Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How to become happier #5 Three Good Things in Life

This is one of the simplest happiness exercises and also one of the most effective.

Each night  for one week, write down three things that went well that day. 
In addition to writing three things that went well, provide a causal explanation for each thing.
 In particular, try to pay attention to how your behaviour caused the positive thing.

For example
1)      I had a nice chat with my friend – how I influenced this good thing happening – I called her
2)      The sun shone today – I noticed it!

This takes only a couple of minutes and most people find it enjoyable. They are just a couple of pitafalls to avoid
1)Do not set the bar too high – the good thing doesn’t have to be that you won an Oscar
2) Remember that how you caused the good thing can be indirect - for example even if the friend called you, you helped caused it by being a good friend over the years
3) Do reflect on not just the good thing but also how you helped bring it about - the exercise not only helps you feel more optimistic, it also helps you become more self-aware and also more aware of what you have control over.

So - what 3 good things happened to you today
And what did you do that helped  make them happen

This activity is also a good one to tell other people about, and to do with friends or family. Telling someone about it can count as one of your Three Good Things!

Monday, February 27, 2017

How to become Happier #4 Use Your Strengths

Do you know your strengths?
Do you use your strengths as much as you could?

This happiness exercise works on the assumption that most of us could harness our strengths better.

Step 1 ) Take the VIA Strengths Test
  • Feel energised
  • Feel its the real me
  • Enjoy using it
For example, suppose your strength is love of learning. When you learn something do you usually feel energised, enjoy it, and feel that it's the real you - if so, love of learning is a signature strength. On the other hand if you are good at learning, but learning bores you, or drains you, or is something you do to please others - then it's a strength, but not a signature strength.
  • James has a lifelong life of learning. He decides to watch a Ted Talk or listen to a podcast every day.  
  • Jan’s chosen strength is being good at encouraging people. She decides to make a point of every day aiming to encourage people she interacts with.

There are several strengths inventories available, the one to start with is the VIA Strengths inventory which you can take for  free at http://www.authentichappiness.org. You will be given a report on your top 24 strengths in order. 

Step 2) Identify your "Signature Strengths
When you have your report, you  should reflect on which of your top strengths is a "signature strength". 
To do this ask yourself -
"When I use this strength do I

Step 3) Use a Signature  Strength in a new way 

For the next week pick one of your signature strengths that is not being used as much as it might be. Make a point of using it in a way that you would not have otherwise done every day. 
For example, 

If you are short of ideas of how to use your strengths, here are 340!

Good luck, I hope you find that using a signature strength in a new way not only makes you happier, but also more effective. That's true of many of these happiness exercises.

You can use the comments section to describe how you get along with this activity.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to become happier #3 Happiness by Design

In 2014 a self-help book written by a London School of Economics Professor of Behavioural Science unexpectedly topped the best-sellers list.. The book? Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan.  Here is what one reviewer thought of it.

 His book is a powerful reminder not to get caught up in overthinking things, but to focus instead on maximising what actually delivers joy. "Listen more to your real feelings of happiness than to your reflections on how happy you think you are or ought to be," Dolan writes, and most of us would benefit from listening to him
Dolan says that one reason we arent as happy as we don't do enough detective work about what makes us happy.  We are creatures of habit - and how many of you can say that your habits are fine-tuned to optimise your happiness? How much internet browsing have you done today? Has it made you happy? Did you watch TV last night? How happy did that make you feel?
I honestly don't know the answers to those two questions, and that is the point. Although it is useful to provide lists of habits that in general make people happy, we are all different and what makes you happy might be very different to what makes me happy.

Happiness by Design is certainly a book I would recommend. However apart from my "there's a lot of interesting ideas here" reaction, my main response was "This is very similar to how we CBT therapists teach our depressed clients to get out of the pit of depression  - why  Dolan doesnt mention that!"

To redress the balance, here are my own thoughts about how to create Happiness By Design, acknowledging my debt to CBT and a blend of it called "Behavioural Activation"

Of all the ways to become happier, this one has probably the most evidence, so long as we include evidence of helping really depressed people to get back to a more or less normal level of happiness. 
It does require more work than some of the ideas - detective work usually does - but I believe it will be worth the effort.

Here is what you do.

