It’s odd that happiness is so elusive in our busy, responsibility-laden, pressurized world. Odder still that people will pay big $ for books, classes, coaching, therapy and drugs (illegal and OTC) to capture that cagey critter. But’s it’s actually not all as hard as it might seem. Some very smart people have studied happiness and come up with some almost-foolproof prescriptions for achieving real happiness. We offer this summary of the findings of Dan Baker, Jamie Oliver, Todd May and Neil Fiore (along with some additional suggestions that we’ve divined over the years.) We end this article with 12 Ways to Optimize Your Life.
Dan Baker’s Prescription for Happiness
Dan Baker has studying happiness for quite a while and offers a formula describes as NINE things that happy people don’t do, but we present this summarization in a more positive light — NINE things that happy people DO:
- Happy people take personal responsibility when things go wrong rather than blame other — even when those problems truly are largely someone else’s responsibility. It turns out that blaming other people is even more likely to lead to unhappiness, because it is psychologically disempowering. If someone else is responsible for our problems, then our happiness is outside our control and we are victims. If we take responsibility for our problems, then we take responsibility for solving those problems and we are more likely to effectively manage our lives and our happiness—and see that we have the power to set things right.
- Happy people maintain composure when faced with disappointment, rather than overreact. When something bad happens —even if it’s really just a run-of-the-mill unpleasant event that mostly will have faded from their consciousness in a few months — some people view it as a crisis. But happy people typically do a better job of remembering that unhappiness usually mitigates over time. When faced with bad news, happy people will ask themselves affirming questions: What can I learn from this? and How can I become wiser and/or stronger from this?
- Happy people use positive language. They rarely chastise themselves or insult other people, either out loud or in their internal self-talk, preferring to mentally rewrite the story they are telling. Better to make it about how you have evolved past this problem or challenge, learned a valuable lesson or otherwise improved.
- Happy people focus on options,rather than feeling trapped. That keeps them from feeling like helpless victims, a common source of unhappiness.
- Happy people usually have multiple hobbies,rather than focusing all of their energy on just one passion. Being polypassionate could mean belonging to multiple clubs and organizations and socialize with a broad range of different friends and acquaintances. This diversification of interests reduces the risk that their happiness will suffer a catastrophic loss, much as diversifying an investment portfolio reduces the risk for catastrophic financial losses. Should something go wrong with one of their interests or relationships, they still have plenty of sources of happiness to fall back on.
- Happy people celebrate success and slough off failures. Unhappy people tend to be very failure conscious-they kick themselves endlessly for old mistakes. Happy people tend not to do this. They, too, remember their missteps—they just tend to remember them as times when they learned important lessons or as small steps on the larger journey of life, not as disasters to lament.
- Happy people hang out with happy people. Both happiness and misery are contagious. Naysayers, can’t-do types and other chronically unhappy people can make the people around them less happy, too. If you find yourself with unhappy people, treat it as a learning opportunity. But make an effort to surround yourself with people who are upbeat about life.
- Happy people are complimentary. If they are told something in confidence, they keep the secret. If they have something critical to say about someone else, they either say it directly to that person or they don’t say it at all—they don’t complain about others or engage in gossip. Happy people know that life is complicated and often appearances can be misleading. More importantly, they know to respect others’ privacy because that’s how they’d want to be treated. They resist the urge to gossip about someone, instead they raise the point directly with the individual thus leading to a more constructive result.
- Happy people make things happen.They usually get unpleasant tasks over with so that they can move on to happier things. They understand that putting off an unpleasant task doesn’t make the task any less unpleasant—it just leaves the task hanging over their heads longer than necessary.
