A step by step Guide to Healthier and Longer Life
About the Author
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Human Life and Challenges
- Life Cycle
- Needs Vs Wants
Chapter 3: What is Emotional Capital?
- Sources of Positive E-Capital
- Causes of negative emotions & stress
Chapter 4: Sources of Happiness
- Attitude necessary to experience the positive emotions
- How to build courage and techniques to lower/remove stress
Chapter 5: Causes of Stress
- Prepare yourself, build a foundation
- What you need to connect and build relationships
Chapter 6: Your life and current state of mind
- Do you want to be Happy? If so Why?
- What does happiness mean to you ?
Chapter 7: You already know what makes you Happy!
Identifying and creating new sources of Happiness?
Chapter 8: Re-directing and converting your assets into E-Capital
Chapter 9: Developing the Plan & Execution
Chapter 10: Ongoing evaluation and re-planning
Appendix A: Harvard Study
Appendix B: Other reference material
Human life is the most amazing, unique, most powerful creation of this entire universe. We are all privileged to be born as Human. Each newborn baby is unique yet starts with a similar body, an active mind and abilities. Each of us have grown in different parts of this world, and in different environments. Regardless of these differences, we all smiled, laughed, and experienced so many moments of pleasures and happiness. These moments and experiences were rarely related to wealth, fame, or power. Most of these happy moments were emotional. Some of these, included comfort from mother’s hug, laugh due to a tickle, joining the smile or laugh of others without even knowing the reason, running around, copying other kids and so on.
Simultaneously, all babies need to be fed, be physically safe, learn, adopt to the environment as they grow. The growth phase of life includes getting education, working to earn living, making friends, raising a family and add many new moments of pleasure and happiness in our inventory over the years along with the satisfaction of needs. Even during this phase of life, there were many experiences of thrill, happiness, and emotional pleasures. We developed hobbies in sports, music, public speaking or whatever personal taste and environment allowed. However, during this phase many of us change our perception and importance of emotional pleasures and get carried away in priorities that started due to needs we had to satisfy but they took over our life.
On one hand, most of these activities are related to more wealth, fame or power but many are also caused and accumulated due to greed, fear, bad relationships and stress. As we grow older, some of us retire from our profession but have a hard time to adapt to new phases of life due to health or many other factors which may lead to feelings of loneliness, lack of activity or boredom, sadness or even depression.
We all started as a baby, like a bright, shining, glowing diamond that grew bigger but started collecting layers of dust and other coverings that reduced its glow and brightness. However, don’t forget that it still has same core that is bright with glow deep inside.
When I watch my grand-daughters, I wonder why can’t I be like them all over again? The answer is that we may not go back that far but can certainly enjoy many of those experiences, if we choose to do so.
The purpose of this book is to provide a step-by-step customized guide for you to identify, recognize, ignore, eliminate or replace all these negative layers of dust from all the diamonds collected over your life so far and make them sparkle again, lead a life that is much happier and potentially longer than it would be otherwise. While the concepts discussed in this book are also applicable to everyone irrespective of their age, my main goal is help people who have already gone through raising a family, achieved most of their career goals, want to spend rest of their years to discover themselves in the pursuit of happiness and make efficient use of the resources at their disposal.
In each subsequent chapter, we will be discussing various elements of happiness and how to achieve it. The idea behind this is to increase the period of happier living, rather than mere existence. Each chapter shall be like peeling layers of an onion with each layer dealing with a different aspect of life, eventually reaching the core with specifics to develop your own recipe for a happier life.
We are all constantly bombarded from multiple sources on a daily basis with new diet plans, the latest exercise techniques, yoga, meditation, life extension supplements that claim to change our DNA and so on. The list is un-ending and sellers are minting billions of dollars marketing all these products and services. On a personal level, most techniques of being happy is something that we are already aware of. So, in theory, we already know what to do and even then, our lives can sometimes be missing a spark. The book is an attempt to make people understand that inhaling and exhaling is not living, it is just existing. If we settle for existing, then we will miss out on all the dreams and aspirations we had without experiencing true happiness.
In today’s age, where you are already part of a hundred Whatsapp groups, be it your old high school group, your work group, your neighborhood society group, your college group or just close friends – you will often come across various messages that boast that this is the recipe for achieving happiness, become healthier or living longer. Rarely is there any process easy to follow given in these messages, but just examples or sermons to follow. These are generic messages which many times are useful and good. However, as we will explain we are all different and each of us cannot follow generic recipes. We are simple ordinary people and not about to learn and become scholars in human psychology overnight or able to take time off to change our life upside down tomorrow, leave our families and friends to go to achieve Nirvana.