For  a day, on an hourly basis, record what you have been doing, and then record how much you pleasure you got in  the hour, what sense of achievement it gave you,

For example

1200- 1300   Cooked lunch     Enjoyment (P) 6 Achievement (A) 7  
1300- 1400   Had lunch           Enjoyment(P) 8 Achievement(A) 3 
1400- 1500   Watched fairly poor TV and dozed Enjoyment (P) 3 Achievement (A) 1 
1500-1600     Did gardening   Enjoyment(P) 7  Achievement (A) 9  

You can record this on your phone, on a sheet of paper, or on your computer.  A form to help you do this is provided here.

It is good practice to record what you did as close to the time as possible, as otherwise it becomes difficult to remember what you did and how you felt. Each hour should contain
a)   a brief description of how you spent the time during that hour
b)   Two numbers labelled P (for pleasure) and A (for achievement) out of 10
Often the two numbers for P and high will be similar but this isn't always the case. What do you think the figures would be for
1) Eating your favourite food
2) Competing your tax return

 A day is the minimum time to do this activity, which is called activity monitoring.
For depressed clients, we suggest a week. You might like to try it for at least a couple of days, one a weekend day and one a work day.

The second phase is activity planning or activity scheduling , and this is when you get to reap the benefits of your detective work.
You review your patterns of activity and related pleasure and sense of achievement and then design how to be happier. Here are some ideas that help
  •         Repeat activities with high scores for P or A
  •         Think about  activities you can do similar to those with high scores and plan those. For example, if playing one sport gives a high score, think about other sports you could try out
  •      Detect your own happiness fingerprint - what sort of things lead to high Ps or high As. Many people find high scores go with socialising, being outdoors and being physically active and low scores with being on ones own, worry or ruminating and being unfocussed. We are all different though, so the unique value of this exercise is to detect what brings happiness to you
  •         Reduce activities with scores that are  low for both A and P. If you can’t reduce them, think creatively of ways to improve your experience of them. For example, suppose a checkout cashier finds their job low in A and P but they need the money. A useful idea would be to try to make their experience of being  a checkout cashier more pleasurable - perhaps by  smiling at customers and asking them about their day so far - or having a greater sense of achievement from it - by deciding to pack items in bags for customers when they dont have to do this, or by setting performance related targets, for example, how quickly they scan items.
  •           Aim for an overall balance of high A and high P activities in a day. It’s fine to have some activities that are just high A and some that are just high P.
  •        Plan activities that will you predict will give you higher scores, and then spend a second week monitoring activities.
I hope that this activity monitoring and planning idea will help you become happier, by design.  
     The activity monitoring sheet is freely available here

Saturday, February 25, 2017

How to become happier #2 Random Acts of Kindness

All week, to celebrate the WGS and Global Happiness Dialogue, I am writing about happiness.
Last time  I shared with you the Best Possible Self Exercise.

Today, try some Random Acts of Kindness

Perform 5 acts of kindness today. Some people like to plan them though its perfectly OK to be spontaneous.

You can choose whether the acts of kindness all benefit the same person and whether they are made aware of them. Be sure not to do anything that places you or others in danger.

Possible acts of kindness include
        Pay for the person next to you in a coffee shop
        Give someone a compliment
        Cook a meal for your flatmate
        Write a letter to a friend
·       Express gratitude
·       Bring cake to work
·       Tell someone you care about them
·       Donate money to charity
·       Give blood

You can use the comments section to share how your Acts of Kindness went

Have a great day and a great weekend


Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to become happier: #1 The Best Possible Self Exercise

Happiness matters, it's good for everyone, and there are things you can do to enhance it.
These were amongst the conclusions of the inspiring  WGS and Global Happiness Dialogue I recently attended in Dubai, UAE.   To do my bit for readers, I am writing articles all week on happiness.

Today, an evidence-based exercise that can help you understand what happiness would be like personally for you. Try it now.

Best Possible Self exercise
Think about what you expect your life to be one, five or ten years from now. 
Visualise a future for yourself in which everything has turned out the way you’ve wanted. 
You have tried your best, worked hard achieved all your goals. Now describe in writing what you imagine.

Do it now, if you like repeat it in the next few days, using different areas of life (e.g. career, relationships and recreation) and/or different timeframes.

Take the Happiness Questionnaire now to get a baseline for your happiness..

