In this article (also available as a free audio podcast — http://www.inspiredprojectteams.com/?p=1122), I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life. Am I always true to these practices? No, unfortunately. But the more often I am able to follow them, the happier I seem to be. You might want to try some of these yourself
1. Turn off the local news; it’s not real.
Think about it. News production is a business. News producers must create powerful headlines that generate a sense of urgency on the part of viewers or listeners. They want big, bold, sensational announcements that scream nervously about fires, murders, local indiscretions by public figures… all to attract a large audience. If it’s nasty and ugly and sensational, we’re going to hear about it. To make matters worse, these kinds of stories are comparatively easy to get. Journalists can simply listen in on the local police scanners, follow the police or fire department to the scene of the latest crime or accident, and pick up that sensational story. So it’s easy for broadcasters to bury us in this drek! Yet, at the same time, there are countless little acts of kindness in neighborhoods everywhere that go unreported. What’s more, there are employees who labor quietly to create a great new product, or go that extra mile to serve their customers, or otherwise make their anonymous positive contributions to make the world a better place. But most of this positive energy goes unnoticed by local news producers.
The result: You come home from a long, hard day at work, turn on local news, and a glut of negative energy pours over you. You wallow in bad events that simply aren’t real for you, your family, or the people in your neighborhood! Ultimately you begin to feel a little uneasy, sad or angry. If you aren’t careful, this stuff begins to cast a dark shadow over your whole life. But you don’t have to let this happen! You can do what I do: I turn off my local news and go out and enjoy a walk in my neighborhood or call a friend or relative and say Hi or whatever! I do anything other than sit through all that bad news. (What about the local weather, you ask? No worries. I get my local weather, updated every few minutes, from the internet!)
2. Turn off the national & world news; it’s not real either.
The same business dynamics related to local news apply to the national and world news. And worse yet, with national and world journalism, the scale of the bad news is typically much grander. The bad behaviors of public figures are said to have world-wide implications. The wars (there are always wars, right?) and acts of inhumanity are captured in gory detail. And it is implied that the local disaster on the other side of the world could soon apply to you, in your neighborhood. Meanwhile, in nations all over the world, public officials, citizens, and workers labor quietly to do their jobs as best they can and generate countless acts of kindness that go uncelebrated. So again, I suggest this: Turn off the national and world news, go outside and look around. There’s a good chance that all that bad news that was so compelling as it poured into your home is simply not a reality in your back yard, in your neighborhood, in you family, or among your friends. And if it’s not in these places, then it’s not real to you. So why let it shape your thoughts and your mood?
Here’s a challenge: Stop watching local, national, and world news for one solid week. At the end of the week, tune in to a news broadcasts and see how you feel. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked at the amount of negative energy these things spew at you. And you’ll probably quickly turn them off again!
Remember these words from Marcus Aurelius: “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind, for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.” So the question is: Do you want your soul to be dyed the color of bad news or the color of the countless good deeds that are happening all around you?
3. Turn off political talk shows; they simply pick at wounds.
Are you a fan of Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh? Of Glenn Beck or Keith Olberman? Whatever your political orientation, the shows hosted by these people (and many others like them) typically have the same effect on you as a viewer or a listener: They cause you to feel angry, excited, sad, cynical, self-righteous, or some other extreme (and usually not pleasant) emotion. Like the news producers discussed earlier, they are in the business of getting people to attend to their broadcasts — of getting people to react and talk about them and bring their friends and relatives to the next broadcast. And to do so, they push your buttons, stir up your prejudices, link together truths and half-truths with strong opinions and commentary, and generally raise your blood pressure.
I used to tell myself that time spent with such shows was time spent “informing” myself of key issues. But after a while, I started to realize that I wasn’t simply being informed; I was being needlessly agitated. I was developing a gloomy consciousness that the people in charge of all the institutions of our country, especially its political leaders and elected officials, were either corrupt or bumbling… and certainly not worthy of my trust. I suddenly realized that these shows actually left me less meaningfully informed, often confused, and almost always more anxious about the world around me.
