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Friday, May 4, 2012

21 Days to More Happiness

by Dustin (bio)

I recently watched a TED talk by Shawn Achor (also included at the bottom of this post), one of the highest-rated professors at Harvard University for more than a decade, and it rocked my brains. The focus of the talk was on happiness, of which I'm a fan. In the talk, Achor suggests that our idea of the link between success and happiness is distorted. In fact, it's backwards.

I often tell myself, "as soon as I achieve ________ then I'll be happy," as if happiness is just on the horizon and all I have to do is close the distance between it and me. The problem, according to scientific research on happiness, is that each time we experience success our brain changes the bar for success. In other words, once I achieve a goal, happiness is short-lived as my mind automatically begins to explore what else could be possible. I raise the bar and begin anew, searching for more happiness by being more successful. I read my scriptures five nights a week and the goal becomes to read them seven times a week. I find a job that aligns with my strengths 80% of the time and now I need to find one that aligns 90% or 100%. Run a mile? Now run two. Score high on the GMAT? Could've been higher. If, in my mind, happiness lies just beyond success then I will never get there!

Achor says that if we can raise someone's level of positivity in the present then we increase the likelihood of success. We've got to reverse it. Your brain at positive performs significantly better than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed. In fact your brain is 31% more productive (this is called the "happiness advantage")! In other words, we've got to flip this equation -- success = happiness -- to this: happiness = success.

So how do you increase your happiness to then yield more success? You've got to rewire your brain. In the talk, Achor suggests several things you can do, all of which are unsurprisingly principles of the Gospel. The one he teaches to businesses he consults with is to do this one simple thing:

Each day, take two minutes and write down three gratitudes, or things for which you are grateful that day.

Simple as that. Do this for 21 days and the scientific research shows that you can actually rewire your brain from naturally defaulting to negative, neutral or stressed to positive. Positive brains equal more success.

I began this exercise five days ago and am amazed by the results. (Insert picture of me hocking diet pills -- I know, sounds cliche. But I really am amazed by the results). I shouldn't be, as the scriptures and prophets have long taught the power of gratitude. It's no wonder we are encouraged to offer prayers of only thanksgiving. This is not to say that this is an easy task. It requires me to take three minutes before bed each night and at least one of these nights I've felt irritated for having to do this. But it's always been fruitful after doing it and has even immediately shifted my mood. What I've found is the following:

1. I'm more aware of blessings in my life on a day to day basis -- I notice the positive.
2. I'm more excited at the beginning of each day (which says a lot -- I teach early morning seminary).
3. My prayers are more meaningful.
4. My energy levels are higher.
5. I feel more centered -- less swings throughout the day from bursts of energy to afternoon doldrums.
6. I'm more motivated to work hard, particularly during the 2 p.m. slump.

If there ever was a silver bullet for happiness, this is it. Try it yourself. Success doesn't lead to happiness. First be happy, then achieve success. Take the 21 day challenge and see if you experience more happiness. And, if you do, let me know. I'd love to hear: dustinpeterson1 at gmail dot com.

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