Have you ever wondered if the way you perceive success really makes you happy? Conventional wisdom tells us that if we work hard, we’ll be more successful. Only when we reach our success – get a fabulous job, enroll at a good school, get that promotion, lose a couple of pounds – we allow ourselves to be happy. You know, until we set ourselves a new goal. The happiness advantage is a concept that teaches us to raise our positivity in the present, rather than to wait for what lies in the future. Needless to say, the happiness advantage challenge was born! During this 7 day challenge I will consciously do five (psychologically founded) exercises a day to get to know this concept. And I’m inviting you to do so as well!
Shawn Achor’s TED Talk
Recently I stumbled across this entertaining TED talk by Shawn Achor. An inspiring 12 minutes, which led me to create this challenge. Because after you’ve listened to an entertaining anekdote about a crippled unicorn and stared at a graph which turns out to be based on made-up data, it quickly comes down to this: If we change our perception about our wishes for success and happiness in the future, we will have more appreciation for what we already have in the present time.
The example that got to me most (which admittedly they all did sooner or later; it took me some time to catch up with the speedy talk, little breathing and witty humor) was how Shawn described his time as an on-campus councilor at Harvard. He mentioned that the students soon got over their initial feelings of accomplishment and gratitude to have gotten into such a prestigious school. Not more than two weeks later they were focused entirely on the work-load, competition and stress they were dealing with.
One of his friends who came to visit him on site said “Shawn, why are you wasting your time studying happiness at Harvard? What does a Harvard student possibly have to be unhappy about?” And in that question lies the key to understanding about how we seem to perceive happiness.
Today’s teaching styles but also parenting styles are highly based on the concept that we need to work harder to become more successful. And only when we achieve this next level of success, we’ll be happy. Yet every time we achieve a new milestone, we change the goalpost of what success looks like. Although this does get us places (feeding a constant need for improvement) Shawn points out that as long as our happiness stays on the opposite side of success, we’ll never get there. By measuring our happiness by how we perceive success, we keep pushing our goal out of reach.
We need to stop thinking that we can only be truly happy when we deem ourselves successful. We need to raise our level of positivity in the present, so we can get what Shawn calls “a happiness advantage”. This doesn’t only increase your sense of prosperity, but it should also raise our intelligence, creativity and energy levels (make sure to watch 10:30 of the TED talk video for all advantages considering our work productivity).
The happiness advantage challenge: 7 days
I have to admit Shawn made it easy for me. In his presentation he gave 5 methods that will train a lasting positive view on happiness. This challenge is entirely based on these, and this means I will be practicing the following during the next week:
1: Daily 3 gratitudes
Every day I will write down three new things I am grateful for. Apparently practicing this daily for 21 days is enough to rewire our brain to think more optimistically, and you will prone to scan the world for the positive rather than the negative.
2: Daily journaling
I will write a daily entry about a positive experience I’ve had during the last 24 hours. This will allow our brains to relive said experience, generating a more positive attitude.
3: Daily exercise
I’ll make sure to exercise daily for half an hour to an hour; from walking to cycling, to hitting the gym or attending one of my dance classes. Although exercising regularly is obviously beneficial to your mind and health, this should also teach our brains that our behavior matters.
4: Daily meditation
Meditation should help us regain our general focus, surpassing the – I quote – “cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by doing multiple tasks at once”. Although I am an absolute rookie when it comes to meditation, I’m planning to spend 15 minutes* a day doing just that.
5: Daily random act of kindness
I will make sure to do a random act of kindness every day, relying on the situation and a bit of improvisation. Shawn recommended writing a praising or grateful e-mail to someone in your social network, causing a ripple of positivity beyond your own reach.
* Are you a rookie at meditation? Then don’t over-exert yourself on meditating like I did when I did this challenge, to make sure the practice remains enjoyable! Aim for 5 minutes or even 2 minutes of meditation a day instead.
Does the happiness advantage spark your interest? Shawn Achor has wrote an entire book about it. I haven’t purchased or read it yet, but I surely will if this challenge turns out positive!
Want to tag along?
By the end of the week I’ll write a report on the challenge on Want for Wellness, but in the meanwhile I’ll make sure to report my findings and struggles on Twitter and Instagram. Want to participate – now, or at a later date? You can do so silently, but feel free to Tweet or Instagram with us using the tag:
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