Happiness. It’s an elusive motherfucker. But it turns out we can feel better about ourselves and life in general right this second. No really, we can. At least, that’s what Shawn Achor says. And we should probably listen to him. In addition to having one of the most-watched TED talks ever, Shawn is a former Harvard lecturer and the author of two New York Times best sellers, The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Fresh off his new “Road to Happiness” study, here’s Achor’s advice for being as psyched about life as someone in a Pharrell video, in his own words.
Every day when you wake up, write down three new things you’re grateful for that have occurred over the past 24 hours. That helps you practice scanning the world for good things.
1. Shift your happiness paradigm.
Guys especially get the formula for happiness wrong in the first place. We think, “If I can work harder right now, I’ll be more successful, and then I’m going to be happier.” And it turns out, that’s not true—partly because every time we hit a goal, our brain changes what success looks like, so happiness is on the opposite side of a moving target, and we never get there. But if guys can create happiness in the present, they can actually dramatically improve their success rates long-term.
2. Be grateful.
Every day when you wake up, write down three new things you’re grateful for that have occurred over the past 24 hours. That helps you practice scanning the world for good things. It also helps you practice optimism.
3. Keep a journal.
Journal about a positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. Type every detail you can remember in just two minutes in a blank Word document. That’ll help you relive that experience.
The research isn’t in it yet, but we are willing to bet that running next to a hot blonde will not make you sad.
4. Work out every day.
Fifteen minutes a day or 30 minutes three times a week of fun, mindful cardio activity is the equivalent of taking an antidepressant, but with 30 percent less relapse six months later. That’s because, first of all, exercise produces endorphins, which cause short-term happiness.
But what really matters is what exercise does to your brain. When you exercise, your brain records a victory. You’ve been successful. And it creates this cascade of success. So you start developing more positive habits. In fact, people who exercise create entire constellations of positive habits in their lives, such as eating healthier and picking up meditation. Speaking of which…
In work that I was doing at Google, we invited workers to meditate. We found that just two minutes of watching your breath go in and out each day can increase your accuracy rates, decrease your levels of stress and raise your levels of happiness. Editor’s note: Looking to get started meditating? Check out getsomeheadspace.com.
6. Thank someone.
Writing a two-minute positive email to somebody you know, praising them or thanking them for something, increases your social support dramatically. And it makes you happier while you’re writing that note.
Consider the source? Achor looks like a pretty optimistic fellow to us.
7. Take a vacation. A good one.
Research shows that people return from the average vacation with lower levels of energy and no greater levels of happiness. So I did a study in December of 400 travelers to find out, can we create greater levels of happiness on vacations? And it turns out we could. We found that it wasn’t the travel that was causing people to feel less happy, it was the travel stress. So we were able to decrease this in three ways:
One, plan early. Ninety percent of the happiest vacations are planned out more than a month in advance. Two, travel far from home. Don’t just take a staycation. And three, travel with a friend, or meet up with a local host or guide. A company like Monograms, in addition to dealing with travel details, can make sure there’s a local host at your destination.
8. Ditch the antidepressants. Or supplement them with action.
Antidepressants serve a very valuable function in society when there are severe cases of depression. But they have to be coupled with behavioral changes as well. Because what matters long-term is knowing that our behavior can impact our levels of happiness. Coupling that antidepressant with gratitude exercises or physical exercise can dramatically improve the levels of happiness you feel long-term.
9. Make the best of bad times.
My mentor, Tal Ben-Shahar, says, “The best things in life don’t always happen to you. But you can make the best of the things that do happen to you.” So it’s not about complaining about the cards that we’re dealt, but looking at the cards we have and trying to make the best of them. That’ll help us change whatever reality we have into a better reality in the future.