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2020 has been quite the year so far. It’s easy to slip and let our minds wander over what the next six months will look like. The last ones have been an emotional roller coaster full of national disasters, political uprising, overt racism, and a massive pandemic that has completely flipped the world on its head. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with all of this going around, so what can we do about it? More importantly, how will we be able to move forward with our lives?
The answer: Create your own happiness.
Over the last 15 years, the emerging field of positive psychology has taken the world by storm, creating a completely different dialogue about positive emotions and happiness. Chasing the “Pursuit of Happiness” sounds great in theory, but as neuroscience has shown, it’s flawed and outdated for multiple reasons.
“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.” – Dale Carnegie
Create Your Happiness, Don’t Wait For It To Come To You
If we genuinely want to be happy, we have to create it. Why? Because we can’t wait around for a specific event, date, or object to come into our lives. If it doesn’t happen, our happiness will never occur. More importantly, studies continue to show this concept is backward, as happiness fuels long-term success and fulfillment, not the other way around.
Barbara Erickson is one of the leading researchers at the forefront of positive psychology. She coined the “Broaden and Build” theory, which states that positive emotions (i.e., joy, love, contentment, interest) can broaden our ability to process information. These positive emotions facilitate the creation of more thoughtful, creative, and open-minded answers to questions compared to individuals who are under stress or fear. And those who become “primed” with positive emotions before answering questions can generate a broader and more extensive set of thoughts and ideas compared to those who have been prefaced with negative emotions.
Scientists have also found that positive emotions can even change how our visual cortex processes information, allowing greater expansion of our peripheral lines of vision. Let that one sink in for a minute!
While this may sound great, it has essential applications in the real world. According to Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Project, doctors who are placed into a positive mood before seeing patients show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than colleagues in a neutral state, making accurate diagnoses 19% faster than their counterparts. Even more convincing is the fact that sales individuals who possess optimistic traits outsell their negative-minded sales counterparts by 56%.
Companies are finally starting to find out how powerful our mindset and beliefs can be for hiring and onboarding new employees. One study even looked at 112 entry-level accountants and asked them about their potential abilities to accomplish critical tasks before being hired. Those who merely believed they could achieve the tasks scored the best job performance ratings from their superiors compared to their peers. The best part about these findings is the fact that the beliefs in their abilities were a more reliable predictor of performance than the actual skillset or previous training they had in previous jobs.
With 95% of HR leaders stating that employee burnout is “sabotaging workforce retention,” creating happiness should be our number one priority because it can provide significant change and necessary improvements in our personal and professional lives.
So what is the best way to facilitate happiness?
Keep It Simple: Happiness is What You Make It
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to wait to make a million dollars or find the love of your life for you to be happy. We’ve all been stuck in that thought process at some point in our lives. The problem with this type of thinking is that it doesn’t make sense because we’re putting the cart way before the horse.
In 1978, researchers at Northwestern University and University of Massachusetts created a gound-breaking study that focused on assessing the overall happiness between 2 vastly different groups of people: Those who had recently won lottery prizes ranging from $50,000 to $1 million and those who have recently experienced a catastrophic accident, causing paraplegia or quadriplegia.
Over time, when asked about simple interactions like chatting with friends, laughing at a joke, eating breakfast, and watching TV, they found that the recent accident victims experienced greater happiness than the lottery winners. Why? Because they realized that their happiness wasn’t as a result of their external circumstances. It was a result of their unique perspective on life, even though it was vastly different from where they were before their accident.
Now, I would never wish paralysis or disability upon anyone, but this study brings some crucial points to the conversation.
Money can improve your overall quality and life and sense of security, but it doesn’t mean you will inherently be happier. Stop wasting your time focusing on external factors that may or may not be under your control. As the research shows, happiness in the present can bring greater success in the future. Use it to your advantage.
External factors, such as paralysis or disability, don’t have as much of a negative influence as one would expect. We can attribute this change in perspective to “affective forecasting,” a classic psychological theory describing the process of overestimating how much we will enjoy or hate a specific event in the future. While this may seem trivial, it can have significant consequences on our physical and mental health.
If we don’t receive the expected outcome we were hoping for, we will always be let down and left unsatisfied.
“The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go.” – Dodinsky
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
The best part about these cognitive processes is that these “expectation” effects wear off relatively quickly, meaning that no matter how bad or good the outcome was, we all possess the ability to bounce back and find happiness, regardless of the circumstances we are placed in.
Pro Tip: If you genuinely want to find greater happiness in your life, start by listing three things that make you happy throughout the day. Write it down, post it on your LinkedIn, or share it with a loved one. The more happiness you perceive, the more your brain believes it occurred, which creates more feelings and experiences of happiness around you.
Happiness is a choice, not an event or circumstance. And it will always be up to you to create your own happiness, so what are you waiting for?