When we sit back and evaluate the real impact all these things have on our happiness, the results are not obvious. Happiness is a state of mind and not a mystery, which is caused by positive emotions humans feel. Positive emotions provide happiness or feelings of joy, excitement, satisfaction, recognition and control. Similarly, negative emotions are caused by loneliness, lack of control, lack of purpose in life which can create stress and reduce life in numerical terms, to say the least. Therefore, while we already know what happiness is, the key is how to inculcate these positive emotions.
Many studies worldwide have been conducted over the years on this subject except none provide a simple method to follow for one to be happier and live longer. This book shall help you create such a plan to control your happiness and life. In this attempt, the book can be considered a manual for happiness, which involves a few steps that would allow a person to discover what truly makes them happy. Emphasis is also laid on the ease with which we can achieve our goal. The book does not contain any elaborate techniques or exercises that one must go through. All information given in this book is simple, that does not require any new major effort.
Once you know what makes you happy, channeling this happiness correctly then becomes the key for a longer life. I don’t claim to be an expert on humans or their emotions, and the book is merely based on my own experiences and life lessons that I have accumulated in my 71 years of living, travelling across 35 countries and interacting with scores of people. These steps have helped me, and in turn, those around me, to become more joyful. As discussed in the further chapters of the book, it’s not about the quantity of life, but the quality of the life that you have lived, which you will be looking back at someday.
Imagine two people, living very distinct lives. Both lived up to the same age, let’s assume a century. The first person, existed throughout their life, achieved their career goals but were always lonely, sad and did not use their time to discover what makes them happy and invest more into that direction. The second person lived their life fully, had experiences and were happy and made the people around them happy. They were happy because they knew what made them happy, and their actions were in that direction. In this scenario, while both of them lived the same number of years, it’s clear who lived more. I would be promoting similar ideas throughout, in which a person can live 10 years of their life, as if they lived 20, by making every second count.
We shall also introduce and explain the concept of Emotional Capital (E-Capital) which can be created, converted and used just like money and time which are the 2 most commonly recognized assets we all have. However, unlike money, time is indispensable. The simplest reason for this is that we have a limited amount of time. While the same may hold true for money as well, when you are living the last decades of your life, each second becomes that much more important. That is when the mind starts wondering regarding the life that has been lived up till now.
The book shall provide a way to recognize, constantly develop, increase, and maintain your own currency of E-capital. You will be able to convert time and money to create more E-Capital if you choose to do so. However, this Capital isn’t available in any shop to buy or trade in a stock exchange, which will be discussed in much more detail further.
Many of the lessons that I have talked about are an inspiration from my father and can be traced back to my childhood. Reiterating, the book is not something based on scientific research on how to live longer physically. There are already thousands of books regarding the same, and I cannot hope to add anything more to that. The purpose of this book is not to elongate life, though the impact of happiness on this cannot be neglected. Instead, the purpose of the book, as mentioned earlier is how to live life longer, and how to live 10 years of your life with the worth of living 20 years. So, I sincerely hope you enjoy reading and learning new simple concepts and use them to lead a happier and longer life.
Chapter 2: Human Life & Challenges
What is being a Human?
The number of species that belong to Earth is unknown, and maybe will never be known completely. More than half of the total number of species are still unknown to us, waiting to be discovered and to awe us with the nature of their creation. However, the differences between each species is something that cannot be overlooked, as that is what sets every species apart. In a similar way, understanding what we as humans have would involve understanding what other species don’t. That is what sets us apart.
Let’s look at a few simple human traits and issues that are very common, and which will be addressed in future chapters in detail. While this is common knowledge already, the attempt is to help you recall what resources are available at your disposal and the struggles of an individual day-to-day.
Power of reasoning – Humans beings have one basic differentiation relative to other species on earth. We will not be looking at the physical changes that set us apart, but the changes that affect us on an emotional level. We have a higher capability to reason and analyze, and this is perhaps the most telling of all the differences between species. This means that our level of understanding is much higher than any other species, which gives us the power to self-introspect and understand ourselves better. More often than not though, people are not able to proceed further from self-introspection, into making actual changes.
