I can do to change that? No. Ah. Take a deep breath in. Take a deep breath out. Remember your new happiness principles. No complaining. No anger. Breathe. Smile. OK, can you help in any way? Certainly. There’s another place around the corner, I’ll see if they have space. And they did!
Back into the rain again, but the new place is brighter, more open than the original, and breakfast included! Result! Happy me, happy staff, the theory works!
What do humans really need? As a fundamental they need to survive in the physical world: Shelter, water food and family. To prosper: Education, opportunity and a broader community. And to be happy? It seems to depend on our environment, but beneath the surface, we can see common universal factors. We want to feel included, to be respected within our tribe. Our baubles like cars and clothes, houses and jewelry help to reinforce the local stereotype, making it easier for others to quickly recognise our material success. We are happiest when we give, contribute, leave a legacy through good works.
Here are the first simple steps to happiness. Boost your health and fitness by eating better food, moving more, drinking more water, sleeping better and growing your self confidence. Meanwhile focus on what you can be grateful for, practise giving, practise receiving and smile more. Start with the physical, turn exercises into good habits, let the good habits build a fine character.
5 minutes peace
Buy some fruit
Get up earlier
Power lead a conversation
Power lead an email
Give someone a hand
Accept a gift
Spend some money on a new experience
Read a book
Reduce the news
Say yes to new ideas
Say no to people that drain your energy
Most of what you worry about never happens. Ask yourself what useful purpose worrying has? If you can influence what you worry about then make a decision and take the consequences. This will free up your mental capacity. If something is out of your circle of influence then let it go! In the last few decades, we have worried about the cold war, unstable nuclear empowered states, terrorism, climate change, oil prices and species extinctions. We have to be able to maintain a healthy awareness of the implications of these issues on our wellbeing whilst avoiding being sucked down into doom and despair.