"Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be."
- Abraham Lincoln
Happiness: it's something for which we spend a lot of time and energy striving and searching. In our culture, happiness is something to be pursued. Yet, science has long demonstrated that happiness tends to be more of a propensity than a result. So, if happiness does indeed come from within, can we do anything to increase our propensity for it? Well, I believe yoga says absolutely yes!
I've made it no secret that yoga, to me, is not a practice that is a part of my life, but that yoga is in everything I do. Through our work of yoga, we usually see that we have tremendous power to shape and mould ourselves in ways we might have otherwise thought impossible. So, while I agree that happiness does come from within ourselves, I don't believe that we are simply stuck with the propensity with which we were born or raised, strong though that tendency may be. I've seen astounding changes in my own being through even a relatively little amount of focused practice and intention. I believe we can train our brains to tend more toward the brighter side of life. So, I want to issue to you a 365 Day Happiness Challenge to do a little yoga on your brain. That’s right, folks. I challenge you to actively engage in the yoga of happiness for one full year. Are you intrepid enough for this?
The Happiness Advantage
I came across a TED talk earlier this week that inspired this happiness challenge. It was Shawn Achor's talk on "The Happy Secret to Better Work," which revealed with some degree of good humor that rather than work getting us to happiness, our happiness gets us to work and inspires productivity. He calls it "The Happiness Advantage," and he describes it thus:
See what we're finding is it's not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time...If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we've found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You're 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we're able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.
Whether he realizes it or not, Shawn is revealing himself to be an avid proponent of doing yoga for our brains. He argues that we can absolutely shape the patterns in our brains to cultivate greater happiness within through just a little concerted practice. He offers us 5 simple things we can do every day to practice happiness on our brains. And let me tell you, there's nothing new under the sun, or in this list. It's pretty easy, if only we're willing to give it a little focused attention…daily.
1. 3 Gratitudes - I've always gagged a little at "gratitude exercises," but the fact of the matter is it doesn't have to be fluffy or hippie-dippie. Simply make note of 3 things for which you truly are grateful every day, and come up different things every day. This trains our brains to scan the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.
2. Journaling - It also took me a while to get over my bias against journaling, but I have to say that I'm so grateful (see above) for the things that I have journaled (see previous post - "500"). The exercise here is to write down one positive experience from the past 24 hours. This allows your brain to relive the positive rather than rehashing the negative.
3. Exercise - Shawn tells us that "exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters." I think we all understand the positive effect exercise has on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just go do it already.
4. Meditate - Meditation, even for a few minutes a day, gives us permission to stop multitasking for a moment and create greater focus, not to mention that whole enlightenment thing.
5. Random Acts of Kindness - Shawn encourages us email freaks to open our inboxes and write one email praising or thanking someone for something before we do any of those other emails. But why limit ourselves to electronic mail? Perhaps we could write an actual letter on paper and put a stamp on it. Or even better, we could commit to do one nice thing for a different person every day.
I challenge you to do these things every day for 365 Days of Happiness - a.k.a your Daily Dose of Happy.
I'm taking my own challenge, of course, and I'd love for you to join me. Obviously the whole year is a long time, so I’ll be checking in with you periodically to see how it's going. Don't leave your yoga to just your body and your mat. Yoga seeks to get through our bodies to our minds, after all. By practicing yoga on our brains like we practice yoga on our bodies, we can work more effectively at creating positive transformations, habits, and trends in our lives. Those ripples of happiness in ourselves can only spread outward to reach everyone and everything around us.
Here's that video for you:
Let us know what you think about these happiness exercises, or if there's any happiness habits you use in your every day life in the comments below. Until next time...