I'll be sharing another happiness exercise tomorrow

Have a great day


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What is Happiness? How Happy are You?

Happiness matters, it's good for everyone, and there are things you can do to enhance it.
These were amongst the conclusions of the inspiring  WGS and Global Happiness Dialogue I recently attended in Dubai, UAE.   To do my bit for readers, I am writing articles all week on happiness.

Today, we will look at 2 key questions - What is Happiness? and How Happy are You?

The question What is Happiness is one of those questions that with a pint in your hand and some congenial company around you could easily take up a whole evening - or longer.  Philosophers have long debated about the nature of happiness. However psychologists have taken a very pragmatic line, bypassing philosophical argument by inventing their own term, Subjective Well Being, which can mean whatever the hell they want it to mean.  Subjective Well Being is defined as overall satisfaction with your life - how you feel about your life overall as well as the balance of positive over negative emotions in your life recently. So Subjective Well Being includes the presence of positive emotions, an absence of negative emotions and a feeling that life is going well.
Plausible? Well, give me a pint and a few hours and I will I am sure be able to find  several arguments suggesting it isn't perfect. It can't be, because different people mean different things by happiness. If we want to measure happiness though, we need to be pragmatic. I for one am happy to say that it's close enough.

If you agree, then you can find out how happy you are very easily.
Take the Happiness Questionnaire now
It will take less than 5 minutes and give you two scores for Life Satisfaction an Balance of Positive over Negative Emotions. You can compare your score with the average scores of thousands of people who have previously taken the tests.
Tomorrow I will share with you some of the most powerful ways to enhance your happiness - so measuring it today will give you a baseline.
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A week of happiness

The WGS and Global Happiness Dialogue I recently attended in Dubai, UAE was truly inspiring.  A major focus was on happiness, and here are some of the key findings

  • Happiness matters
  • Happiness is not fixed - what we do individually, in organisations  and as a society changes it, both up and down
  • Science now knows a lot about how to increase happiness in individuals, organisations and societies
  • This knowledge about happiness though important is however not widely known -even among the well-educated - because we didn't learnt it at school!
To do my bit to address point 4, I am going to blog all week about happiness. 

Today - happiness matters.

How many of the following benefits do you think happiness is associated with?
  1.          Improved  health
  2.           Longer Life
  3.          More achievement
  4.          More wealth
  5.          Improved productivity
  6.          More pro-social and altruistic behaviour

The answer – all of them! 

Happiness not only feels good, it also makes us more likely to do good and be good. 

This is not to say that happiness is the only thing that matters. Selgiman's PERMA theory suggests 4 other values that are important (engagement or flow, relationships, meaning and accomplishment) - and we could undoubtedly add others ourselves (wisdom, courage, justice,self-control, compassion, freedom)

Nor is it yet saying how we attain happiness. Nor that it's your fault if you are not happy. What is says is that, other things being equal, the happier you are, other good things are likely to come  as well - good not just for you, but for others.

So, once and for all, let's put away the myths that say happiness is unimportant, or self-indulgent, or narcissistic.  Ed Diener, the most eminent of happiness researchers, put it well in his WGS speech - "Happiness is not a luxury, it's a necessity".

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Highlights from Dubai World Government Summit and Global Happiness Dialogue

I felt very honoured to be invited to  take part in the Global Dialogue for Happiness in Dubai, UAE, Saturday 11th February. It was a most inspiring occasion and  I promise to  share my thoughts about it and the World Global Summit that followed soon

Some of the best talks are now available, so today I will share a few favourites ,,,

1) Visionary Tesla and SpaceX Entrepreneur predicts the future

"When AI gets much smarter than the smartest human on earth that's dangerous.We need to be very careful in how we adopt Artificial Intelligence. We need to make sure researchers  don’t get carried away. Sometimes what happens is that  scientists gets so engrossed in their work they don’t  realise the ramifications of what they are doing. 

2) The  Prime Minister of Bhutan,  Tshering Tobgay,

 on how governments should be thinking 

about Gross National Happiness more than 

Gross National Product

“Happiness is important so why don’t  governments  take it seriously. Why not  make happiness  a public good rather than relegating it to an individual pursuit....If the government cannot create happiness for its people there is no purpose for the government to exist ..."