I recently listened to one of Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcasts. She interviewed positive psychologist, Shawn Achor. Shawn teaches the most popular course at Harvard, the happiness class. I found the podcast fascinating. Pursuing happiness is the human condition. Men and Women have been seeking the secret to happiness for centuries. Now, Shawn has the answers. I really recommend listening to the podcast, but if you don’t have time, here is a summary:
Shawn begins by acknowledging that genetics and circumstance affect our state of happiness. However here is the exciting part, we have the power to trump these effects and change our own natural baseline happiness. Shawn calls it “Happiness Hygiene”. Just as we brush our teeth and shower, we need habits for taking care of our mental wellbeing . Shawn explains that by adding any of the next 2 minute habits to your daily routine for 21 days, your level of happiness will greatly improve. These simple habits overpower genes, environment and age. Regardless of if you are an 80 year old cranky man who has been a lifelong pessimist, or a generally optimistic 25 year old, any one of these simple steps will make you happier. After 21 days, those who tested as low level pessimists, tested as low level optimists. I find this mind blowing. Arguably, your happiness is more important than your oral hygiene (although those smelling your yucky morning breath may disagree) and if we can set aside two minutes every morning to brush our teeth, we can easily set aside two minutes to be happier people.
Here are the habits:
- Write down three new things you are grateful for every morning.
- Think of one meaningful thing that happened to you over the last 24 hrs ( it can be small, like someone opening a door for you) and journal about all the details for two minutes. Shawn describes how to the brain, visualization and actual experience are hard to differentiate between. Therefore, by reliving the experience, you are doubling its value and creating more meaning in your life.
- Send a thank you email, text, tweet, etc. to a different person every day. Appreciating those around you strengthens your social support. Shawn states that social connection is as predictive of how long we will live as obesity and smoking. I recently saw some statistics that aligned very well with his fact. The statistics I read placed deep social connections as the second most important determiner of longevity and the first was social interactions with strangers ( for instance, talking to someone you don’t know in the elevator). How cool is that?!
- Meditation. Shocker. We’ve all heard it a million times and that is because it works! I know it can be very hard to focus, but being mindful and in the moment is life changing. Shawn noted that it not only reduces your stress but the stress of those around you!
- Smile. I found this one kind of funny. Turns out a symptom of happiness can also be the cause!
- Exercise. This one is actually for 15 mins not 2 ( but how long did you just spend scrolling through social media? 15 mins is not much). Doing cardio for 15 mins not only has physical benefits, but it teaches your brain that what you do matters. That, is optimism.
Shawn concludes that happiness can be a choice. It is also contagious. The happier we are allows those around us to more easily pick happiness.
I am excited to try these happiness techniques. I will be trying to add the gratitude habit to my everyday routine and will let you know in 21 days how I feel! I challenge you to do the same. If this topic interests you, reach out to me. I would love to chat!