What’s the secret to happiness?
To be honest, I still don’t know. Over the years I’ve experimented with different strategies and techniques with the aim of making myself happier. Some worked, others didn’t. Here’s a list of the top 5 things you can do to be happy that I’ve found to have the biggest impact on my life own happiness.
1. Random acts of kindness
Whenever I help someone overcome a problem that they’ve been struggling with for a while I get a warm glowing sensation in the pit of my stomach. I believe that going out of your way to help someone out is good for the soul, especially when you don’t expect something in return.
There are things that you have learned to do that you now take for granted. For example, when I started my first business in 2009 I hired a web developer to custom build a website. Not only did I pay a significant amount of money, but I had to wait several weeks for the site to be built. These days I can build my own WordPress site in less than an hour and as I’ve already got a hosting account it just costs me $2.99 to register the new domain.
We all have the ability to use what we know to help other people through random acts of kindness. If you take the time to pay it forwards not only will you feel happier and more fulfilled, you’ll be increasing the likelihood of someone helping you out should you ever need a helping hand in the future.
Spending money on other people has also been shown to have a bigger impact on your own happiness, especially if it’s giving of your own free choice, when you feel personally connected with the recipient and when you believe that the gift will have a real impact.
2. Experiences not stuff
I used to be addicted to Amazon. I loved the massive selection of goods and the customer reviews would enable me to make what I felt were informed purchasing decisions whilst the iPhone app made it super easy to buy stuff without having to switch on the laptop. I’m fascinated by the topic of happiness and so my purchases were often focused on items I believed would make me happier. And sometimes they would, for a while at least. After the novelty of the new gadget wore off I’d find myself back browsing their site. So, does all of the stuff I accumulated make me happy? It’s hard to say. After leaving a territory sales manager’s role last December and going self employed I’ve had to make significant changes to how I spend my income. I still buy the occasional book from Amazon, but the app has been deleted and the credit card details were removed to make it more inconvenient to make purchases. The buying cycle has been broken and I don’t feel any less happy.
According to research conducted by Dunn and Norton, in their book Happy Money, experiences have a bigger impact on people’s happiness than buying physical goods. As I love to travel the choice between physical goods or holidays abroad is a no brainer. Even though my fiancé and I are living off a tighter budget, we seized the opportunity to go to Boracay in the Philippines in February with some friends and have a three week camping trip through Europe with our highly excitable black labrador dog called Poppy planned for our honeymoon in September. These experiences gave us something to look forward to for months in advance and as we moved closer to them our excitement only grew. Boracay itself didn’t disappoint and the two weeks we were there were mind blowing. But probably the best part of the trip is the memories that were created that we get to relive through videos and photos and through the stories of what happened.
Experiences don’t just include holidays. Going to festivals, concerts, rock climbing, sky diving, in fact anything that you’ve ever thought about doing, but for some reason haven’t gotten around to yet.
Being grateful for what you have has a positive impact on how happy you are. I used to compare my life to that of my friends from university. As I took time out to go travelling after graduation most of my friends were several years ahead of me in terms of their careers and earnings. Whilst I was living back at my parents they were buying their first homes and driving newer cars. I’ve always been highly competitive and it felt as though I was losing at the game of life.
Now I know that happiness come more from the lens through which you choose to view life. Currently I have no car as I sold my A5 in order to pay for our wedding. As much as I liked that car, I’m grateful that it has given me the financial means to marry the woman that I love.
Shifting your focus towards being grateful for what you have instead of what you don’t have is one of the keys to happiness. So, what do you have to be grateful for? Your list is probably bigger than you think. People often take their health for granted until they lose it. If you were to go blind for six months and then suddenly regain your ability to see, would you appreciate this ability more than before? I believe we all would. But it shouldn’t take the act of losing something in order to fully appreciate what you already have.
If you’ve ever seen the episode of Friends where Chandler can’t smile naturally, then you’ll know the kind of face I pull whenever I see a camera pointing at me. Faking a smile can be difficult, however, the simple act of smiling has been linked with increasing happiness. If you’re having a bad day try sitting up straight, relaxing your neck and shoulders and taking several slow deep breaths and then smiling. You should feel the built up stress and tension slowly ebb away.
People often subconsciously mirror body language which is why smiling just like yawning is contagious. It’s remarkable the difference smiling can make and there’s a whole chapter dedicated to this in Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ classic.
5. Spend more time with friends and family
The relationships you have are important and should be protected. My last job forced me to work insane hours. It involved selling hip and knee implants to orthopaedic surgeons which meant being in the operating theatre at 8am in the morning and as I lived off territory this also meant lots of driving. Everyday I would return home feeling exhausted knowing that I had more work that needed doing on my laptop. One day I returned home feeling particularly stressed. It was a beautiful sunny day and when I walked through the door my fiancé suggested that we sit out in the garden and have a drink in the sun. I felt physically sick from the amount of work I needed to do and explained that I didn’t have time to join her. Liz had seen me change from a happy, easy-going guy prior to this job to being increasingly stressed. My reaction to her suggestion reflected the change she had witnessed and she started to cry. This was the moment when I realised that I had my priorities all wrong. Nothing was worth jeopardising our relationship and several months later I made the decision to leave my job.
I now work from home and since leaving my job I have written my first book called The New Rich and started my own freedom business where I get to help others escape the job that they hate by starting their own online businesses. And I’ve never been happier.
There are plenty of other things you can do to be happy such as getting enough sleep, eating healthily and doing regular exercise and I recommend experimenting with these yourself and seeing what works best for you.