Last month we explored the topic of happiness, and how we can regain the joy of writing we felt when we first started writing. We can boost happiness by establishing a few simple daily habits--very important, because we can think best when we’re happy. Because we naturally store negative events in a deeper, more permanent way than positive experiences, there is a dismaying propensity to embed the negative ones. We can overcome that by investing extra effort to focus on our good experiences.
Are you happy? How do you feel right now? Anxious, worried, with the ol’ inner voice whining and complaining?
Shawn Achor, head of Goodthink and author of The Happiness Advantage, talks about how we have been fed the life formula of “Success First, Happiness Second.” If we can just get published, we’ll be happy. If we can just get a higher advance we’ll be happy. If we can just win the Golden Heart or the (fill in the blank Award), we’ll be happy. If we can just lose twenty pounds, we’ll be happy.
It’s a formula that doesn’t work, because as we achieve one thing, we set the bar higher and keep chasing that next goal. The formula keeps repeating in our heads, eroding that delicate happiness state for which we worked so hard.
Achor says we’ve got it all backwards. We should not be gaining success to be happy; we should find happiness, which will help us to succeed. Happiness and optimism, she says, is what fuels the success! Positive brains are more motivated, efficient, and creative. Achor quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost: “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Think of that. Your mind is beautiful. Powerful. Are we focusing on the joy and rewards of writing, or are we hung up on the difficulties, the competition, the stress, or lack of appropriate rewards?
* * * * * * *
“The Mind is its own place,
and in itself can make a heaven of hell,
a hell of heaven.”
* * * * * * *
Don’t worry, be happy. And how do we get there? And stay there? We needn’t become non-stop zombie smile fanatics, but think of the boost we get from talking to an optimistic, happy person. Like some giant, woot-woot magnet, that type of person attracts people, and their happiness is contagious. Short of hiring a talented clown as a full-time body guard, though, how do we “get” and “stay” happy?
In a Denver Post interview with Achor, he gives some suggestions. If you’ve read something similar before and forgotten it after you walked away from the magazine or newspaper, don’t walk away now. Read these tips. Re-read them, and think about how you can integrate some of these behaviors and methods, so you can be happy, and then be successful.
Three Acts of Gratitude. Just two minutes a day, write down three new things for which you’re grateful. Do it for 21 days. The frequency and repetition are powerful because you’re training your brain and, in doing so, will begin to see the world with fresh, happiness-inspiring eyes. Achor warns about generalities, because they don’t work. Rather than “My health,” my kids, my home,” etc., be specific: “I’m grateful for my daughter because she called to ask my opinion. What I think matters to her.” Or, “I’m grateful because I was alert and caught the fine print in that contract, before I signed it.”
The Doubler. Again, for two minutes a day, think of one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. You’re a writer, so I know you can provide details about it. This can double the most meaningful experience in your brain. Doing it for 21 days will help your brain connect the dots, and you will begin to see and feel the meaning that runs through your life.
The Fun Fifteen. 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is, Achor says, the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant. With successful completion of just 15 minutes, your brain records a victory, which carries over into your next activity.
Breathe. For two minutes become conscious of your breath going in and out. Fill your lungs, be aware. This has been proven to raise accuracy rates and increase levels of happiness. And drops stress levels.
Happiness, Achor says, is a huge advantage in our lives. When the human brain is positive our intelligence rises. We stop diverting resources to think about anxiety.
Our creativity triples.
More next month. I’ll be asking you if you tried the Three Acts of Gratitude, the Fun Fifteen, and the Breathing. Give it a try, and let’s meet again next month and compare notes.