So these days, I inform myself about the key issues of the day by looking for information on my own terms. Give me the web and a browser and I create my own body of facts on issues by examining such truly balanced websites as ProCon.org or Project Vote Smart or FactCheck.org. While these aren’t as entertaining as the political talk shows, they provide solid information that I acquire and digest for myself!
So, if you’re a fan of those ranting… er, talking… heads on radio or TV, try this simple experiment. The next time you finish one of their programs, find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes and pay close attention to your feelings or the energy field you are experiencing. Are you happier? … more peaceful? … more hopeful? If you’re like me, you’ll soon realize that spending time with these shows can be toxic to your happiness. So turn them off.
(An aside: A basic principle of good management is that a manager’s authority should equal her responsibility. Every time I hear one of these talking heads ranting about what one of our leaders should be doing, I see that they are using their authority to broadcast their opinions to all of us, while they have absolutely no responsibility for bringing about the changes they are calling for. I can’t help wondering what their grand pronouncements would sound like if these people actually had to do the hard, and often thankless, work of governing, building consensus, and simply trying to get things done.)
4. Connect with positive media that enlighten & challenge you.
So, given that so many news and talk shows generate so much unhappiness, where can you turn to find media that enlightens, challenges, and contributes to your happiness? Good news! The web is full of such media, much of it entirely free. If you were to look through my MP3 player right now, you’d find many programs from the sources listed below. I listen to these while exercising, standing in line shopping, or whenever I need a little inspiration.
- Brian Johnson’s PhilosophersNotes — “The Biggest Ideas from 100 of The Most Influential Books On Personal Growth In 20 Minutes Or Less” (See my testimonial video about these on YouTube.)
- Oprah’s Soul Series Webcasts — “Each week Oprah or guest hosts… sits down with leading spiritual thinkers, teachers and authors to talk about matters of the soul.”
- LearnOutLoud.com — Thousands and thousands of audios and videos and podcasts. Classical books, contemporary great thinkers & self-improvement. Much of it is entirely free!
- TED Talks — “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”
- LibriVox — “Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.”
- The Best Free Training — This website & blog can help you find great free online or downloadable courses that will challenge and stretch you! (Disclosure: I research & post all the items listed at this website. -MG)
The list of sources above only begins to scratch the surface of the vast collections of positive, uplifting media that are available to you — mostly for free — on the ‘net. So turn off your TV or radio and connect with something positive!
5. Create something, grow something, nurture someone, and use your signature strengths.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the following two quotes are powerful influences on my day-to-day life:
- “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” – Jesus
- “Your purpose is to act on the resources God gives you. If God gives you a bucket of fish, you have to distribute those fish. If you don’t, they’re going to rot, attract a bunch of flies, and start stinking up your soul.” – Russell Simmons
So here’s the deal: Whether you happen to feel it right now or not, you should know that God (or Source energy or your Muse or whatever) is in every one of us generating a powerful need to “bring forth” our talents and experiences in a unique way to create something, grow something, nurture something, and use what Dr. Martin Seligman calls our “signature strengths.” Seligman says (and his years of clinical research prove) that using these strengths is the key to happiness. According to Seligman: “I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” (This is from Seligman’s Authentic Happiness — To learn more about your unique signature strengths, go to http://www.authentichappiness.org, sign up for your free membership, and work through the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire.)
So if you are feeling less than happy… even anxious… you need to ask yourself: “What can I create, what can I help grow or develop, who might I nurture to make the world a better place? And how can I share my signature strengths?” Answer these questions, take action based on your answers, and become happier.
