Is seeking happiness a worthwhile goal? Is it something we can actually achieve? Or just an elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? Perhaps it’s more of a journey with no final destination. While we all may have different takes on the ways in which happiness pays us a visit and how long it stays, we know it’s something we all want. Below are some creative ways you can spread it to your own world and those around you!
😃 What is Happiness?
It’s not all just feelings and emotions – there’s actually a science to happiness. I really dug into the topic after coming across the work of Arthur Brooks, who teaches on the topic at Harvard and recently published the #1 NYTimes Bestseller “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.” He defines happiness as “a balance and abundance of enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose” and if there’s a deficit in any or all of these areas, your happiness levels will go down.
When Arthur joined me on Episode 47 we discussed how doing the wrong type of work for your stage of life can be a big reason our happiness declines over time. He points out that it’s because our “fluid intelligence” (e.g. analytic speed and problem-solving ability) follows a curve that increases through our 30s and then starts to decline, which often leaves people doing similar work in their late 30s, 40s and 50s feeling like they’re burning out.
However, Arthur explained that there’s a second curve based on our “crystallized intelligence” (e.g. accumulated knowledge or wisdom) that we can find much more happiness on. The challenge is that it often means moving from the analyst/innovator to the manager/teacher, which can often mean changing jobs and is quite stressful.
He shared how Charles Darwin, who came up with his theory of natural selection at age 27, continued to try and innovate for decades, but couldn’t keep up with younger scientists, never transitioned to his 2nd curve, and died frustrated at 73. He juxtaposed that with Johann Sebastian Bach, considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time. Instead of getting stuck when he couldn’t keep up with the new styles of music coming out, he switched from writing original music to teaching what he knew so well. Moving from innovator to instructor left him very happy in old age.
While I’m not sure if I’m ready to jump curves yet, I was interested to know if there were any other habits I could adopt to maximize happiness. Arthur shared four things (the “Good 4”) we can invest in that pay dividends towards happiness: Faith, Family, Friends and Work. He also shared the “Bad 4”: Money, Power, Pleasure, Fame. So try tweaking your routine to spending a bit more time in the former and less on the latter.
And if you’re not comfortable with organized religion, Arthur shared two alternatives for practicing faith: secular meditation and reading about big ideas like The Brothers Karamazov, Man's Search for Meaning or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
Listen to my full interview with Arthur to learn more about happiness.
😞 Using Regrets to Your Advantage
Regrets… we’ve all got them! They’re part of the human condition. In Episode 40, bestselling author Dan Pink and I discussed “The Power of Regret” and he reminded us that while regret is an emotion that can make us feel bad, it can also be one of our most instructive, clarifying and informative emotions.
In his research, he gathered over 17,000 regrets from 105 countries and grouped them into four categories he calls the “Four Core Regrets.” While the nuance of all our regrets may seem very different, the main ones typically fall into these four areas:
Foundation - “If only I’d done the work” (e.g. didn’t pursue education, health or financial well-being)
Boldness - “If only I’d taken the chance” (e.g. didn’t ask someone out or start that business)
Moral - “If only I’d done the right thing” (e.g. infidelity, theft, betrayal, bullying)
Connection - “If only I’d reached out” (e.g. family/friend we neglected or drifted away from)
The big takeaway was that instead of letting your regrets keep you sad or bummed out, let them inform you on how to take future action. By reflecting on our regrets we can actually learn what we value the most and use that information to make better decisions and create deeper meaning. There’s a lot more to unpack in the book, but he left me with a few suggestions for everyone to try to avoid some regret down the road:
Always make the call - If you have an inkling to call someone to reconnect, take it.
Always go to funerals - No explanation needed.
Ask yourself what would you tell your best friend to do - sometimes it’s easier to make a decision when we pretend we’re not part of the outcome.
Convert your regrets from thoughts to words. Disclosure research is powerful. Instead of holding the heavy emotion inside all alone, convert it to language or even share them with others.
Listen to my full interview with Dan to learn more about the Power of Regret.
🤔 Is More Better?
In advance of baby #2, we went through our closets (and a few other rooms) to apply the “if I haven’t used this in the last few years, it goes” strategy. Three overflowing trash bags and a trip to Goodwill later, we felt lighter, clearer, and dare I say happier!?
As Denzel said, “You’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse.” Acquiring stuff is surely not the key to happiness. Yet so often we buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even like. In 2014, the LA Times shared that the average American home has 300,000 items inside of it! 🤯 Want to get started on the path of minimizing your possessions but need some motivation?