Emotions – Laughing, crying, anger, love, hate, jealousy, pain, pleasure, instincts are also very powerful. These are human emotions, rarely seen in any other organism. These emotions, depending on how they are harnessed can either have a positive impact, or a negative one. What we need to understand is the impact of these emotions, and which emotions need to be reinforced by us.
– Using your time – When we talk about living longer, the first aspect that would arrive to your mind would be time. On paper, yes, time is limited. Everyone knows this, we have heard about how every second lost does not come back. Here comes the time to self-introspect on what you are investing your time on, and at the end of it, how much time you have left for yourself.
As adults, everybody has various obligations that need to be met. This can be taking care of your family, doing your daily job so that you can earn your income and taking care of your health. This would also involve interacting with your peers. Even if we are sleeping for 7-8 hours a day, that would mean that we need to allocate about 30% of our total time to our body’s need for sleep. Taking all of this into account, the real problem would come into view, that we don’t have that much time left for ourselves at the end of any day. So, investing whatever time we do have becomes that much more essential.
The next chapter would be more focused on this aspect, on how to divide your resources such as time and money, in the best way possible.
Creative side/Curiosity – Humans also have curiosity, and our insatiable need to be creative that has led to the world we all live in today. It’s this curiosity that leads to discovery. Without that, perhaps there wouldn’t have even been a language that we could’ve used to communicate with each other.
While this creative thinking has led to millions of new inventions and has improved human life yet many of us feel emptiness, loneliness and unhappiness. As a person with a scientific background, I would like someone to invent a pill we can buy, swallow and become happy overnight. After all, happiness must be some neurons firing the right signals to our brain.
UNDERSTANDING HUMAN NEEDS
While we generally know what kind of emotions make us happy but to create and enjoy these emotions there is no simple formula or pill. Life is a cycle and human needs change over the life cycle. Much has been written about the human life-cycle by many people and their needs. One of the simple concepts is Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs depicted below.
(Convert to a simple similar new clean exhibit) B/W is ok
(Maslow studied what he called exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that “the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy. Maslow studied the healthiest 1% of the college student population. Source: Wikipedia)
This hierarchy of needs that was proposed by Maslow is now part of many curriculums worldwide. Maslow’s theory is most generally used in a workplace environment, where the various needs of an employee are kept in mind and appropriate methods of motivation (in the form of incentives, perquisites, etc) were then devised to improve productivity. However, these needs are also applicable outside the work environment and can be deemed as various stages of satisfaction a person looks for in their lifetime.
As an example, we would always need a safe place to live, money to maintain a standard of living comfortable for each person’s background and lifestyle. This would define the physiological and safety needs that Maslow mentions. These are clubbed as the basic needs, which are self-explanatory. Next in the pyramid comes the psychological needs, which would include your friends, family, colleagues and basically any relationship that you form. The esteem needs would be the needs that affect the self-worth of any person. A simple example of this in a workplace environment would be a promotion, or appreciation from your employer. In personal life, this could be considered as any activity that makes us feel proud of ourselves, such as helping the poor, completing our daily chores, etc.
Each subsequent stage requires that the previous needs are met. It’s impossible to satisfy any need 100%, however a reasonable level of satisfaction is enough to move onto the next stage. If we linger on completing 100% of each need, then it would become impossible to proceed any further and one can remain stuck at the basic needs forever. So, it’s important to realize when your needs have been reasonably met, so that it can be deduced that the time to move forward has come.
The last stage that Maslow talks about would be the main focus of the book. Self-actualization needs are basically the creative needs, other than those related to our job, family life, daily life, etc. These needs are the ones most impacting our level of happiness and would involve the needs that give sense of self-fulfillment. This is the stage where many people would face a few problems. While I don’t claim that people don’t achieve this stage without the steps given in the book, what we will be talking about is how to more frequently reach this stage and identify self-actualization needs, which can be different from person to person. Another point that needs to be stressed is the intensity with which each need is being met. This is the reason that there is no fixed recipe of happiness, each person needs to develop their own.