6. Exercise. Move.
This is a truly simple cure for unhappiness that I discovered many years ago: To change what you are thinking (i.e., unhappy, restless, anxious thoughts), change what you are doing. There is something about getting out of the office, away from the desk, off the couch and stepping outside that immediately starts working on your mood. Your entire body becomes engaged in movement, you see new sites, smell new smells, feel the wind in your face, and forget your troubles. When you exercise or move you automatically shift your mental perspective and start concentrating on the movement itself, whether it’s walking, running, dancing, lifting weights, operating your bike — whatever. Fresh air moves into your lungs, stale air is exhaled. Blood circulates and floods your brain cells with fresh oxygen and nutrients. Your natural happiness chemical, serotonin, is released. Maybe even a little adrenalin flows into your bloodstream as a natural pick-me-up. In short, a quick way to feel better is to get moving. A good way to keep feeling better over the long haul is to develop a regular habit of exercise. But you’ve heard all this before, right? So… what are you waiting for?
7. Perform a simple act of kindness.
This wonderful quote from Wayne Dyer says it all:
“The positive effect of kindness on the immune system and on the increased production of serotonin in the brain has been proven in research studies. Serotonin is a naturally occurring substance in the body that makes us feel more comfortable, peaceful, and even blissful. … most anti-depressants… stimulate the production of serotonin chemically, helping to ease depression. Research has shown that a simple act of kindness directed toward another improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness and the person extending the kindness. Even more amazing is that persons observing the act of kindness have similar beneficial results. Imagine this! Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!” — Wayne Dyer in The Power of Intention
So look around. Who would benefit from a simple act of kindness? Perform that act and become happier!
8. Stop complaining.
We’ve all heard the recent findings about the amazing plasticity of the human brain. The good news is that it can rewire itself after being injured, stretch itself in new ways to meet new demands, and generally adapt to almost anything we ask it to adapt to. The bad news is that if you continually point your amazing plastic brain at a sad or miserable event in you life, you develop the ability to relive this event over and over again in your own version of “high definition!” Worse yet, telling your sad story over and over to your friends and families eventually gives it the strength of a personal myth or legend that defines you and how others see you. Not only do you relive the misery, but everyone else gets to share it with you again and again. The result: Instead of having a rotten thing happen to you once and then be over and done with, you become trapped in the rottenness by telling and retelling your story. And your plastic brain accommodates this self-destructive urge by allocating plenty of neurons and brain real estate to your epic suffering. Is this really what you want? To poison your consciousness repeatedly… to allow the event that offended or injured you to have everlasting life in your consciousness and the consciousness of those around you? I don’t think so! So… stop complaining. Let it go, already! And get a little happier.
9. Express gratitude frequently.
I’ve often heard it said, quite wisely, that you cannot be angry or resentful while expressing gratitude. True feelings of gratitude simply displace these negative emotions. In fact, researchers studying happiness have found clinical evidence that cultivating gratitude contributes measurably to happiness. One specific practice identified by researchers is the “gratitude visit.” In this practice, you have one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to you but had never been properly thanked. Another specific practice is called “Three good things in life.” In this practice, every night for one week you write down three things that went well each day and provide a causal explanation for each good thing (i.e., describe why it happened). Practicing both these exercises has been clinically shown to increase levels of happiness in those who practice them. Based on these findings and the work of Martin Seligman (author of Authentic Happiness), the practice of creating a Gratitude Journal is becoming a widely accepted method of increasing your overall happiness. So look for reasons to be grateful, look for opportunities to express this gratitude, and then do so frequently!
(For lots of details, references, etc., see my series on The Science of Happiness on my blog, The Best Free Training [http://www.bestfreetraining.net/?p=191]. Or check out my Inspired Project Teams posts/podcasts Train Yourself to be Happier [http://www.inspiredprojectteams.com/?p=230] and Learn to Be Optimistic… Learn to Succeed [http://www.inspiredprojectteams.com/?p=507].)
