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Get Serious About Your Happiness
by James Lange, CPA/Attorney
When my Mom was in her fifties, she went back to school to get her PhD in Education. She was deeply influenced by an existentialist philosophy class. We often spoke about great philosophers at dinner, whether I wanted to or not. But, now, I must admit, the conversations broadened my outlook on life. More recently, I have been interested in the “happiness literature.” When I saw that this article regarding happiness with lead-in using a quote from Jean Paul Sartre, how could I not read on!
I often encourage clients to spend more money on experiences and less on things. Part of the rationale is that by the time you are approaching retirement age, chances are you have accumulated enough things. But, the motivation runs deeper than that. Studies have shown that the pleasure you derive from buying “things” is transitory, but activities like family vacations, which is my favorite way for you to spend your money, performances, or events continue to make you happy long after they are over. The following article offers additional ideas and suggestions for ways to become happier. And who can’t use more tools to help achieve that objective!
Taking time to examine the choices you make in your life and work each day and over the long term to make sure they are enhancing your well-being can do more than just make you happier. Working on enhancing happiness has actually been shown to have a tangible return on investment and can make you more successful.
Here’s one example from the business world. According to positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor, if you are happy and you have happy people around you in your organization, you can improve your organization’s performance and productivity by anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent. And if your team is happier, you will take better care of your clients and have greater impact on them—which in turn will enable your team to do well financially.
With that in mind, here are steps for increasing your happiness in ways that will lead to better results in your work and in your life. These come courtesy of Henry Miller—a truly exceptional trainer, coach and consultant who helps companies and organizations improve their performance and productivity. He spent years analyzing the growing research on well-being and synthesizing it into his book, The Serious Pursuit of Happiness—an essential road map to greater happiness.
Understand the Basics
Some people think they are predisposed to be happy, or unhappy and that’s just how it goes. Not so. You can take steps to enhance your happiness and that of the people around you. Research using data from the Minnesota Twin Registry shows that around 50 percent of our level of happiness depends on our deliberate thoughts, attitudes and actions—great news for those of you who assumed your level of happiness is hard-wired.
To improve the drivers of happiness that are within our control, start with some basic ideas to guide you:
- Happiness takes effort. Creating and enhancing happiness in your life, your family and your workplace is just like any other major initiative you undertake—it requires time and effort to get up and running smoothly.
- Happiness is a numbers game. The frequency of positive events in your life matters more than the intensity of those events. You’ll have better results if you boost the number of small positive moments in your day instead of trying to have just a few instances that are hugely positive.
- Happiness is a habit. Make happiness habitual—if you are not as naturally happy as other people, incorporate happy habits into your life while removing other habits.
- Do more for other people. When you spend time doing things for other people and trying to make them happy, you actually end up happier than when you do things to please just yourself.
Proven Paths to Happiness
Research has shown that basing your decisions on several imperatives will increase your happiness:
- Seek pleasure within limits. Real, lasting happiness doesn’t come by chasing lots of short-term pleasures. Happiness is not hedonism or doing your best to avoid all pain. The “high” from short-term pleasures doesn’t tend to stick with us very long, and if you keep doing nothing but those activities, the moments when you do feel down tend to overwhelm you.
- Intentionally think happy. Avoid excessive self-focused rumination on the minutiae of your life. Focus on building resilience and taking control. A feeling of well-being arises when you do these things. There’s a quote often attributed to William James, the father of psychology: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their moods by altering their states of mind.”
- Intentionally act happy. Expressing gratitude for the good things you have shuts down feelings of envy and jealousy that block your path to more happiness. If you buy yourself a “gratitude journal” and write in it every Sunday night, you can increase your happiness by 25 percent, and the positive effects can last for six months. Other happiness-building actions to work on include forgiving people who have wronged you, staying fit through exercise and diet, and getting enough sleep.
- Cultivate positive personality traits. Honesty, courage, perseverance, tolerance, generosity—all are universally seen as good character traits. Consider the best possible future for yourself as a person at home, at work and at play. Imagine yourself in a future where everything has gone as well as it could go. What might your best possible self and best possible future look like?
- Embrace deep connections. Close relationships are vital—Facebook friends and watercooler buddies aren’t enough.
Plan and Act
Ultimately you need to act to achieve results. Here are three proven happiness-enhancing action steps you can start doing immediately.