So far, we have learnt about the issues that we tackle daily, the traits that human beings possess that sets us apart and the various needs humanbeings need to achieve initially before getting to the happiness part
I would like to emphasize the goal of the book by recalling a quote that my father had purchased, and used to hang outside our kitchen door. I am not sure where he purchased it from, but these words have come to impact me deeply –
‘Count your Age by Friends not Years, Life by Smiles not Tears’
Moving forward, let’s start to decode life step-by-step to understand how to live longer, by understanding what the definition of living is
PHYSICAL EXISTENCE V/S LIVING
Everyone wants to know about the secret elixir that can apparently increase your life. In many religions across the world, in many ancient scripts and books, there is evidence of how humans used to live for centuries. However, what we need to understand is that living is different from existing. The word ‘living’, comes partially from the word lively. You are not living if you are only existing, being happy is a prerequisite for living. As mentioned already, what we will be looking at is not how to exist longer, but to live longer. Maslow’s Hierarchy, that we have discussed already, can only be fulfilled once we have understood the difference and chosen our path. Hence, it becomes important to understand the difference between the two, and then decide what kind of life we wish to continue.
The choice here seems to be very obvious, and it is. Who doesn’t want to enjoy living? What one needs to understand is that living life isn’t something that can be simply chosen. Your actions dictate whether or not you are living life. Once we have decided that we need to live, instead of just taking up space, the next part is understanding what living really is. For ease, I will be breaking down the various aspects of living, so that we can take a closer look at each one and come to the conclusion on what actions are required to actually start living life. Each part is based on my own experiences and the principles that I have tried to live my life with, which have become a part of my recipe of happiness and lifestyle.
FACTORS AFFECTING YOUR LIFE
Life is a journey, which is evident by its progression in the form of stages. Since our childhood, to old age, life can be segmented into various chapters. One aspect that should remain common throughout this journey is understanding that there is no rush in reaching the end goal. Once you have reached the peak of your mountain, there is no other way to go except downwards. So, what needs to be taken care of is that we enjoy our journey. The main goals of our life might be different. For some, it might be self-discovery, finding their perfect partner, success in their field of career, and so on. Whatever the goal is, as long as we are enjoying the process of reaching this goal, we are living our life. If we are lucky, we will also be learning a thing or two on the way, that we wouldn’t have learnt otherwise. So don’t be in a hurry to reach the goal, savor every moment of the journey. Keeping the different parts of life in life, I’ve penned down the various factors that affect how you live your life and how you can start making some changes to the same.
While this isn’t a book revolving around the perfect habits in terms of having good health, being healthy is part of living. This is the first aspect that comes into mind when looking at life and how to live it better. Incidentally it’s also part of Maslow’s first hierarchy of Needs. You need to take care of what is given to you, make use of the most important asset at your disposal – you. For me personally, after travelling extensively around the world, I have come in contact with many cultures where there are many methods of keeping healthy. A small aspect of this, which I look up to the most, is the signals that our body gives us and being wary of them. We need to understand these signals and make changes accordingly, so that nothing hampers our goal of living life to its fullest.
One of the signals that I look out for is my own body weight. Having survived my heart attack in 2011, I learnt that I needed to make changes to the food I was consuming. This change did not come easily, I loved eating outside and my favorite cuisines inevitably would be those that have much too much sodium. A conscious effort on my end helped me realize that a change is necessary, and I came to this realization only after understanding what my body is telling me. This is what I would suggest to others as well
If we ever find ourselves having too much trouble following this regime, I would suggest adhering to the old saying – ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.’ There is scientific reasoning behind this saying, which can be explored in much more detail online with the resources at our disposal. Skipping a meal, such as breakfast, is not the healthiest way to go about your routine. So even if I am not having the healthiest of food, I stick to this schedule of mine. The reason for having different size meals is depending on how much time our body has to digest the food. So, if you eat the right quantity at the right time, most health issues will automatically remain in check.
When talking about living a healthy life, the importance of exercise – especially when you grow older – needs to be analyzed carefully. I won’t suggest hitting the gym everyday or running marathons or engaging in Yoga or meditation. If you are able to follow these practices, it would be much more rewarding. However, sticking to the basics is what I would recommend is taking at least a walk everyday so that your body can remain active. You can use this time to also communicate with someone, or if you prefer to walk alone that’s good enough as well. Choose an open environment when doing this, such as parks in the morning time so that you can enjoy nature as well. In time, even this simple physical exercise would become like a fun session, which would indubitably have positive effects on your physical health.
2. Managing your Environment
We need to keep in mind that our environment affects not only our body, but our emotional state of mind. Your home is a reflection of your emotional well being, and it’s often neglected when it comes to understanding its impact on your life. While I won’t suggest pouring all your savings into a lavishly furnished home, at the least what we need can do is keep our environment clean and tidy.
