Wish you could find the success that would make you happy? You’re not alone. From the time we’re old enough to start thinking about our future, we’re served up an equation for happiness that goes like this: Great Work = Big Success = Big Happiness. “But it doesn’t work like that in real life,” says Neil Pasricha, author of the upcoming (March 2016) book The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything. “That model is broken. We do great work, have a big success, but instead of being happy, we just set new goals. We never get to happiness. It keeps getting pushed further and further away.”
Instead, Pasricha says we should put happiness at the beginning of the equation: Be Happy = Great Work = Big Success. “If we start with being happy, then we feel great. We look great. We exercise. We connect. What happens? We end up doing great work because we feel great doing it. What does great work lead to? Big success. Massive feelings of accomplishments and the resulting degrees, promotions, and phone calls from your mom telling you she’s proud of you.”
Fear is programmed into our heads: we look for problems, and work to improve them. But a survival mindset doesn’t lend itself to a state of happiness and peace.
It isn’t easy to be happy. As Pasricha points out, despite fantastic advancements from flush toilets to underwear, we’re stuck with the same brains we had 100,000 years ago, wired to focus on fear and survival. “What did this fear do? It drove our survival. We were paranoid. We were fighters. We were brutal. And because of it, we got here.” Fear, he says, is still programmed into our heads: we look for problems, and when we find them, we work to improve them. That was the key to our survival, even up to a generation ago, but a survival mindset doesn’t lend itself to a state of happiness and peace.
Pasricha offers seven easy ways to be happy right now. His promise: if you do any of these seven things for two weeks, you will feel happier.
Three Walks The more physically active people are, the greater their general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. Fitness and exercise make a difference. That’s the finding of a Pennsylvania State study reported in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. Research showed that people have more upbeat feelings on days when they are more physically active than usual. “It doesn’t take much,” says Pasricha. “Half an hour of brisk walking three times a week improves happiness.”
The 20-Minute Replay Writing about a positive experience dramatically improves happiness, according to Pasricha. “Why? Because you actually relive the experience as you’re writing it and then relive it every time you read it. Your brain sends you back.” The 20-minute replay helps us remember the experiences and people in our lives that bring us joy.
Random Acts of Kindness A Stanford study found that students who performed five random acts of kindness over a week reported much higher happiness levels than the control group. “Why? They felt good about themselves!” says Pasricha. “People appreciated them.” In his book Flourish, happiness guru Martin Seligman says “we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”
A Complete Unplug Downtime after work helps us recharge for the next day, as a Kansas State University study found. Turning your phone off after dinner and banning the Internet on vacation are good ways to do this. “The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal,” say Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement.
Hit Flow “Get into a groove. Be in the zone. Find your flow,” says Pasricha. “However you characterize it, when you’re completely absorbed with what you’re doing, it means you’re being challenged and demonstrating skill at the same time.”
2-Minute Meditation A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation. After the course, parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grew while parts associated with stress shrank. “Studies report that meditation can permanently rewire your brain to raise levels of happiness,” says Pasricha.
Five Gratitudes “If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy,” says Pasricha. Using a journal or a website (wordpress for example), write down three to five things you’re grateful for from the past week.
“Remember,” Pasricha says, “just like driving a car, throwing a football, or doing a headstand—you can learn to be happier.”