I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not a morning person. I try really hard to be chipper and happy in the morning because I want to be happy around other people. I typically wake up at 5:45 a.m. to start getting ready for work, but after a few snoozes, I usually get up around 6:00 to 6:10. In the past few weeks, I’ve been waking up at 5:00 a.m. to see if I can gain 30-45 minutes of productivity which has consisted of writing for this blog.
In the past few months I have focused on being the best person I can be. All of this is well and good, but I’ve also placed a focus on living life to the fullest and really just enjoying life. I recently joined Toastmaster. I get REALLY nervous when speaking in front of a large group of people. I also just ran my first half marathon. My wife and I also started taking dance lessons.
I was really disturbed by a recent conversation I had the other day at work with a fellow employee.
We were both washing our hands and I said “hey, how’s it going?”
In typical fashion he said “not bad, and yourself.”
I said: I’m doing well and I’m just trying to wake up. I’m really tired today.”
His reply “Oh, I don’t bother waking up until about 3:30 p.m. when it’s quitting time.”
I was completely floored by this comment. You mean to tell me that he drifts through out the day without meaning and doesn’t wake up until it’s time to go home at 3:30 p.m. For you number junkies out there:
Hours at work: 1840 hours per year (assuming 40 hours per week, 46 weeks per year (on the low side)).
Hours alive: 8736 (assume 52 weeks per year)
Hours awake: 5824
Assuming the individual drifts through working hours basically asleep, this person is “asleep” over 30% of his life per year.
“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” – Benjamin Franklin
I don’t know the guy or his situation so perhaps I am reading into things, but the gentlemen I spoke with appeared to be healthy. He was probably between 45 and 50 years old. He appeared to be in fairly good shape. How could he potentially combat this situation? Through reading and study of self improvement and happiness books, one would learn that you have the option of controlling 40% of your happiness. How do you think this gentleman would look back at his hours during work if he was laid off? Do you think he would treat his hours at work differently if he only had a short time to live?
More than anything, it comes down to appreciating what we have NOW. It’s easy to take a job, a spouse, kids, family or friends for granted.
What steps can a person take to refill the appreciation tank?
- Imagine what it would be like not to have some of the things in your life. Sadly enough, many people have lost their jobs in the past year. I know my wife and I have really come to appreciate our jobs much more than before because we’ve seen the financial hardship that a job loss has placed on many families.
- Go volunteer! It’s easy to live life by simply going through themotions. You wake up, go to work, pick up the kids, go home, eat dinner, go to sleep then repeat. Well, try volunteering at a homeless shelter. This will quickly make you appreciate your family and your home.
- Write down what you are thankful for. The written word is powerful. I know writing helps me remember and provokes me to think about things more so than if I were not writing them down. A technique found in “The How of Happiness” suggests that people can increase their happiness by writing down five things which happened during the past week for which they are thankful.
What are these steps towards great appreciation going to do for you?
- You will most likely be happier and have more meaning in your life. As you begin to appreciate things more, they’ll have more meaning to you and this will create greater satisfaction in your life knowing that you have these items that mean so much to you.
- You’ll develop better relationships. You friends and family will see that you appreciate them more. As is the usual gesture with a friend or good people in general, they will want to reciprocate this appreciation and thus put forth more effort into the relationship.
- If you appreciate what you have, you are less likely look at what other people have (The Joneses). This will create less of a “one up” environment and most likely have a positive effect on your pocket book.
- If you have an appreciation for the people in your life, you’ll often see a reciprocation from a family member or a friend if that is who you have focused your appreciation upon. This greats a positive foundation that will hopefully duplicate many times over creating a better world for all of us to live in.
Are you awake? Are you waiting for a certain time of time before you start living?
Photo by Mayr
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“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” -Aristotle
The How of Happiness was written by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book took me a while to get though, but not for the wrong reasons. One of the major appeals for me to this book is that it’s chock full of references and data. I’m not normally an avid note-taker while reading a book, but I took 14 pages of notes due to the volume of useful information.