Jamie Oliver Cooks Up A Recipe For Happiness
More recently, celebrity chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver traveled to some of these communities to better understand how to achieve healthful living. He documented these travels with a six-part web series called “Super Food” even though the secrets revealed much more than just food. They are must-see for anyone who is looking to better understand how food is a necessary part — but not the complete — equation to a healthful life. As Oliver learned, there are other parts of the equation: stress, pace of life, community support, daily,exercise, accepting happiness. In regards to “Super Food”, he cataloged some of the foods that these communities relied upon and incorporated them into recipes that he created. Some of the optimal foods that comprise these communities’ diets include:
- Goat’s milk
- Fish and shrimp/prawns
- Sweet potato
- Wild greens and herbs
- Black beans
- Fresh fruit
- Wild rice
Oliver noted that common theme among the three communities is a consumption of less meat (around 2 to 3 portions per week) and a hearty breakfast, eating the majority of their calories in the first half of the day. This series offers part of a solution to our global problem of obesity and diet-related disease – it focuses on healthy, tasty, easily achievable meals as well as the importance of lifestyle. We strongly recommend you to view this web series. The price is right (free) and the result could be priceless.
Todd May’s Path To The Good Place
Mike Schur, showrunner and brains behind “The Good Place” has featured moral philosophy in his groundbreaking sitcom. One of Schur’s inspirations came from Todd May’s book on death, ironically titled “Death: The Art of Living.” In an interview with Fatherly magazine, May philosophized about how to get to a good place in this realm. He suggests that recognizing death can be a healthy motivator in our lives. Absent death, we wouldn’t have the same urgency and commitment to life. While our mortality doesn’t give us a theory of how we should live it does compel us to think about what we want the shape of our lives to be.
In another book called A Decent Life, May goes one step further. He suggests that we use philosophical insights to navigate the complicated world around us. He explores how forgiveness can enhance relationships in our lives—with friends, family, animals, people in need. Recognizing that what you deem as important isn’t necessarily universal and that others may place greater priority on other things will reduce unnecessary friction.
Neil Fiore’s Brush With Death Led To A Better Life
Dr. Neil Fiore, who had two near-death experiences, came up with 5 common “regrets” that one can avoid in one’s life:
REGRET #1: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. If you find yourself consistently overworking, you may be a perfectionist trying to avoid criticism by working harder and longer than you need to.
To avoid this regret: You’ve probably heard that you should break up projects into smaller segments rather than trying to do everything at once. Most people think this approach simply gives you more control over what to do when, but it also helps you avoid getting bogged down in perfectionism…and prevents you from getting overwhelmed by trying to finish projects in one shot. Instead of saying, I must finish all this work perfectly, say, I choose to begin this project by working on an outline or making some calls for 15 or 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
REGRET #2: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Being your own person—whether it’s in your personal relationships or your professional life—takes courage. You must be willing to deviate from society’s expectations…and to overcome fear of criticism.
To avoid this regret: Pay attention when your actions aren’t in sync with your true beliefs.
REGRET #3: I wish I had stayed in touch with friends and loved ones. All of us have friends or family members we’ve lost touch with.
To avoid this regret: Make a list of friends or relatives you’d like to reconnect with, then schedule specific times every week when you will call, text, e-mail or visit. Instead of saying, “I should call Amy,” put Amy on your calendar for, say, Wednesday at noon. After a few weeks, keeping in touch will be automatic because it’s so rewarding to have these warm, supportive connections.
REGRET #4: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. It’s often scary to express our true emotions—so much so that we may feel that we don’t even know how.
To avoid this regret: Start by keeping an emotions journal where you can vent all your emotions privately and promptly.If you decide to share your feelings with someone, write a “script” so you don’t have to hunt for words during the conversation. Example: You can start a difficult message with, “Our relationship is important to me, so I’m anxious about telling you something that upset me.” Don’t blame the other person. Rather, focus on your own feelings.For people who have a difficult time saying “no,” a great trick is to start with “yes”…followed by a statement that expresses your true feelings. For example, “Yes, I would love to organize the fund-raiser… thank you for asking me, but unfortunately, I have other commitments right now.” The beauty is you never have to utter the word “no” but still get the benefit of not agreeing to something you don’t want to do.
I wish I had let myself be happier. Bad things happen to everyone. Here’s a secret, though: You can learn to be compassionate toward yourself even when having difficult emotions such as depression. And you can enjoy yourself even when lonely. Remember that you are the one who chooses how you respond to tough situations.
