Abraham Lincoln once said, “Folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” I believe happiness is a choice. This week, I had some heavy duty stress. I am also recuperating from one surgery and getting ready for another one. If that isn’t enough, it is January, not my favorite month, with its short, cold days and below zero wind chills. It would have been easy to succumb to negativity, but I was able to look for and find a lot of things to be happy about this week.
Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor makes the connection between scientific research and happiness. In a Super Soul Sunday Session, Achor shares how we don’t have to be successful to be happy, it is actually the other way around. Being happy gives us many advantages in life. With happiness, our creativity triples, productivity rises 31%, we are 40% more likely to receive a promotion, our intelligence rises and we are 39% more likely to live to age 94. Every education and business outcome improves when we choose happiness.
If that isn’t enough reason to choose happiness, happiness is contagious. Neurons in our brains pick up on signals from those around us. Think of the yawn reflex, when one person starts to yawn, others respond with their own yawn. Happiness works in the same way, a smile can spread. We transmit our happiness, unconsciously, to others. We have the power to not only change ourselves, but to change the world for the better.
According to Achor, “It is not necessarily the reality that shapes us. It’ the lens through which we view reality that changes our experience of it and our ability to create a better world for other people.”
Here are some things I did this week to make myself happier:
Read a new book by a favorite author.
I read a lot of non-fiction and academic books, this was a fun mystery, X by Sue Grafton starring one of my favorite detectives, Kinsey Millhone.
Went to the pool and swam laps three times.
Wind chills were in the 20 below range, and driving to the gym and jumping into a cold swimming pool did not sound like fun. I went anyway, which made me proud of myself.
Attended a wellness expo.
With no one to go with at the last minute, I went by myself, which is not like me. It was an unexpectedly fun event, and I learned a lot.
Binge watched season 1 of Downton Abbey.
I was seriously glued to my iPad. Where have I been for the last five years?
Had long telephone conversations with both of my daughters.
Achor says personal connections are the strongest predictors for long term happiness. I am blessed with wonderful daughters, and talking to them always makes me happy.
Had dinner and great conversation with a friend.
It was wonderful to catch up, and it reminded me how important my friends are and that I need to make more of an effort to see them, especially in winter when we often hole up inside.
Watched an old episode of The Big Bang Theory with my husband.
We laughed like crazy. Laughing feels really good, and I want to laugh more often! I feel another binge watching session coming on…
I took several positive professional steps.
I worked on a new course I will be teaching, wrote a few posts that were featured on my blogs and elsewhere and got a new freelance contract. I am happy when I am engaged in meaningful work. Achor says that happiness, which many think of as pleasure, is really the joy you feel when moving towards your potential. I know I am happiest when I feel I am fulfilling my potential.
What about you? What have you done recently to make yourself happy? I hope you find a lot of things to be happy about and help that happiness to spread to others.