Doing this would require getting rid of any material possessions that we don’t have use for anymore. If we have not used it in a year or two, the probability is that we will never be using it again. While I can understand the affection that some of us develop with our material possessions, such clutter in our home will only hinder our progress. It’s time to take some firm decisions on what we need and don’t, and to clean our house. Not only does this help in keeping a neat environment, it also reduces the time that we would otherwise be spending going through the clutter, looking for something. Everything needs to have its place and we need to organize our lives accordingly.
Another huge part of our environment, which takes up a significant amount of time in our daily life is our online presence by way of cellphones, computers etc. I can understand that for a lot of us, due to lack of any other activities, cell phones and online social media presence is a huge part of our life. I will not advocate that you need to go out of your way to curb this, we shouldn’t be forced to do anything. Yet, we need to understand that sometimes these cellphones can interfere with our communication with those who are actually living with you. It can also interfere with your sleeping patterns. So for those who can curb themselves for at least a few hours every day, the benefits that are received from the same are surely worth it. I myself struggled with the idea of keeping away my phone. Yet once I weighed the pros and cons of it, I found it more suitable for me to switch off my phone after coming back from home, till I wake up the next day. You can then continue with your social media presence again, interact with your friends and read those perky jokes and anecdotes.
3. Family & Friends – Maintaining your Relationships
We are social beings and there is a natural need in everyone to communicate with somebody. This was correctly captured by Maslow in his theory as well. Choosing who you spend your time with is a decision that one needs to make, which inadvertently will have an effect on your happiness scale, and in turn your health or lifestyle. Surrounding yourself with people who energize you and not drain you would make your life much easier. People with similar interests, who love enjoying their life themselves, laugh a lot and make you laugh would be the ones who will automatically bring a change in your own personality. You will always find yourself mirroring these emotions when in such company.
There is well known research, which is mentioned later on for your benefit to reaffirm this fact, to prove that close relationships have a huge impact on the longevity of your life. Our objective however is living 20 years in 10, by enjoying each experience. Any toxic relationship, which would include people who bring you down, people who are jealous of you, don’t share similar interests – this is time that you could’ve spent with somebody else. You will find yourselves more jovial, sharing experiences with someone who actually cares and complements your own personality.
Learning to interact with any other human being is in itself a skill. It takes a different amount of time for each individual to connect with someone. It’s not uncommon to see a person who’s an extrovert be more cheerful in their interactions with others. My goal is not to say that only extroverts can have a long life and be happier, the stress is merely on the importance of relationships and the effects that they have on us.
On the other hand, we should also never let ourselves be hurt by the company we have. So, if given the choice between bad company and no company, which one would you choose? Everyone would have different answers to this question, depending on what type of company they have already been with. Maybe someone with a really bad experience would choose no company over bad company. However, my suggestion is not to let yourself be lonely. Experiences are enjoyed best when they are shared with someone. A behavior in which anyone is getting used to being lonely or alone all the time is not something that is normal and it can do more harm than anticipated in the long run. Something like this can be hard to recover from, so it’s best to start taking conscious steps if we find ourselves feeling lonely often.
It thus becomes important to build our relationships with people as it has a huge impact on our life and our happiness. There can be various kinds of relationships that a person has, such as relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s also important to note that each relationship cannot be treated the same. Sometimes we need to make choices. For example, it’s common to feel that we need to be nice to everybody. I agree with this statement somewhat, in the sense that we don’t have to be rude to anybody. However, you can also be nicer to some people compared to other people. There are some people that you can spend more time with. Or, If somebody is possibly bothering you, you can choose to minimize the time you spend with them. I would say it’s alright to even ignore such people and instead spend this time with someone you actually want to be with.
Like most of the other points that we have discussed and will discuss further, at the end of the day we need to remember once again that this is our own recipe. So it requires your judgment to a great extent on which people you are choosing. While relatives are inherited, you choose your own friends. So while you might have to ‘deal’ with your relatives as it can be hard to avoid, you don’t have to go through the same with your friends, which is why it’s important on which friends you are choosing. We have already talked about how interacting with someone who matches your own personality can have a positive impact. You only have limited time, so use the resource wisely.