In Episode 54, Joshua Becker (award-winning author and founder Becoming Minimalist) did a deep dive on how minimalism can be a key to unlocking greater meaning. Yes, getting rid of some of our stuff is one piece of the puzzle, but he also suggested people unpack their why. There’s an emotional piece there too. He suggests everyone fill in the blank:
I desire to own less so that I can ____________
Digging into your why is a great exercise that makes it much easier to start the actual purging. And when you do get started, he suggests working through your home room by room, easiest to hardest, starting with the most lived in areas first.
Not only will you feel better about the lightening of your load, it’s an added bonus knowing that a lot of the stuff you aren’t using anymore can find a home with someone who needs it. A win-win!
A great truth is that our outer world reflects our inner. Creating a calm, peaceful, clear external and internal world is well worth the effort.
Listen to my full interview with Joshua to learn more about Minimalism and The Things That Matter.
📆 Schedule Some Kindness
While we all want happiness in our own lives, I’m sure we’d also benefit from everyone around us being happier too. One way to make that happen is to practice a bit more kindness, which can actually have a profound impact in our lives. Why? Well after getting introduced to Emmy award winning journalist Adrienne Bankert, I read her book “Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You with Anyone” and was fascinated.
She points out that kindness isn’t merely about getting along with people and being nice – it’s a game changer in business, the door-opener to opportunity, and the key to authenticity and confidence. We had a fantastic conversation in Episode 58 where she proposed that instead of having kindness be an afterthought or something that might make it into your day if there’s any leftover space, put it on your calendar like you would anything else on your calendar.
Whether you decide to make time for it once a week over your morning coffee or every afternoon, the idea is to build that muscle so that kindness becomes part of our natural DNA and is always top of mind. Some of her ideas for practicing kindness are:
Friendship Gratitude - reach out once a week or month to remind friends or colleagues that you appreciate their mark on your life (even if time has passed and you don’t see them regularly)
Past-Present-Future: cycle through those time periods to find people you can uplift with kindness. So if you’re a coach, you could send a positive text to a former player about the impact he/she had on your program, then let a current player choose their favorite drill to finish practice with and finally send a hand-written letter to a future recruit and let them know why they’d be a great addition to your team down the road.
Don’t ask, just do - If you ask the question, “what can I do to help you?” likely the person will give the obligatory “nothing”. Instead, try learning someone’s coffee order and bringing it for them one day. Or offer to mow the neighbor’s yard while you’re out doing yours. Or buy lunch for the person in line behind you. The list is endless, but the idea is to be on the lookout for ways to be kind to others.
Listen to my full interview with Adrienne to learn more making Kindness a superpower.
🌅 Start Your Day Right
It’s been said that the first 8 minutes in the morning sets the tone for your day. Consider taking inventory next week on what your morning habits include (you may have some you didn’t know existed). Do you jump straight on social media? Flip on the news? Start looking at your calendar for the day? Wolf down a quick breakfast? What kind of intentional routine do you have?
While a newborn is going to make changing my routine tricky the short term, I’m fascinated by Tony Robbins’ morning “priming” ritual. It’s only 10 minutes and encompasses breath work, gratitude, blessings, goal setting and celebration. Short and sweet, but powerful. Tony says it primes him for success in the day ahead and “if you don’t have 10 minutes for yourself, you don’t have a life.”
Another interesting routine comes from author Hal Elrod. He sets his tone for the day with “The Miracle Morning”, which is a daily personal development ritual he incorporated into his life that includes six of the most timeless personal growth practices (Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing). His results were monumental and he ended up creating a massive community out of this philosophy, and helping millions change the direction of their lives through morning habits.
Borrow some of these ideas or create your own. The important thing is being intentional with how you start your day, and ultimately, putting more emphasis on happiness!
⭕️ Your Circle
Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important indicators of our overall happiness, is the quality of our relationships. Do you have that inner circle of people that you can count on and live your life alongside? Or do you have a best friend at work?
National Geographic writer, Dan Buettner, has done a ton of research on places in the world where people live the longest and are the happiest and he found that one of the biggest predictors of whether you’ll be happy on a day to day basis is how many hours of face to face time you get with people you like. The happiest people are getting in 7 hours! And unfortunately for everyone working from home, he doesn’t think video calls have the same effect.
In his book “The Blue Zones of Happiness” Dan highlights a few places around the world where people are the happiest, but if you don’t have time for a book right now, I’d recommend his interview on The Marie Forleo’s Podcast.
So in an effort to make wherever you live a little happier, I’ll challenge you all to commit to a few more in-person connections with others on the regular. And if you want to take it further, try to strike up more conversations at the different places you spend your time each day, like the office, gym or park.