The Happiness Habit
Happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a habit.
It’s what we do to make everything else in life awesome.
And once we make that internal shift, we can put our day-to-day external frustrations into perspective.
Our brains are wired to be negative, but the good news is that you can train your brain to hold on to happiness.
As we understand better how the brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind in so many ways, says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.
All mental activities — sights, sounds, thoughts, emotions, and both conscious and unconscious processes — are the result of firing neurons.
Intense, prolonged, or repeated neural activity leaves an enduring imprint through which future neurons are likely to flow.
Like a river shapes land, the more we think and feel a certain way, the deeper the river channel becomes and the more likely we are to think and feel the same way in the future.
You can train your brain to scan for the good things in life — to help you see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.
According to Shawn Achor, psychologist, Harvard researcher, and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, when you raise the positivity levels in your brain, you actually do better work and, generally, are happier.
Master the art of moderation
Lagom (pronounced “lar-gohm”) is probably why Sweden is one of the happiest countries in the world, with a healthy work-life balance and high standards of living.
Lagom is a huge part of the culture in Sweden.
It means “Not too little. Not too much. Just right.”
It’s the opposite of materialism and consumerism.
“Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance” — Epicurus.
You are probably exercising lagom is many aspects of your life already.
For Swedes, lagom is a lifestyle, a habit of mind.
The key to experiencing greater fulfillment and pleasure is actually moderation. It’s about having only what you need.
“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide,” says Marcus Tillius Cicero.
In a busy world where we now have access to almost anything at any time, Lagom presents a simple and balanced way to live and work without missing out on anything.
Chef and author Bronte Aurell who runs a Scandinavian Kitchen in London’s Fitzrovia says, “Lagom is very important to the Scandi psyche.” In an interview, published in the telegraph, Aurell said, “There is balance and moderation in everything we do in Scandinavia — from our working hours to how many slices of cake we eat in one sitting. How much milk we take in our coffee, to the portion sizes of our dinner.”
Lagom is the new minimalism for anyone with the desire to live with fewer material possessions but aim to enjoy a fuller life.
But lagom goes far beyond embracing minimalism. In fact, it can teach us valuable lessons about how to live a happier life.
Niki Brantmark, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life,” argues, “In an age when we’re leading increasingly busy lives and feel connected 24/7 I think we should channel the Swedes, slow down and take more time out to relax. This might be enjoying fikas with colleagues, friends or family, it might be taking a decent lunch break to relax and prepare for the afternoon, using the weekend to head out for a day to the forest, beach or local park or enjoying an analogue activity like baking, reading, or crafting.”
Pursuing a more lagom style of happiness is preferable in many ways.
Jaime Kurtz, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at James Madison University writes in Psychology Today: “For a happier, more balanced life, start by asking yourself, “Is this lagom?” Ask it when you look inside your crowded closet, or as you consider your relationship with your work. Ask it when a massive portion of food is placed before you, or as you consider that second bowl of ice cream. Ask it about your life in general. Amid the more typical American life questions, like “Am I joyful?” and “Can I do better?” add in these much more reasonable questions: ‘Am I content?’,’Is this good enough?’”
If you can find that balance between work and your personal life — giving yourself time to do the things you love — in the long run, you find that balance.
If you finish work on time, you give yourself more time for family and your relationships.
Give yourself more personal time to do the things you love, you will become healthier and happier in the process.
Find ‘lagom’ by by keeping track of your spending, upcycling furniture, consciously reducing your environmental impact on the world, taking purposeful breaks from work, spending quality time with family and friends, focusing on what is absolutely essential, and knowing when to stop.
What is the one unique thing you are grateful for today?
Practice writting everything you are grateful for every now and then.
Don’t write the same things everyday.
Selecting unique areas of gratitude each day forces you to re-frame your perspective to look for the positive, rather than the negative, aspects in your daily life.
Gratitude has been linked to a host of physical and psychological benefits, including happiness.
One study found that grateful people are 25 percent happier.
So whether you make it a habit to talk about what you’re grateful for, or you write in a gratitude journal before bed, train your brain to look for the good in your life.
It could be the simplest, most effective way to boost your well-being.
Charles Dickens puts this well: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Embrace positive journaling
Count your blessings, lucks, fortunes and everything good that happened today. Each day, spend just two minutes writing about one or two positive experience that happened to you in the past 24 hours.
One method of positive journaling is to write just three new things you are grateful every day for 21 days. This trains the brain to constantly be on the lookout for something to appreciate.
This invites your brain to re-live that situation, which doubles the positive impact it has on your life. It’s an amazing experience, don’t miss out on positive journaling.
Shawn Achor writes, “Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective, and successful at work and in life.”
In Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin E P Seligman encourages use to make journaling a daily habit.
“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote, ”he says.
Be mindful on purpose
Mindfulness meditation has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extend beyond the time the individual is formally meditating.
Parts of your brain associated with compassion and self-awareness growswhile parts associated with stress shrink when you meditate, according to research from Massachusetts General Hospital.
The study looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation. Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness.
Make time (even if it’s just two minutes a day) to meditate.
Find a quiet place and focus on your breathing — and nothing else — for at least two minutes each day.
In our distracted world, this can be hard but it’s not impossible.
If you do it successfully, and consistently make it a habit, you’ll sleep better, feel less stressed, and have more energy.
Exercise your brain for happiness every day, and over time, you’ll train it for happiness and long-term success.
As you increasingly install experiences of gratitude, gladness, moderation, accomplishment, feeling successful, feeling that there’s a fullness in your life rather than an emptiness or a scarcity, you will be able to deal with the issues of life better.
I’m creating a habits mastery course to help you master the kaizen principles for starting and maintaining great habits. Kaizen Habits will teach you how to make any change in life, one small habit at a time. Sign up to be notified when it launches.