"The happiest people don't have the best of everything but they make the best of everything they have."
Did you know that most of us live our lives according to outdated (or even false) theories about happiness? It’s a new year, and that means a new opportunity for you to make the small choices that will help you make the best of everything you have—and experience a big boost in your health and happiness. Below I’ve summarized some of the best predictors of happiness, with links on each subject so you can dive deeper into any that you choose.
1. Replace Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion
Outdated Theory: Self-criticism and being hard on ourselves is a great way to get things done and be successful and strong.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong—A number of studies now show that self-criticism weakens us while self-compassion provides us with the skills we need for resilience, happiness and productivity. (See here.)
2. Replace Complaints and Negativity with Gratitude
Outdated Theory: It’s good to be realistic, which means realizing that life sucks.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong—Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we actually have three times more positive experiences than negative. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad? Our brain tends to focus on the negative and forget the positive. Gratitude is the perfect antidote and research shows it can be harnessed for greater health and well-being. (See here.) We also get caught up in an eternal chase for what we think will bring us happiness but really just fools us. (See here.) Here again, gratitude is the answer.
3. Balance Seriousness with Play
Outdated Theory: Adults need to be serious. Play and idle fun is for children and pets.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong—As adults, we often fail to remember to play, but research shows it boosts our creativity, health, and well-being. (See here.)
4. Balance Stress with Breathing
Outdated Theory: Yeah, yeah, "take a deep breath" and all that jazz…There’s no reason to pay attention to our breath. We all know how to breathe, it happens on its own. Breathing differently won’t make a difference.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong—Your breath is intricately tied to your well-being and the state of your mind. It holds the key to greater self-control and resilience. (See here and here.)
5. Balance Self-Focus with Compassion for Others
Outdated Theory: Everyone’s looking out for themselves, I need to focus on myself to get ahead in life.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong again—Self-focus is actually associated with anxiety and depression. We aren’t naturally selfish. Actually, our natural instinct is to act fairly. Compassion appears to be an evolutionarily adaptive trait that has tremendous health and well-being benefits. Compassion will benefit your relationships, including your romantic relationships. In fact, compassion may be the best-kept secret to happiness. It’s good for your business and both men and women are wired for it.
6. Balance Solitude with Connection
Outdated Theory: You’ve got to make it on your own, stand out, stand above the crowd, differentiate yourself and that, ultimately, is a lonely state of affairs.
What the Research Really Says: Our brains are wired for connection to others. We thrive when we connect. Loneliness can be balanced with connection. You can even learn to be together and connected when you're alone. Connection helps us overcome stress.
7. Balance Activity with Doing Nothing
Outdated Theory: You have to be productive every minute of the day to get things done and stay afloat.
What the Research Really Says: Wrong—You’ll get more done by doing more of nothing. It’s good for you and your productivity. A great way to get started is meditation. (See here for 20 scientific reasons to start today.) Turning your attention inward is a secret to well-being that the brain is built for. (See here for the brain’s ability to look within.)
A Very Happy New Year to You!
Emma is the founder of Fulfillment Daily, science-based news for a happier life. To stay updated on the science of happiness, health and social connection, see emmaseppala.com.
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© 2014 Emma Seppala, Ph.D.