10. Practice mindfulness and mindful meditation.
By “mindfulness and mindful meditation” I mean the secular practice (not particularly religious or spiritual) of simply being in this moment. By learning to be more fully here and now you can shed the happiness-killing habits of ruminating over past troubles or fearing future problems. And the beauty of it is, everyone already knows how to find this present moment! It’s right here, available for us all to experience. Whether you formally practice mindful meditation or not, you’ve no doubt already experienced some moments of being fully mindful such as these:
- Sitting in a garden watching a flower
- Admiring a sunset or a cloud formation
- Listening intently to a favorite piece of music
- Writing a poem or story
- Painting a picture
- Intensely running or biking or playing basketball
- Listening to the sounds of birds chattering or waves lapping the shoreline
- Simply staring into space and discovering a few minutes of tranquility in what seems like a timeless and formless place
If you’ve ever engaged in one of these practices, allowing thoughts of the past and future to disappear revealing a few minutes of pure “here and now,” you’ve practiced mindfulness. And one of the most powerful ways of increasing your overall level of peace and happiness is to build on these moments of mindfulness — to extend them so they become a larger part of your life. I discussed all of this and the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn in helping millions cultivate mindfulness in an earlier blog post and podcast titled Practice Mindfulness (http://www.inspiredprojectteams.com/?p=766). In that post I shared my own experience with the practice of mindfulness through mindful meditation:
“Every morning I meditate for about 20 minutes before I start my day. After doing this for a couple of years, I have found two powerful benefits. First, I seem to have developed the ability to find this quiet mindful space and to call on it in the other parts of my life, when I’m not meditating. It’s as though I always have a comfortable bench under a shade tree to which I can retreat for a few minutes when things are getting too frenzied out there on the sunny playing field of my life. Second, this mindfulness practice has lowered (yes, lowered) my tolerance to stress! I am no longer willing to put up with my mind spinning out of control dreading fictional futures or ranting about past horrors. When the noise starts, I can see it as it really is: just noise. And I witness it, and wait for it to pop like so many soap bubbles. I don’t claim to be in perfect harmony, but all-in-all, my 20 minute daily mindfulness meditation practice is well worth the time spent!”
So how about it? Why not build on your already-present ability to “be here, be now” and start practicing mindful meditation for extended periods of time. It will help you become a more peaceful, satisfied, and happier person.
Footnote: The negative media discussed earlier (news and political talk shows) are powerful forces that work against your mindfulness and against your being in the present moment. They actually encourage you to spend time ruminating about past horrors and fearing future events. By turning these negative media off, and turning on the “here and now,” you can truly increase your happiness.
Reflect on these questions:
- Do you or your team members spend much time talking about bad news?
- What are some real, local good news events that have been happening in your community?
- What are some real, good news events in your team members’ family lives?
- When people start talking about bad news, could you shift the discussion to the good community and family news?
- What are some positive media sources you engage frequently? Have you ever shared these with your team?
- Do you express gratitude frequently… especially so your team members can hear you?
- Do you and your project team members have opportunities to practice mindfulness and stay grounded in the present moment?
Ask your team:
- Do we complain too much? (What do we get from this?)
- Do we spend time rehashing bad news or bad events? (What good news, personal or business, can we share?)
- To whom or about what might we express more gratitude?
- Do we have places in our work environment that we can go to practice a bit of meditation or get some energy-renewing exercise?
Project Manager Challenges
As project manager or team leader, you can set the tone for your team by becoming a role model who performs the specific actions that encourage happiness. For example, you can:
- Share how you are connecting with positive media that enlighten & challenge you.
- Share how you have discovered and are trying to use your signature strengths to create something, grow something, or nurture someone.
- Share ways you make time to exercise and move. (And you can help create time and places in the workplace to support exercise and movement.)
- Perform simple acts of kindness as often as you can.
- Express gratitude frequently.
- Practice mindfulness and being “here and now,” by discouraging the rehashing of bad past events and discouraging the fearful thoughts of negative future possibilities. Instead, show how you keep focused on the present moment.
- Take a few minutes out of every work day to close your door or go to a quiet place and meditate.
You can also discourage the behaviors that work against happiness. Specifically, you can:
- Refuse to spend time talking about bad news and negative headlines.
- Refuse to spend time engaged in political debates and partisan rants.
- Stop complaining… and challenge your team members to turn every complaint into a recommendation for improvement of some sort.