7 Scientifically-Proven Productive Things You Can Do to Boost Happiness…

If you are more productive, can this really increase your happiness? The answer is a resounding yes from scientific studies. If you are more productive at work, and in social and personal relationships, the rewards multiply over and over. Read on for seven things you can do to boost your happiness.

1. You see stress as a challenge.

Instead of trying to reduce your to do list in hectic times and stressful periods, try to see it as a challenge. This is the advice that Shawn Archor gives in his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. He quotes research which shows that when people changed their mindset with regards to stress, they had 23% fewer stress-related symptoms such as backache, exhaustion and headaches. The next time you are going crazy about organizing a dinner party or a holiday, just reflect on the opportunities to connect with people and places, rather than thinking of all the negative factors which are elbowing their way into your mindset. Meeting people again will strengthen and deepen your relationships.

2. You practise gratitude.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California has done a lot of research on how to be more productive and happier. One way is to practise gratitude, especially when on holiday. You should make a list of the positive, wonderful things that are surrounding you, such as loved ones and beautiful places. You have extra time on your hands so send an email expressing your appreciation or perform a simple act of kindness. This regular brain training helps to keep you optimistic in the months ahead.

3. You learn how to be self-compassionate.

“When bad things happen to a friend, you wouldn’t yell at him.” – Prof. Mike Leary, Duke University

We are often so hard on ourselves and yet we tend to be more compassionate with others than with ourselves! We set incredibly high standards for our work and relationships, and then start beating ourselves up when we face problems and setbacks. Studies done by Professor Meredith Terry at Duke University on those over 65 showed that when they were more tolerant about their own loss of memory and arthritic pains, they were better able to manage the aging process.

4. You invest in friendships.

Real friends are like pure gold. They require time and effort, though. We all know that good friends are a bulwark when we suffer loss, sorrow and loneliness. They are also great company when we have to celebrate. Developing a prime quality friendship is neither easy nor automatic. But it is well worth it. Experts have even put a price tag on quality friendship and at the moment each one is worth $133,000, in terms of life satisfaction and happiness. Imagine that sum as a pay rise, yet it is friendship which is worth so much more. Friends will always be there for you. Looking at your bank balance when lonely will not make you any happier.

5. You move your body.

Have you ever felt a high after a workout or brisk walk? There is a biological reason for this but you do not need to know all the chemical details. You just have to know that exercise releases endorphins in the brain. This is like a natural dose of morphine. They reduce pain, lift your mood, have an energizing effect on your mind and body and also increase self confidence. Check out this great infographic to see how much exercise you should be getting for the right dose of happiness. Lots of wonderful insights from research, led by Dr. Daniel Landers at Arizona State University, will also convince you.

6. You know the four-to-one ratio.

Yes, that is the ratio of positive emotions versus negative ones. You need at least four of those positives to overcome just one negative thought. The half full glass is not enough, it should be at least three quarters full. The work by Elaine Fox, a neuroscientist at Oxford University in this regard is fascinating and they are outlined in her book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain.

You have to be productive in getting these to dominate your mind. If you think negatively all the time, the neural pathways become embedded in your brain. Worries, anxiety and depression can take hold. Fox calls these the ‘fear brain’. It is time to forge new neural pathways so that the ‘pleasure brain’ can dominate by looking at the positive elements and helping them to win the match and, later on, the championship. The secret is being able to experience a wide range of emotions without letting either pleasure of fear dominate too much. Fox found that people who were depressed had barely one positive emotion for each negative one.

7. You know when and how to say no.

When we are bombarded with information, we have to learn how to say ‘no’ and concentrate on what is going to be our top priority. Did you know that we are now bombarded with 60% more information across our phones, computers and tablets than we had in 1980? We have a menu of TV, games, emails, images, text messages, statistics, and music to keep us distracted from the real tasks at hand. In the 1980s, we spent up to 7 hours getting through all that stuff. In 2008, that figure jumped to almost 12 hours, excluding working hours, according to researchers at the UC San Diego.

You see the problem. The wrong things are coming into focus and that is a barrier to being more productive and happier at work. Once you master the art of putting the non-urgent tasks down the list, you can get much more done. The secret is, of course, in your ability to say ‘no’ when these tasks come in the form of requests for help, meetings, and trivial distractions. The satisfaction of staying on track and developing your essential skills is worth its weight in gold.

Let us know in the comments how you manage to stay productive and happy in your work and relationships.

How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good…

In one of my very first articles, I discussed a concept called identity-based habits.

The basic idea is that the beliefs you have about yourself can drive your long-term behavior. Maybe you can trick yourself into going to the gym or eating healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift your underlying identity, then it’s hard to stick with long-term changes.

habit-layers

Graphic by James Clear

Most people start by focusing on performance and appearance-based goals like, “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to write a best-selling book.”

But these are surface level changes.

The root of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.

This brings us to an interesting question. How do you build an identity that is in line with your goals? How can you actually change your beliefs and make it easier to stick with good habits for the long run?

How to change your beliefs

The only way I know to shift the beliefs that you have about yourself and to build a stronger identity is to cast a vote for that identity with many, tiny actions.

Think of it this way…

Let’s say you want to become the type of person who never misses a workout. If you believed that about yourself, how much easier would it be to get in shape? Every time you choose to do a workout—even if it’s only five minutes—you’re casting a vote for this new identity in your mind. Every action is a vote for the type of person you want to become.

This is why I advocate starting with incredibly small actions (small votes still count!) and building consistency. Use the 2-Minute Rule to get started. Follow the Seinfeld Strategy to maintain consistency. Each actions becomes a small vote that tells your mind, “Hey, I believe this about myself.” And at some point, you actually will believe it.

Of course, it works the opposite way as well. Every time you choose to perform a bad habit, it’s a vote for that type of identity.

But here’s the interesting part.

As I mentioned in this article, research shows that making a mistake or missing a habit every now and then has no measurable impact on your long-term success. It doesn’t matter if you cast a few votes for a bad behavior or an unproductive habit. In any election, there are going to be votes for both sides.

Your goal isn’t to be perfect. Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time. And if you cast enough votes for the right identity, eventually the good behaviors will win out.

What can we learn from this?

“Every time we participate in a ritual, we are expressing our beliefs, either verbally or more implicitly.”
—Tony Schwartz

I find it useful to think about identity-based habits for a few reasons.

First, identity-based habits focus on you rather than your goals. It is surprisingly easy to achieve a goal and still not be happy with who you are as a person. Society pushes us to obsess over results: What are your goals? How busy are you? How successful have you become?

And while there is nothing wrong with achievement and improvement, it is also very easy to forget to ask yourself the more important questions: Who am I? What do I believe about myself? What do I want my identity to be?

Identity-based habits are one way to match your values and beliefs with the outcomes that you want in your life. (My 2014 Integrity Report was another attempt.)

Second, the idea of “casting votes for your identity” reveals how your daily actions add up over the long-term. Your actions drive your beliefs and each action you take is a vote for the type of person that you believe that you are. What beliefs are you expressing through your actions?

Third, this framework helps to remove the “All or Nothing” philosophy that can so easily wreck our progress. For some reason, we often think that if we fail to follow our plan step-by-step, then we have totally blown it. The truth is that it doesn’t work that way at all. If you make a mistake, remember that it’s just one vote. Be aware of the votes you’re casting and try to win the majority. Every action is a vote for your identity.

I’ve said many times that I don’t have all the answers. As always, I’m just learning as I go. If you know of other ways to change your beliefs and build a new identity, feel free to share.