A ten-step guide to happiness
In the previous module, we looked at how great an effect your behaviour can have on your level of happiness. By focusing on things, which you find intrinsically satisfying, you can raise your base level of happiness and wellbeing.
In this module, we’ll continue to look at the habits of happy people and I’ll also introduce you to a practical ten-step guide to increasing your levels of happiness.
Happy People: Intrinsic or extrinsic focus
In studies following people who set both extrinsic and intrinsic goals over time, findings overwhelmingly showed that of all of those who achieved their goals, it was the ones who achieved their intrinsic goals that were more satisfied with their life and subjectively happier than their extrinsically rewarded counterparts.
Many studies have found similar results – seeking intrinsically rewarding goals leads to higher levels of well being and happiness; achieving extrinsic goals doesn’t. And in some cases, extrinsic goals can even lower your feelings of happiness.
I find this fascinating. Having grown up in a working-class family, and having been told constantly by school and society to work hard to succeed in order to be happy, we are now finding that actually, it’s not that straightforward, and it might even make more sense to turn this old thinking on its head: work hard to be happier and you’ll be more successful.
People relying on extrinsic goals to make them happier will invariably be focusing on the future. This means you miss out on enjoying the present. If you’re always chasing something else you end up missing the things you have, or missing opportunities for what you could have – a great relationship with your children, fun with friends, good music or getting absorbed in a great book. Your focus is always somewhere else.
Happier people are more likely to live life “in the moment”, or – put another way – living life in the moment will make you happier. People who live in the moment want to savour life’s pleasures, to smell the roses. They want to enjoy what they are doing right now and the positive effects of this way of living are measurable and consistent.
Of course, life isn’t always as straight forward as focusing on the ‘now’ and on intrinsically rewarding goals. That doesn’t usually pay the rent. We need to think about work, and paying for that car service or visiting the dentist – lots of external things we might not be able to control, and in many instances, we feel control us. But it’s about achieving as reasonable a balance as you can.
Somehow, happier people seem to be able to live in the moment more often, and are more able to add intrinsically satisfying goals into their lives.
Two people have the same hours each day, in similar situations, both unavoidably controlled by extrinsic concerns, like work and bills. One person adds intrinsically rewarding activities in their free time – hobbies, time with loved ones and friends, doing voluntary work, or helping less fortunate people. They will have greater levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and wellbeing than the other, who doesn’t spend his time this way, or focuses only on the extrinsic goals in their future.
Most importantly, happier people put more time and effort into their relationships with other people; simply put, they are nicer, helpful and kinder, they work harder to foster those closer relationships with friends and family – all intrinsically important activities whereby they’re not trying to attain anything apart from the pleasure of having good relationships.
Smell the roses
Ten simple things to do proven to increase happiness:
This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to make you happier. As you get a deeper understanding of the concept of happiness from future modules, you will probably add more things to it.
You will also learn more practical steps you can take to be more satisfied with your life on a day-to-day basis, and how to be more optimistic.
For now, though, here’s a starting point:
. Socialising is one of the biggest factors leading to happiness. We’re social beings, so take time to engage with people you like and nurture relationships.
Get physical – do some exercise at least three times a week for at least twenty minutes at a time – and walk a lot.
Gratitude. At the end of each day reflect on three things that you are grateful for or things that pleased you that day – these could be anything, from a smile or a kind word someone gave you, a great coffee you had and so on. You’ll be amazed at the positive effect this will have on you in only two weeks of doing it.
- Treat yourself. Study your list of the things that make you happy from our previous module. Do at least one of the things on it every day, and take the time to really enjoy it.
- Laugh. Read or watch something funny every day. Whether it’s a comedian on TV or a funny YouTube clip, smiling and laughing releases hormones that make us feel good.
- Be Kind. Doing a good turn gives longer-lasting and more satisfying feelings than receiving a gift – this could be simply gestures – sending someone a nice message, holding the door open for a stranger, offering your seat on a packed train or simply asking someone about their day and taking the time to really listen to them.
- Cut down your TV Viewing – try and cut your TV viewing down by half. TV viewing and any screen activity for that matter – be it your mobile, tablet or PC, can absorb so much time and not give you real satisfaction in return. Instead, be a little more pro-active and just meet someone for a coffee!
- Smile or say hello to a stranger. Even a good morning to someone serving you at the coffee shop, a ‘how are you’ at the snack bar or a ‘hello’ to the person giving you your train ticket at the station can go a long way to make you both feel good!
- Phone a friend. Make contact with someone you like and perhaps haven’t called or spoken to for a while. Ask how they’re keeping and what they’ve been up to. Listen, and don’t make the conversation revolve around you.
- Plant something – even if it’s just a window box or pot. You’ll get a surprising well-being boost as you nurture your plant and see it grow
We’ve seen how intrinsically rewarding activities, as well as living in the moment and enjoying what’s happening now, can make us happier overall. We’ve also seen how you can still balance that with the extrinsic goals and factors that we all need to consider.
I’ve also given you a proven ten-step guide, which, if you follow it, will increase your levels of happiness. Go over the list regularly and be sure you do as many of the items on it as possible to widen and raise that base level of happiness. And of course, don’t forget to add your own happiness triggers to the list as you become aware of them.
Your MYND activity
Try to implement as many of the steps as you can from the ten-point list for a couple of weeks. Then, add more items that make you feel happy, and ensure that you give yourself time to do those items on the list regularly