A simple way of looking at relationships is to say that they are similar to your savings account. Good experiences, having a pleasant time and enjoying a relationship is similar to how you make a withdrawal from the bank. To withdraw anything though, you first need to have some balance in your account. So we need to proactively start investing or depositing something in our relationships, before expecting any interest or to make a withdrawal. It’s of no use to rush any relationship. Give it time, and it will surely mature and reward you later. The more you deposit now, the more you will be receiving later. While this might not happen right away, in my experiences I have found that most good relationships do reward you back for the time you had invested.
So how do you exactly invest into a relationship? The answer is simple, be good to them and try to do good things for them as much as possible. Let me clear that by giving an example that I have implemented in my own life. A simple phone call you are making to someone to ask them how they are feeling or how their day went. I would consider this as a good deed, just because there was an intent to connect with someone. It’s little things like these that give birth to a good relationship. I have been doing this for a lot of years now, and have many friends. On any day for me, I would be making multiple calls to my friends as a way of keeping myself engaged and sharing a few laughs. Even though I don’t get as many calls in return, just the conversation that we have is enough to put me in a good mood. Every time you make the call, the other person would express how glad they were that you called them. So don’t be afraid to take that first step.
The feeling after doing something good for someone else is something that will already have a good impact on you. This should not be because we are expecting something in return, but because you wanted to do something good for someone. So don’t look for a bargain in your relationships, do it without any expectations. This is one of the reasons that people give so much to charity – it makes them feel good to do something for someone else. So, every good deed is in itself rewarding. This attracts people who have a similar outlook of life, so you do find someone who you can relate with. I often find this is a good way to start making friends. So, if you don’t know how to, or feel like you don’t have enough good relationships, start going out and doing good things to people. I am sure you will see a positive change in your environment and the interactions you have with others.
Relationships though are not all about laughs and enjoyment, are they? You might find yourself in a stressful situation at times, where there is a topic that you disagree on. Before making any rash decisions or using any strong words, a good practice would be to put yourself in that person’s shoes. Looking at someone from their perspective can help you understand the source of their disagreement, and also how you would feel if those strong words were used against you. Empathy is an important part of any relationship and it helps in such moments of disagreement. My father often used to educate me regarding this, he would try to make me understand that once you have used any bad words or reacted rashly, it’s not something that you can undo. This is certainly not an easy aspect to implement, reacting calmly when agitated takes a lot of practice. In time though, you will find yourselves more wary of other people’s emotions and would develop a natural knack to diffuse situations. Just look at the situation from the other person’s perspective before making any reactions.
Another observation I would like to point out is that any disagreement should either be resolved face to face with the other person or you can choose to ignore the situation completely and move on with your life, allowing things to settle on their own. What I don’t suggest is going through someone or complaining about the situation to someone, as that would affect two relationships instead of one. It’s completely natural to want to vent out your feelings to someone else, it gives a sense of calm and the other person can contribute with their advice. However sooner than later you would realize that the negative emotions are spreading through your relationships. So it’s best to either resolve the matter directly or ignore it, instead of involving more people in the disagreement.
‘Love is directly proportional to the amount of sacrifices you are willing to make.’ Those were the words of my father and another lesson that had a huge impact on my life. You are willing to make more sacrifices for the person who you love more. This immediately raises the subsequent question – what do we mean by sacrifices here? Anything that you are giving up unwillingly or anything that you would have liked to keep but are giving up, would be a sacrifice. Sure, we might willingly make the sacrifice however the object, be it your time or any other resource, that is being lost by you is something you would have rather kept. If there is something you would have rather gotten rid of anyways, that is not a sacrifice. Let’s take a look at an example to clear things up.
If my wife were to ask me to get something from the grocery store and I don’t mind doing it, that is not a sacrifice. In a similar instance, if my favorite sport was on the television or if I was engaged in an activity that I am enjoying and she asks me to get the groceries right away, it would be a sacrifice that I am making by skipping my time on the television which I was enjoying. Did I want to watch television instead of going to get groceries? Yes. Why did I do it then? It’s because of my love for her. You would be willing to make more sacrifices for people you love more, and it works the other way around as well. This does not mean that we have a transactional approach to making a sacrifice, i.e., you are expecting anything in return. Instead, just keep your deposits and I can guarantee that you would be seeing a positive change in your close relationships and these would reward you greatly, with interest. Sir Isaac Newton got it correctly when he put down his third law of motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
When talking about relationships and how to manage them, the trust that we place into people cannot be overlooked. As discussed later in depth, Trust is part of your Emotional Capital. The most touching example where trust and love are exhibited at their peak would be the relationship between a newborn child and a mother. We have already discussed how relationships are like a bank. You need to deposit something before making any withdrawals, and the purpose of making the deposit should not be because we are expecting anything in return. This can be seen in how a mother takes care of their child. The mother would sacrifice their sleep, their own comfort and many other things for the sake of their child. Do they do it because they are expecting anything in return? Do they get anything in return at the end of the day? Yes they do. Treat your relationships with the same innocence and not only will you be rewarded by the person you invested in, but you will also be the person who is rewarding yourself by taking care of that person.
