What's the best way to get happy and stay that way? For starters, try not to stress about the future and focus on the present moment instead.
"People often project happiness into the future, believing they'd be happy if they could only own a certain thing or have a certain experience," says Shawn Achor, researcher, consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
. "But when we get the things we said we wanted, the happiness we expected is often elusive. It's because our brains operate in the opposite order. This science could create a cultural revolution, because it's showing us that happiness isn't about getting to point 'A' or point 'B.' It's about the attitude you bring to your everyday work."
Achor helped design the famed happiness course at Harvard (at one time the most popular course at the university), and then went on to create a study that measured the connection between positivity and production in a group of managers over a four-month period. The study suggested that to a large degree, happiness is a learned behavior. Managers who were trained in positive psychology showed significant increases in optimism – one of the greatest indicators of performance and success. Extensive studies have shown that employees with high levels of life satisfaction are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more resilient in the face of a challenge.
"Positive-psychology training creates a clear return on investment," says Achor. "If your employees raise their levels of positivity, their production levels will rise also."
Of course, not everyone works in a positive environment, but Achor says it's quite possible to keep your brain happy even when you're surrounded by gloom. "Only 10 percent of happiness depends on our external world," he says. "The other 90 percent depends on how our brain processes the world. Instead of scanning the world for problems, mistakes, and dangers, positive thinkers focus on things to be grateful for or ways to make the situation better."
Achor offers four tips for training your brain to be happy:
1. Each night, write down three things for which you're grateful.
Be specific. Don't just write "my children." Instead, list the funny remark your daughter said at dinner. Gratitude moves your brain onto neural tracks that scan the world for things that make you happy.
2. Maximize your strengths.
"We think the best way to get ahead is to focus on our weaknesses and learn how to overcome them," says Achor. "If instead we focused on a strength every day, we would feel more engaged in routine tasks. As your investment in the day goes up, your creativity rises with it. What are you best at? Re-craft a daily task to use that strength."
3. Journaling about recent positive experiences helps you make a connection with the most meaningful parts of your day.
"After twenty-one days," says Achor, "our brain starts to connect the dots. It begins to wrap around the things that mean the most, to notice the activities that translate into deeper satisfaction and meaning."
4. Meditate, even if just for five minutes a day.
"We all think we need to multitask to be more successful," says Achor, "but if you do two tasks at once, your stress level rises and your productivity level drops for both tasks. Meditation slows our mind down to the present moment."