Sonja begins by clearly demonstrating that you have a lot to do with how happy you are in life, 40% to be exact. This number is of course backed up by references and data so you don’t have to take her word for it. I particularly enjoyed the happiness myths that she detailed in her book. In fact, I think one of the most significant things I learned from this is that happiness can’t be found. I knew that, but it didn’t really click with me until I read her book. For example, my wife and I have often fantasized that moving out of the country or to Austin, TX would make us happier, but that is certainly not the case. She then lays out a number of happiness activities that you can employ in your life to become happier. Some of the happiness activities were common sense for me, but others were not, such as developing strategies for coping, learning to forgive, meditation, and increasing flow. I actually didn’t know what flow was prior to reading this book, but it is “the complete absorption in what one does”. She gives examples like painting, reading, fishing, and other activities people tend to lose track of time while doing. To ensure that you are efficiently applying your time wisely towards becoming happier, Sonja provides a person activity fit diagnostic test. I really like this diagnostic test. In a world where people are running around 24/7, we need efficiency and Sonja realizes that. Based on this score from the diagnostic test, you will be able to prioritize which happiness activities best suit you in your pursuit of happiness. I have to say my happiness activities were spot on, but that is for a future post!
1. Expressing Gratitude
2. Cultivating Optimism
3. Avoiding Overthinking
4. Practicing Acts of Kindness
5. Nurturing Social Relationships
6. Developing Strategies for Coping
7. Learning to Forgive
8. Increasing Flow Experiences
9. Savoring Life’s Joys
10. Committing to Your Goals
11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality
12. Taking Care of Your Body (Meditation)
12a. Taking Care of Your Body (Physical Activity)
12b. Taking Care of Your Body (Acting Like a Happy Person)
Before beginning your happiness journey, you need a starting point. In other words, you need to know how happy you are right now. There’s actually a way to give this a value and one method is by taking the Oxford Happiness Questionaire. The scores range from a 1 to a 6. The average is a 4.30. I actually scored a 4.10. That makes me unhappy (just kidding).
Once you have found out the happiness activities that best suit you and your happiness score, it’s time to begin your journey to a happier you. I like that she goes into each of the happiness activities in detail, but not too much as to bore the reader. There is a wide variety of activities within each happiness activity so there is bound to be something that suits you best.
One of the more interesting references in the book was that religious or spiritual people tend to be happier. Sonja addresses that there is no definite conclusion as to why this is the case, but I found it interesting nevertheless.
From my perspective, the book is laid out in a logical and useful manner. It’s probably one of the more useful books I’ve read in terms of being a good reference guide. It was not a quick read for me, but not taking notes would have helped speed that along. If you want to learn how to be happier, this is the book for you. It gives you a step by step plan on how to increase your happiness level. A lot of books give you a few tips, but I haven’t seen a guide like this. It’s comprehensive and gives many references with great data, should you want to explore a topic further. In fact, there are over 40 pages full of references in the back of the book.
I recently wrote about What Determines Happiness that may be a companion article to this post. In the book, The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, she determined that you have the opportunity to improve your happiness by as much as 40%. That almost sounds like a random figure, but fortunately she has a TON of references to back up her research which is why I find the book to be of high value. The other 60% of your potential happiness is made up of a genetic set point and circumstances (married or single, high paying job or low paying job, fit or not fit). Only 10% of your happiness is determined by your circumstances and the other 50% is determined by your genetic composition.
No matter your current happiness level, I think these happiness myths will certainly help you in your journey to finding happiness.
Happiness Must Be Found – Happiness must be found means that you will not be happy until you find your dream job, find the perfect spouse, or move to your ideal city. This myth may or may not be a no brainer for you. For me, while I know that buying a BMW M3 won’t make me happier, this is a nice reminder. One of my goals is to be financially independent by age 40 ( I have 9.5 years left). One thing I need to keep in mind is that why this is an ambitious goal and a financial situation that seems like nirvana to me, I need to ensure I enjoy the journey. In other words, I need to make sure I’m happy now and through my journey to and after financial independence. I need to make sure that I’m happy whether I’m financially independent or not.