Naturally, the majority of your trust should be put into someone that you know the best – You. To visualize this, we can try a simple activity –
Take a sheet of paper and roughly in its centre, make a dot. This dot represents you, the sheet is the universe. You are the centre of the universe, all problems start and end at you. The dot represents someone that you put 100% trust in. Logically, as we know ourselves the best, we should trust ourselves the most. At times though, we will find yourselves requiring help. So you start putting your trust in someone other than yourself. Create a small circle around the dot that was placed earlier. This would represent the people that are closest to you, and whom you put your trust in after yourself. Let’s say you have 90% trust in the people in this circle. This could be anyone, though in most cases you will find that the circle contains your closest relationships such as spouse or children. The next circle would contain people that you share everything with, such as close friends or colleagues but some factors set them apart from the closest circle. Keep repeating this exercise in a similar way, wherein with each circle that goes away from the dot, the trust keeps decreasing.
*The purpose of this activity is to provide a general guideline on whom you need to spend your resources on. The resources in this case would include your emotional and physical assets, as well as the time you invest. We need to make extra efforts for the people who are in the circles closest to the dot, on whom you trust the most. So we would never spend 50% of our resources on someone who is the farthest of the circles.
This is another important topic, evident from the existence of a whole subject around how to handle your finances. This is not an accounting course though, just my experiences on how I manage my own finances and my outlook on money.
To put it plainly, I would say not having enough money is a curse. Of course, any extreme condition would more often be bad than good. However, my take on finances comes from the environments that I have witnessed in my years of travel to 35 countries. To add to this, I was born in Delhi, India. So I was able to witness poverty, where people don’t have enough money to afford food, and have a roof over their head.. Even in other countries, in South America and Africa to name a few, much of the population lives like this every day.
So yes, I do believe that nobody should suffer through the curse of poverty. I am also certain that nobody in the world would say, I want to be poor. We should always be motivated to have a certain kind of lifestyle, and work hard to achieve it. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this should be our first priority and are the basic needs of any human being.
Most Humans want to earn with hard work not only to feed themselves but also have a sense of dignity and pride.
On the other hand, having too much money according to me is a liability. If you have it already, then that’s good, you are successful. I don’t want that much money, is probably another thing that nobody ever said. However, the logic behind this is that there is no point to work for more money than you need – it’s just more stress and you would soon come to realize that you’re never satisfied with what you’re earning. How much is enough? We need to evaluate ourselves strictly regarding when we need to stop pursuing money, so that we can finally concentrate on other things. There’s a saying that everyone has probably heard at some point in their lives – money cannot buy happiness. I would only make a simple change to this – only money cannot buy happiness.
Once there was an old couple. The man, who is very successful, tells his wife that when he dies, he wants to be buried with the money that they are not using. The wife agrees. When the day finally came and the body was about to be buried, she left an envelope inside the coffin. When somebody asks if it was a letter or something personal, she replies, he wanted to be buried with his money. So I wrote him a cheque.
I am sure you have understood the point of the anecdote. Money is there to be spent. Having a reasonable amount of savings as insurance is surely smart, however just holding onto it forever is as good as wasting it. So don’t shy away from getting the things you actually like. Once we have accumulated enough and accomplished our financial goals, we need to understand that the role of our finances is not the means to an end, but the means itself. Money is your asset and resource, and it should not be the other way around wherein we become slaves of money. Finding the right mix would be up to you and you would know when it’s time to start dedicating your time to any other activity.
5. Spirituality & Faith
We have discussed the differences that set us apart from any other species in the world and why it’s important to understand these differences. One of the main distinctions between us human beings and any other species is the wide array of emotions that we have the ability to feel or exhibit. Emotions such as pain, jealousy, happiness, excitement, pleasure, fear – to name a few can have a huge impact either positively or negatively on our life and how we are living. At the same time, it’s almost impossible to avoid these emotions, they will emerge somehow in every human. Before talking about these emotions and how our faith and spirituality affects us, it would be more prudent to understand some of these emotions in more depth.