Writing about one’s negative emotions has been shown to reduce stress hormones and lessen the intensity of negative feelings. You also can be active—dance or sing, for example—to help deal with negative emotions. Recognizing your strengths and joys can promote happiness as well.
Here are 12 specific actions one can take based upon all of these expert’s recommendations:
THE LIST OF 12 THINGS TO DO TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR THE BETTER
Finish Things. Reduce your baggage and the mental weight you carry. “Did you know you can complete a project by dropping it?” Have both short- and long-term goals. Your short-term goal should ultimately bring you closer to achieving your long-term goal. The key is to make sure it is a smart goal—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
Experience wonder—We grew up loving moments of magic and wonder, the magic of exploration and discovery—bring it back to your life by enabling yourself to discover and dream. For example, Travel…internationally if you can. Taste, feel and smell another place, meet new people. Practice being open—to everyone, to ideas.
Remove poison from your life. If there is somebody toxic in your life, kindly remove them from your life. Don’t ever hold grudges. “Resentment is like drinking poison, waiting for the other person to die.” said actress/writer Carrie Fisher.
Get your natural needed hours of sleep. Try sleeping for 8 hours at minimum as a start. You’ll soon find when you can naturally wake up (with the hours that work for you) and soon begin to wake up naturally and feel refreshed.
Practice Mindfulness. Start taking breaks out of your day where you just become mindful. To feel your hands, your feet, to pay attention to your breathing—just be 100% present. Always listen to your heart. It will tell you everything from what to eat, how much water to drink, the amount of sleep you need, to knowing the truth about things. Some call that instinct, but in reality it is paying attention to the metaphorical heart, which is what truly makes us tick.
Digital Disconnect. Experience digital-free hours to see things differently or to experience deeper connections with people. You’ll notice and realize things you didn’t before because you were too busy starring at that screen. The world is full of wonders, you just have to look up.
Meditate. Meditation isn’t just for old people. Many of Steve Job’s brilliant ideas came from his meditative moments. Try a deep breathing exercise right before you sleep, or the next time you’re stressed. Start with a minute and eventually dedicate 15-20 mins to meditate and be at peace.
Give. Generosity is huge to unlocking happiness. How great does it feel when you help or give to others asking for nothing back? Do something nice for somebody everyday—whether it is a compliment or a small gift. Have gratitude and it will change your attitude. It is common and very easy to feel down and depressed at this time of year. Be grateful for what is good in your life, and show your gratitude by reaching out to others less fortunate. Share your blessings with others by inviting them over for a meal, or visit a neighbor who is lonely and has no family. Lift up your spirits by lifting others!
Learn to say “No”. Saying yes to anybody means saying no to everybody. Ask yourself, “is it that important that you need to do that?”. Don’t overwhelm yourself with responsibilities that you cannot meet.
Personal Time. Devote time to yourself. A time of sanctuary where you can rediscover and recharge at your own pace. Take a warm bath, practice deep breathing, banish LCD screens temporarily, take the longer walk, and just be in the comfortable in your own skin. Many of life’s wonders are discovered when we are alone.
Dance. Dancing improves balance and fitness in people of all ages, prevents cognitive decline, controls blood pressure, elevates mood and improves quality of life.
Grow. Personal growth is a constant in our lives. If you feel you are not changing and evolving, then take some steps to expand yourself or your world. Plus, consider growing plants. When we work with or view a garden, trees, animals and nature, it is just as powerful a force in making us biologically younger.
Finally, we share recently observations about longevity from the University of California. In February 2018, a University of California investigator, Dr. Claudia Kawas, presented findings from The 90+ Study at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference this past weekend, highlighting the link between moderate alcohol consumption and longevity. In an observational study of participants age 90 and older, Dr. Kawas and her team found that consuming about two glasses of beer or wine daily was associated with 18% reduced risk of premature death. In fact, seniors who drank a moderate amount of alcohol each day had lowered their risk of premature death more than those who exercised daily. Her findings also suggest regular exercise, social and cognitive engagement, and a few extra pounds in older age are associated also with longevity.