It all started way back in the summer of 2013. I was home with my teenage son, who was serially watching TED talks on his computer. From the kitchen, I overheard an engaging man speaking about Positive Psychology. “Wait!! Hold up!!,” I shouted, “Please restart that from the beginning!”. I had never heard of Positive Psychology. The ideas were intriguing and, for me, life changing.
The speaker’s name was Shawn Achor. He is an alumnus of Harvard University who has taught a class called “The Happiness Class”. Yes…he teaches a class on happiness to Harvard students.
Happiness is something we all want. Happiness is something that we all wish for ourselves, and especially for our children. But what can we do about making happiness a habit? Isn’t happiness just something that happens out of our control? Something you are or aren’t? How can we teach happiness?
Mr. Achor’s theory is that happiness is something we can achieve by doing, something we can actively pursue, something our brain can learn. We can change our brain through practice. We can make ourselves be happier by using our brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e. the ability of the brain to change and reorganize in response to behavior, memory, development, learning, and environmental influences) to our advantage.
Most people I know base their happiness on their achievements and rewards; that kind of happiness is often fleeting, though, or off in the distance. Perhaps we are happy… for a while. It is something that comes over us, but is it a general state of being? Could we achieve more in our lives if we started from a place of happiness rather than a place of chasing happiness? These are all questions asked and answered in Mr. Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.
The idea of doing something to become happier intrigued me. I had been working with my clients for years to change the way they think in order to change their emotional response to events and thus their actions. But this idea was new. I have been thinking about Mr. Achor’s ideas and applying some of them to my own life. I have even begun sharing them with clients in therapy sessions. His ideas about happiness are very accessible for people of all age groups, and I’d like to share them with you, too!
Here’s the idea… It takes 21 days to change a habit. Can we make happiness into a habit? Let’s try!
For 21 days do these 5 things, every day, and I guarantee YOU WILL BE HAPPIER!
- At the end of each day think of three things for which you are grateful or appreciative. Three different things for each of the 21 days!
- Write a journal entry about a positive event that happened to you that day.
- Exercise at least 10 minutes per day. Exercise helps to change neurotransmitters and alter your mindset.
- Meditate at least 10 minutes per day. Meditation is a great way to clear your mind of its preoccupations, eliminating any stress and anxiety that builds up throughout the day.
- Do one conscious random act of kindness each day. This does not have to be something difficult, make it an easy thing to fit into your day.
- For me, it helped me stick to the exercise by emailing my #1’s and #2’s to a friend.
- For me, after Day 10 I had a HARD TIME coming up with three different things I was grateful for EVERY DAY, and when I had a bad day, I had a hard time coming up with a positive story. But this challenge FORCED ME to search for things throughout my day that were positive stories and for things to be grateful for or appreciative of, and thus changed the lens through which I saw the world.
- For me, this exercise was life changing.
- I have taught this to 5 year olds and 75 year olds, and everyone likes it!
- “Can I draw a picture of the positive story? I don’t like to write,” asked one 9-year-old client. “Of course you can!”
- The same client asked, “Can I bounce a ball against the wall when I meditate? It helps me clear my mind.” “If your Mom lets you, of course you can!”
Make these exercises fun and light!
Change your habits. Change your lens!
By Cindy Feder