- Savor the future. Write a description of what your life will ideally look like five years from today. Your vision of your ideal future will actually act like a beacon, drawing you to it. But don’t just take this step—also notice how it makes you feel when you envision a great future. This is how you savor the future, and in doing so you will elevate your positivity.
- Express gratitude for your past. Think of someone who has positively impacted your life and whom you have never properly thanked. Write down what they did for you and all the ways you are thankful to them for what they have meant to you over the years. The mere act of writing this type of letter has been shown to boost levels of happiness.
- Demonstrate love. If you can, go out immediately after reading this report and get a flower or card for someone you love and give it to them, saying, “Just because I was thinking about you and what you mean to me.” You can also simply call someone you love—your spouse, a best friend—and tell them how happy you are that they’re in your life. Try to do more of these types of acts every week or month, and cut down on other activities to do so if necessary. Remember that habits and frequency of actions play big roles in elevating happiness.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This article was published by the BSW Inner Circle, and is distributed with its permission. I personalized the introduction, but can’t take credit for the copy. Copyright 2018 by AES Nation, LLC.
Speaking of Happiness…Consider a California Experience
by James Lange CPA/Attorney
I just got back from a combination business/pleasure trip to San Francisco and Santa Cruz. You should think about a trip yourself. Definitely a happy experience for me!
First, some really good news. There are multiple direct flights from Pittsburgh—suffering the red-eye is no longer your only option.
Once in San Francisco, there’s plenty to do and see without venturing outside the city. The scenery is spectacular. Viewing the famous Golden Gate Bridge from Golden Gate Park is a sight to behold. Just walking around the neighborhoods might be worth the trip. P.J. and Mike DiNuzzo and I walked up the stairs adjoining Lombard Street (the steep one-block section that has eight tight hairpin turns). Luckily, all of us were in pretty good shape, but we were still huffing and puffing. If you make it to the top, you are rewarded with fabulous views.
Naturally, there are world class museums, including San Francisco MOMA, but there are also some smaller, lesser known, places like the Beat Museum—”spreading the spirit of The Beat Generation.” And of course, there’s Fisherman’s Wharf (a bit too touristy for me) and the iconic cable cars. From the wharf (about a ¼ mile away), you can take an Alcatraz Island Tour Cruise. Though it is somewhat touristy, the tour of Alcatraz Island is unforgettable and historic.
There are marvelous places to visit, both north and south, an hour, give or take, outside the city. For example, only eleven miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Woods National Monument where you can walk among old-growth coast redwoods. Further North, there are gorgeous undeveloped beaches and craggy shores where you can really feel the power of the waves crashing into the rocks. Hiking and biking opportunities abound. But, this trip took me south to Santa Cruz, about an hour and a half from SF. While I stayed in Santa Cruz for four days, it could also be a day trip from San Francisco.
The trip down Route 101 is worth the drive. But there are plenty of access routes off 101 to fabulous beaches. Stop and explore as you like. My two favorites were excursions to Half Moon Bay and Ano Nuevo State Park, famous for its elephant seals, but also a fantastic birding location. That preserve attracts a lot of volunteer naturalists at the important viewpoints, and I learned so much about elephant seals and the history of the sea creatures in the area.
Happiness is there for the taking…
Just before you reach Santa Cruz is the Wilder Ranch State Park. An historic dairy ranch built in the 1890s. It has fabulous flat trails along the bluff so that you are almost constantly looking at the ocean in all its powerful glory. Every mile or two off the main trail, there are side trails that lead down the bluff to different gorgeous beaches.
I walked down to a particularly rocky and craggy beach. In the distance, I saw three relatively young swimmers, two women and one man, swim past a point that I thought was safe. My unease fixed me to the spot where I could watch them for a few minutes to make sure they were in control. It was then that I noticed that the women were topless. Fearing being considered a voyeur, I turned around and walked back to my bicycle! From a distance, I was relieved to see that they had returned to what I considered the safe part of the beach front.
On my return trip, I also saw a young couple with a man playing the guitar. It felt very sixties and free spirited. Another 50 yards along, I saw a husband and wife shielding their new child from the winds and blowing sand. They also had a dog. I wondered if they didn’t represent the future for the carefree couple I previously saw. Time moves on…
So, I hope California dreaming is part of your retirement plans, or simply an excuse for a break from work. Returning to San Francisco up Route 101 is nothing short of spectacular. A happy trip. I hope California features in your future.