Did you know that when you smile you actually feel happier? Research shows that the muscles that move when you smile trigger neurotransmitters that signal to your brain that you are feeling happy and therefore smiling. This means that if you are feeling sad, you should actually try smiling to feel a bit happier!
In his book The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything, Neil Pasricha argues that the key to happiness is… happiness! He says that we have the formula for happiness backward. He writes, “We think we work hard in order to achieve big success and then we’re happy.” We think that the model for happiness is as follows:
Great Work – Big Success – Be Happy
Pasricha explains that this isn’t the way it works in reality. Instead, we do great work, we have big successes, but we aren’t happy. In fact, instead of being happy, we set new goals. “Now we study for the next job, the next degree, the next promotion. Why stop at a college degree when you can get a master’s? Why stop a Director when you can be VP? Why stop at one house when you can have two? We never get to happiness. It keeps getting pushed further and further away,” says Pasricha.
So, how does happiness work? How can we achieve it? Pasricha says we need to snap off the “Be Happy” piece from the equation above, and stick it on the beginning. In other words, the equation should look like this:
Be Happy – Great Work – Big Success
If we start off happy, then we feel good about ourselves and what we’re doing. If we feel good about ourselves, we look great. We take care of ourselves. We sustain meaningful relationships with those around us. And, we do great work because we feel great while we are doing it. That great work leads to great success and accomplishments. Therefore, we need to start happy in order to be happy.
Why aren’t you happy?
If we think about our ancestors a long time ago, they had very little time to be happy. In fact, they were constantly running from danger. If they had a little food, they quickly went out with a full belly to hunt or scavenge for more. If they stopped to experience the feeling of happiness, they would be lost because their lives were all about survival. Although thousands of years have passed since the society has become civilized and enlightened, we are living with many of the same instincts as our ancestors. Our brains are still programmed to look for programs and attempt to solve them. Our brains are still programmed to look for our next meal or next goal.
How can you be happy first?
Pasricha suggests seven steps to achieving happiness first, and then of course doing great work and achieving big success.
Three walks. I’ve written about the benefits of exercise for children with ADHD, but exercise can help everyone feel happier. The Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology found that the more exercise people did, the happier and more contented they were. This needn’t take over your life, as research shows that even three thirty-minute walks a week drastically improve your mood.
The 20-minute replay. If you take 20 minutes to write about a positive experience, you will feel happier, a University of Texas study found. That’s because as you write the experience, you are reliving it. And, you relive it every time you reread the piece you wrote.
Random Acts of Kindness. Performing five random acts of kindness (treating a friend to coffee, driving out of the way to pick someone up, giving a homeless person a meal, etc.) can help you feel better about yourself. Aside from that, people will appreciate your kindness.
A Complete Unplug. Luckily, we do this automatically every Shabbos, we turn off our phones and electronic devices. When you completely unplug, you can recharge for the future. You can even try it after dinner or while on vacation. This “downtime” helps your brain and body be a lot happier and more productive when you are plugged back in.
Hit Flow. Pasricha describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Find your flow. And, then try to engage in that activity (running, taking photographs, playing the guitar) often.
2 Minute Meditation. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that if you take two minutes to engage in mindful meditation, you can rewire your brain for happiness. Meditation is hard for some people, and Pasricha suggests a few different ways to approach the idea.
Five Gratitudes. Every week, write down five things that you are thankful for. This act not only helps you remember all the wonderful things in your life, it also makes you happier and physically healthier.
The bottom line? If you want to be happy, you’ve got to be happy first! Try the steps above to condition your brain toward happiness. The great work and big success will follow.