Happiness Lies in Changing Our Circumstances – This refers to the statement that Sonja calls “I will be happy IF ______” or “I will be happy WHEN _______”. One of the examples that my wife and I point to as potential circumstances that we think will make us happy is going back to college or moving abroad. The fact of the matter is that while we may get the initial “rush” from going back to school to relive our college years or moving abroad, these circumstances will only increase our happiness by 10% and I bet the affects would wear off shortly after going to school or moving abroad.
Either You Have It or You Don’t – Have you met the person that is always optimistic and always happy about everything? I know I assumed that they were born happy. Perhaps they were born with a higher genetic set point, but through research, it has been determined that you are able to control 40% of your happiness. Happiness is inside all of us. You just have to decide you want it.
I’d love to hear your comments!
Photo By: MiniDriver
The Happiness Myth @ Amazon
We know videos can go viral. Other people can catch a sickness or a cold from you. Recent research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that happiness can be viral too. Above is a picture of a social network of people. The circles represent females, the squares represent males and the lines between them indicate relationships. Colors of the circles or squares show the average happiness of a person and all of his or her social relations. The lighter the square or circle, the happier the person. Here is a link to the NY Times picture. Ewen Callaway at New Scientist has a graph shown following this link that nicely displays how a happy friend, coworker, or spouse would affect your happiness. The graph also displays how the distance you live with a friend will affect your happiness. As one might expect, a happy friend that lives closer is much more likely to make you happy. In fact, a friend with three degrees of separation can increase your happiness by 6%!
It’s truly amazing what friends can do for you or friends or friends of friends in some cases! In fact, James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego states that “Even people we don’t know and have never met have bigger effect on our mood than substantial increases in income.”
Below is a video provided by CNN that gives illustrates the point that happiness is indeed viral.
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. -Aristotle
I think what we all really want is to be happy, right? We go to college to get the right job we want to have the life style we want so we can be happy. We get married because we think that’ll make us happy. We work long hours to get promoted because we think that’ll make us happy. We have kids and treat them well because that makes us happy. We do all of these things to make ourselves happy. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. So, why isn’t the U.S. also the happiest country in the world? According to TheHappinessShow.com with reference to: A CROSS-CULTURAL SOURCEBOOK BASED ON THE 1999-2002 VALUES SURVEYS (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2004), the U.S. is only the 15th happiest country as shown below.
1. Puerto Rico
7. N. Ireland
12. El Salvador
17. New Zealand
24. W. Germany
37. E. Germany
40. Czech Rep
41. S. Africa
47. S. Korea
*Note that not all countries in the world were included in the survey*
According to GNN, “Government policies that promote economic growth, while shortchanging workers on things like vacation time, family time and health insurance, will not produce happy citizens. Since World War II, the per capita income in the U.S. has tripled, but life satisfaction has stayed the same. The same thing has happened in Japan and Western Europe. One reason may be that a rising economy, and the aggressive advertising that accompanies it, makes people desire even more things; therefore, they remain discontented.”
Jason Zwieg in Your Money and Your Brain found that rich are indeed not happier than those of us fortunate enough to be above the poverty line. When a study was conducted from various groups on a scale of 1 (not at all happy) to 7 (extremely happy), the results were striking. Jason points out that on “average, members of the Maasai ethnic group who herd livestock on the arid high plains of Kenya and Tanzania, score 5.7 on this scale. The Inuit, who live in the frigid wilds of northern Greenland, average 5.8. The Amish, with their antiquated rural lifestyle, also score 5.8. When members of the Forbes 400, the famed “Rich List” of the wealthiest people in America took a similar test, their average response was 5.8.”
So, if money doesn’t determine happiness, then what?
Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, suggests
1. 50% of happiness can be accounted for by their genetic set point
2. 10% of happiness is explained by the difference in life circumstances or situations (i.e. whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced.)
3. 40% of happiness is determined by our behavior
Now, think about what Sonja has put together. Of the amount of happiness we hope to achieve, we can increase or decrease our happiness by 40% if we decide to be happy. I’ve always had that thought, but Sonja really does a nice job of putting all together. The part I like about her research is that she backs everything up with references.
What are some of your thoughts?
Photo by SpiritHands.net
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