As we hit the ground running in 2018, with our busy daily lives already overwhelming us, it’s so easy to miss the forest for the trees and completely overlook some of the more obvious activities that can disproportionally affect our happiness levels. Luckily, we can choose to take a deep breath right now and go off more than just our rushed assumptions and reflexes – there are lots of simple, proven strategies that aim to create the right behavior that leads to a happier life. Below we take a look at four of the more actionable pieces of advice you can start implementing over the next week.
1. Find meaning in your work.
Last week I interviewed a motel housekeeper in Miami Beach for a side project I’m working on. “Do you like your job?” I asked. To my surprise, she smiled from ear to ear and was breathless for a couple seconds. She finally collected herself and said, “I can’t believe how much I love my job! I get to make dozens of our guests happy every day and feed my two beautiful children at the same time.” Talk about a powerful perspective! Right?
A job is only just a job if you chose to see it as a job. But there’s so much more to it. All work is a chance to be of service. All work is a chance to express your gifts and talents. All work is a chance to be helpful to other people. All work is a chance to change the world. It’s up to you to find meaning in your work, whether you’re a house keeper, whether you’re a police officer, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re an astronaut, or an entrepreneur. You must find meaning in your work so that every day you feel like you’re on a purposeful mission.
So today I challenge you: Love what you do, until you can do what you love. Love where you are, until you can be where you love. Love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most.
This is the way we find happiness.
2. Embrace discomfort to gain mastery.
Happy people generally have something known as a “signature strength” – at least one skill set they’ve become proficient at, even if the learning process made them feel somewhat uncomfortable at first.
Over the past decade we’ve coached hundreds of course students online and offline, and one lesson we’ve learned is that, yes, mastering a skill is just as stressful as you might think. However, this stress is positive. Although the process of becoming proficient at something takes its toll on people in the form of stress, people also admit that these same activities make them feel happy and satisfied when they look back on their days, weeks, months, and years as a whole. They see their progress and they feel great about it.
Truth be told, being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn. It’s better to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes growing, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running in place. You want to practice at the point where you are on the edge of your ability, stretching yourself over and over again, making mistakes, stumbling, learning from those mistakes and stretching yourself even farther. The rewards of becoming great in the long run far outweigh the short-term discomfort that’s felt in the process of earning your stripes.
3. Be productive, but not rushed.
Being rushed puts you on the fast track to being miserable. Period. But on the flipside, having nothing to do can also take its toll (bad news for those who subscribe to the dream of doing nothing). The balance is just right when you’re living a productive life at a comfortable pace. Meaning, you should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel frenzied and out of control. Easier said than done, but certainly a positive state to strive towards.
One method of achieving this is to have “heavy lifting” and “light lifting” timeslots scheduled each day. During the “heavy lifting” times, you go at it full force, and then as soon as a “light lifting” timeslot arrives, you slow down. It’s simply a matter of scheduling time every day to not be overly busy. Have dedicated downtime – clear points in the day to reflect, rest, and recharge. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity.
Also, keep in mind that you can’t always be agreeable to everyone else’s requests and demands; that’s how people take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to set clear boundaries. We all have obligations, but a comfortable pace can only be found by properly managing your yeses. Be willing to say “No” to most things, so you are able to say “Yes” to the right things.
4. Give when you are able.
While giving is usually considered a selfless act, giving is often more beneficial for the giver than the receiver. In other words, providing social support of any kind can actually be more helpful to the bigger picture of our lives than receiving it. Intuitively I think we all know this, because it feels amazing to help someone who needs it. And that’s because lasting happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give – the experience of making a difference in the world.
The science behind this is simple...
Performing any act of kindness releases Serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a natural substance that has incredible health benefits, including making you feel more joyful. However, what’s even cooler about this is that not only will you feel better, but so will others watching your act of kindness transpire. That’s right; bystanders will be blessed with a release of Serotonin just by watching you give kindness. (And a side note is that the job of most anti-depressants is to release more Serotonin. Move over Pfizer, kindness is kicking butt and taking names!)
So just keep in mind that while you can’t give all of yourself all of the time, you can give some of yourself some of the time, and doing so will make all the difference.
And of course, if you're struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track in 2018.