Have you resigned yourself to living a miserable life?
Are you always chasing after someday?
Is instant gratification your go-to m.o.?
Each of these describes a different happiness archetype.
If you want a decent shot at happiness, you need to aim for the fourth happiness archetype.
More on that one in a moment.
Sayonara Complaining Connie
I used to complain all the time, about pretty much everything. A sure sign I’d resigned myself to living a miserable life.
I’m surprised I had any friends.
One day at work, I was on the verge of yet another moan-fest when my colleague looked at me and said, “Stop complaining.”
Dumbstruck by his honesty, I shut my mouth and didn’t say another word. No doubt that was his intention (or, at least his hope). I can’t remember what happened next, but his words had an impact on me.
Not immediately, mind you. I remained an ardent complainer for a number of years before I finally realised that if I wanted to be happy I’d have to make the effort.
I’m happy (ha ha) to say I’m no longer the Debbie Downer I once was. The tendency to complain still rears its head from time to time, but I’ve (mostly) learnt how to stop myself before it gets out of hand.
While I often think back on that incident and silently thank my colleague for honesty, ‘telling it like it is’ only serves as a wake-up call in the moment.
Ultimately, happiness is an inside job.
Can We Learn to Be Happier?
According to Tal Ben-Shahar the answer is an emphatic ‘Yes!’
As someone who taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University’s history, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership, he should know.
And as a fully recovered nihilist, I too believe we can learn to be happier.
It’s actually not as difficult as you might think. (I mean, I managed.) But, that doesn’t mean it’s just going to fall into your lap, either.
We’ll get to the ‘hows’ in a bit. First, let’s unpack the happiness types I alluded to earlier.
The Four Happiness Archetypes
In his book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal defines four different happiness archetypes.
Remember, if you fall into any of the first three categories, it’s not a train smash. We’ll talk more about what you can do to change archetypes.
1. The Rat Racer
The Rat Racer is always chasing after a goal in the future and never happy in the moment.
Do you routinely chase down future rewards at the expense of current pleasures? Are you always busy and never satisfied, even when you achieve your goals?
Given our career-driven mindset nowadays, this is the archetype most people relate to.
2. The Hedonist
The Hedonist is always in the moment but never moving forward.
You’re all about enjoying the now and give little or no thought to what tomorrow holds, let alone next month or next year.
Living day to day with no regard for goals or purpose will leave you feeling unfulfilled.
3. The Nihilist
The Nihilist has given up on both the present and the future.
You’ve lost your joy for life, in the present as well as in the future. You find no pleasure in your work or home life and you’re not optimistic about what’s to come.
You’ve essentially given up and resigned yourself to being miserable.
4. The Happy Person
The Happy Person has a goal that inspires them, yet still makes a point of enjoying the moments along the way.
Maintaining a healthy balance between the present and the future is the secret to true happiness. For you, life is about the journey as much as it is the destination.
You’re able to recognize and appreciate today’s gifts while making steady progress towards your long term goals and dreams.
Honing the Art of Happiness
Research has shown that 40 percent of our happiness is determined by our thoughts and behaviors, with a paltry 10 percent attributed to life circumstances. The other 50 is genetically influenced.
This means almost half our happiness is up to us. I’ll say that again.
This means almost half our happiness is up to us.
Wayne Dyer echoes this wisdom. He says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Happiness isn’t some future goal to be attained, it’s available to all of us right now in this very moment.
Tal Ben-Shahar puts it like this, “Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”
So what can we do now to ensure we enjoy the journey?
Packed with helpful exercises and soul-searching questions, Tal’s book Happier is a great place to learn more about honing our happiness skills. However, these two daily practices are a good jumping-off point.
1. Express Gratitude Daily
The science behind gratitude is unequivocal. By taking the time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for, you experience more positive emotions. You also sleep better and are more inclined to be kind to other people.
Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase wellbeing and life satisfaction. All you have to do is write down five things you’re grateful for on a daily or even a weekly basis and you’ll be emotionally and physically better off.
