We could all use a huge dose of happiness right about now. It’s been nearly a year of enduring a raging pandemic, polarising politics, civil unrest, massive unemployment and fear about the future. The holiday season and the start of a New Year is the perfect time to try and find some happiness in your life.
Yale psychology professor, Laurie Santos, lived in the same residence hall with her students. She learned that the young adults, while blessed to be at such a prestigious university, suffered from anxiety, stress, bouts of depression and didn’t feel good about themselves.
In an effort to help and make a difference, Santos created a course at Yale called “Psychology and the Good Life.” The plan was to offer students “insights from psychology and neuroscience about what drives happiness,” and to provide “behavior change exercises to help rewire the brain,” to help achieve happiness. The course was a phenomenal hit and became the most popular class in Yale’s 300-year long history. It was opened up to the public and enrollment skyrocketed to 1.1 million students as of March.
Here are some of the takeaways I’ve learned from Professor Santos’ suggestions for leading a happier work-life.
Socially engage with people
Humans are social creatures. We’re meant to interact with others. One of the issues people complained about during the lockdowns was that they were unable to engage in face-to-face interactions, which led to feelings of isolation.
A study conducted by psychologists Ed Diener and Marty Seligman “discovered that there was one activity that set happy people apart from the rest of us—happy people were more social,” and their “results were so strong that these researchers deemed being around other people as a necessary condition for very high happiness.”
Since we’re likely to be working-from-home and practicing social distancing for at least the next few months, you might want to follow the professor’s advice and find ways to engage with people. This could be through initiating Zoom calls with colleagues, former coworkers, family and friends. You may also check into the array of online events that have proliferated during the pandemic to meet new people, forge fresh relationships and enhance your network.
Major religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism all weave elements of gratitude into their practices due to its importance. Gratitude is a mindset in which you appreciate all of the goodness in your life and acknowledge all of the little pleasures. It could be a beautiful sunset or the cat gently purring beside you.
Practicing gratitude, thanks and appreciation is relatively easy. Start by thinking about all of your blessings and good fortunes—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It could be a loving family, children, health, wealth, friends or a meaningful job.
Think of all the things that you are thankful for. Be kind to people. Let a coworker know how much you appreciate their help. If you’re a manager, tell your staff how proud of them you are and acknowledge their hard work and efforts. Offering appreciation and showing gratitude makes you feel good about yourself too.
What not to do
There is a societal misconception that if we accumulate enough money, status, clout, a perfect body and physical possessions we’ll be happier. According to Santos, after we’ve done this, there’s still a feeling of dissatisfaction and wanting more.
It harms your positive mindset when you spend too much time on social media as it tends to rile you up, make you feel inadequate and missing out on all the fun. It’s better to detox from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
America is known for its hustle-porn type work culture as people brag how busy they are. Being a workaholic is an acceptable and applauded practice. What these folks dont realize, in their work-obsession, according to Santos’ class, is that they’re missing out on all the things that are really important in life.
Be present in the moment
Harvard psychologists found in a study that “we spent more than 40 percent of the time mind-wandering—not paying attention to the here and now.”
You need to learn to control your “monkey brain.” This expression loosely means that we humans are still animals and we have these rapid-fire thoughts that constantly race through our minds. When one leaves, another negative thought quickly takes its place. This often happens when you interview or try to progress in your career. The self-limiting thoughts take over and could easily paralyze you into inertia.
Try to be Zen. This involves the art of remaining in the present, appreciating the moment and letting go of any baggage. When you’re in the interview, listen intently to the hiring manager as she’s the most important person in the world at that moment.
A little meditation may help too. Take a deep breath, hold it and breathe out. Clear your mind of the anger and bad feelings. Say a positive mantra such as, “I will use this lesson to inspire me to find a new job,” or “I will help someone else out who is going through the same ordeal.”
Take time to decompress but also exercise
You need to allocate times towards destressing. The holiday season could be your own personal time to recharge emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Santos suggests getting a good night’s sleep to provide the energy to get up in the morning with enthusiasm. It’s also important to exercise as it’s good for your body and mind. You should take long walks, jog, practice Yoga, hit the gym, get a Peloton Bike or do some good old fashion pushups and situps.
Just as you take a shower or brush your teeth everyday, you need to continually work on your happiness. There will be days that you don’t feel like it, but try. Life is hard and difficult. It’s reasonable that even if you’re happy there will be moments when you won’t be at that level. It’s okay, you don’t have to give up, just keep at it. Starting now will help you increase your happiness in 2021.
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