Happiness is a endless topic. Instead of getting all philosophical about it, here are three easy everyday hacks to get you started.
Several years ago, I celebrated New Years with a few good friends. Instead of the usual activities to kill time until midnight (eating, drinking, playing games, telling each other how many hours are left, etc.), we did something that was new to me:
We send a wish list to the universe. We gathered around a table with pens and paper, and – each one for themselves – secretly wrote down what we wished for. Then we’d put all the paper in one big cooking pot, burn them, and let the ashes fly away from the balcony.
I had never done this, so as I was writing, I was aiming spectacularly high with my wishes. After all, it’s the universe, right? Sounds like a much bigger brand than Santa Claus, so why hold back.
A few years later, while on a break from work, I was standing outside the studio and I wasn’t feeling happy. No particular reason, just a bad day. Suddenly I this list came back to my mind. Mentally going through it, I realised that I was given each one of the items I had wished for. Or I had achieved them, however you want to look at it.
And then it struck me: why wasn’t I happy then? If you had told the younger Michael, as the ashes tumbled away in the cold december air, that a few years later he would have all that… well, first of all he wouldn’t have believed you. But if you could have made me believe – I would have said that I’d be incredibly happy then.
And at that moment, as I was standing outside, I realised the obviousness of the truth: that I’ll not be happy, until I chose to be happy. That this is not a condition I achieve through results. But one that I decide to adapt.
Every morning I get out of bed.
Now, it’s one thing to jump out of bed, proceed to the bathroom for all necessary business and exclaim “I am happy!”. And while that would undoubtedly be a great trigger following in the footsteps of Pavlov’s dogs this is painting to easy a picture.
It’s wishful thinking to hope that there’s simply a switch in our brain with a bright pink label “Happy”. But it’s not too far off either. Instead, there’s a great many switches – a bit like an airplane cockpit.
Here’s how you easily switch three of them, and that will get you more than started:
There’s an obvious biological feedback wired into our brain:
When we are happy, we smile. Easy enough.
But this works the other way around too. If you adapt a light, genuine smile, it’s hard to stay in a grumpy mood. Ever so slightly lift the corners of your mouth just a bit. And keep them there.
2. Adopt a confident body posture
Same principle, but this is a whole body smile kind of thing. Have your back straight, your head high – and don’t cross your arms. Catch yourself when you bend your back or slouch. And stay away from gestures that feel nervous, like touching your face or scratching an arm. Again, you are reversing your emotional bio feedback: like the outside, so the inside.
3. Watch how you say things or think about them
I’ve written a lengthy blog post about this before. So check it out.
In the beginning, you will really have to concentrate on this and do it consciously. And as soon as your attention slips – maybe just seconds later – you’ll be back with the frown, the crossed arms and the negative thinking.
And that’s ok. Just realise what you did, and correct it. Over time, this will become more and more unconscious. The few seconds will turn into minutes, and so on. Until you only slip out of it when something bad happens and throws you off.
And at some point, you’ll find that even that does not throw you anymore.
Does it work all the time? No. Maybe, I haven’t had enough practise yet. Maybe, on some days I just want to feel shitty. And I think that’s alright. “You can’t feel good if you don’t know what feeling bad is like.” a good friend of mine once said.
But if I feel good 95% of the time, and shitty in the remaining 5% – for me that’s enough of a reminder, and quite a good ratio too.