“Fill your life with as many moments and experiences of joy and passion as you humanly can. Start with one experience and build on it.” —Tal Ben-Shahar
2. Simplify Your Life
Research by psychologist Tim Kasser —author of The High Price of Materialism— concluded that the feeling of time affluence not only benefits people’s physical health, but their subjective wellbeing and happiness as well.
In other words, when you have more time on your hands, you’re more likely to be happy. Conversely, material affluence offers no such guarantees. The longer you remain on the hedonistic treadmill, the less happy you’ll be.
Books like Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier by Ari Meisel will help you figure out how to declutter your work life and create more time in your day.
Ultimately, the more you simplify your life and make time for what matters, the happier you’ll be. And just in case you’re concerned that cutting back on your work hours will hinder your career progress, here’s some more wisdom from Tal Ben-Shahar.
“The good news is that simplifying our lives, doing less rather than more, does not have to come at the expense of success.”
It’s true. The secret to success isn’t doing more. Counterintuitively, it’s doing less and relaxing more. It’s about making the most of the time you do spending working. (Cal Newport calls this doing deep work.)
In fact, research has shown that productivity dips sharply around the time you hit 50 hours per week. As this article on PayScale points out, you’re not your best self when you’re overworked. Notably, they also remind us that fatigue impacts decision making.
Food for thought, eh?
Making the Most of Self-Isolation
If you have access to the Internet, you can pretty much learn anything you want. For free. That’s good news for those of us who’ve either had to take a pay cut or aren’t able to earn an income at all right now.
Try your best to use this time constructively. Yes, these are trying, scary times we’re living in right now. But sitting on the couch stressing about it or worse, watching the news 24/7, isn’t going to help.
I’m not saying you should make a blanket fort and pretend nothing’s wrong. What I am suggesting is to be circumspect about where you get your information from. Spoiler alter: it’s not through the regular news channels.
Apart from being notoriously disingenuous when it comes to covering current events, the media likes to blow things out of proportion. And when they have nothing new to report, they’ll just loop the last piece of bad news ad nauseam.
Sporty and I are getting updates from provincial government and the World Health Organisation (WHO), both of whom are sharing only the facts. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now that you’re no longer glued to the television, what will you do instead?
If you do have money to spend on self-improvement, it seems like a lot of people are offering their courses at hugely discounted rates as well as taking their IRL courses online.
Kelly McGonigal —author of The Joy of Movement—has moved the mindfulness and writing retreat she co-teaches with Ammi Keller online. Previously available only to Standford students, this course is now open to the public.
Option 1: April 25-May 2
Option 2: May 9-May 16
If you’d like to know more about Kelly, check out her TED talk How to Make Stress Your Friend. She’s a super fascinating person so of course she’s also made an appearance on Rich Roll’s podcast. Be sure to check out that conversation as well.
Sporty and I have been meditating twice a day (as much work permits) with our guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. These meditations are streamed live on YouTube at 12 noon and 7:30pm IST and are free and open to public.
It’s also important to keep fit and healthy and here too, there are a plethora of things to choose from online. Sporty and I recently started doing 1 Workout a Day with June. We’re only on Day 3 and already we’re feeling the results.
We also downloaded Elevate to exercise the gray matter. I’m still on the free version, which is pretty cool, but Sporty bought a year’s subscription and swears the games are way more intense.
She does seem smarter, or maybe I’m just biased?
Those are just a few ideas for you to think about, but can learn just about anything you want online. From cooking and crafting to writing and macramé, it’s all there for your learning pleasure.
It’s important to find a way to give back during this time.
Giving back is a classic win/win. It’s good for the community and good for your personal wellbeing and happiness, too. If you’re in a position to get out there, why not deliver food to folks who are locked indoors?
And if you’re the one who is hold up inside, see if you can find a way to make a difference onlince. You can donate to local charities, sign petitions or write love letters to people who need a pick me up.
Remember, the happy person strives for a better future at the same time, while simultaneously enjoying and appreicating the journey.
There has never been a better time than right now to hone the art of happiness.
You’ve got this. We’ve got this.
Let’s do something worthwhile, something that matters.
In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. —Dave Hollis