Fear is something that everyone of us has experienced at some point of their lives, and we all have a different way of dealing with this emotion. There is the fear of death, fear of not being loved, fear of being unsuccessful, fear of losing close ones and the list is almost infinite. We already know what fear is, we have all witnessed it first hand. What is more important to understand is the effect it has on us and how we choose to deal with our fears. I will not say that fear is without its positive benefits, it too needs to have some balance in our life. Some negatives of fear are that sometimes our actions are done impulsively without thinking about its outcome. It can lead to lack of sleep, lack of hunger and it will automatically start affecting your health. If you are living in fear constantly, you will notice a decline in your health that is not normal compared to others at your age. Fear then leads to other emotions such as pain. Similar to a person suffering from depression, eventually there is that inner voice that tells you that you need help. This is when you choose to deal with your fears. We start looking for outlets that can help us overcome our fears. The most commonly used of these is Faith.
Why is it that we turn to God? I do understand that faith is universal. Majority of humans have some kind of outlook of faith, even though it has been declining with the age of modernization and science. While I don’t wish to contradict anyone’s faith, the idea is to portray my outlook on the whole concept, so that you can try some new techniques to counter your problems. The reason we turn to God is the idea of an entity to whom we can pass on the burden. This entity does not respond back positively or negatively since it doesn’t exist in any physical form, which makes the process easier. We find it easier to blame God often, that it’s somehow His fault that we are unhappy or accept it as Will of God. So, when we are riddled with fear or are in pain, we choose to either blame God for making us that way or we submit our troubles to God and hope for the best. In doing this, people may find a temporary relief to their troubles.
We need to understand that this temporary relief and looking at God as the solution to our problems does not come without its own price. So, we start doing it more often wherein we pass on our burden to God similar to how we would be taking medication. This can be in many forms depending on a person’s beliefs. The range of how people express their faith is almost unlimited. Some worship and adorn sacred rocks for their protection and keep various special days aside for prayer, or make some donation to the temples. A lot of acts are done in the name of religion, which becomes a way of our way of communicating with God. As an example, when the exams are approaching, you will find students making more and more donations and attending their religious institutions more. It’s a kind of bargain that they are looking for in exchange for good grades. Similar to faith being universal, such practices are also universal and can be seen as a trait for religion.
So what do we need to learn from this? When facing any hardships, when we are passing on our troubles to God, what we are doing is putting trust in somebody we don’t know to resolve our issues. Faith and trust go hand-in-hand. I am not saying that turning to God for help is wrong, however my suggestion is to keep God as the last resort that you turn to for help. Who do you trust then? On whom do we put our faith?
The first source of help on whom to put our complete faith and trust should be yourself. Never underestimate the power of intuition and instinct that you hold within yourself to bring about changes and deal with situations. If we feel like we are still not able to overcome our challenges, turn to your trusted relationships within family or friends for help. It’s completely alright to seek professional help as well. Too much reliance on God can be detrimental. It may lead ignoring a problem too long or in-action, while there may be multiple good solutions based on science and logic. In doing this, you will find that instead of a temporary relief in most situations, you are able to make changes on your own instead of turning to an entity whom you cannot see or feel for comfort.
So, try adding this to your recipe of happiness and living longer. Deal with your problems head on, instead of looking for the easier way out and blaming the ordeal on someone I can understand at times humans become helpless, despearte to turn to God for solace, but watch-out and stay away-from exploiters in the name of religion or Gurus who pretend have a perfect solution for your problems. Once we stop using God as the easy way out and start taking the actions required – be it in terms of putting the trust in yourself and science to overcome the problem or getting real help – we will notice that we are getting used to solving our problems. In the long run, we need to fix the issue and not look for some temporary relief.
Moving on from faith, let’s speak about the broader concept of spirituality. Often used interchangeably, faith and spirituality are not synonyms. Faith is based on loyalty and without a proper logic or reasoning which is one of the major distinguishing traits of humans. Faith usually manifests itself through religion, which forces or directs you to further rules and regulates your mind and actions. Spirituality can be seen as the natural instincts which we can feel since we became self-aware in our childhood. These instincts are built into our systems and it can be described as the feeling of belongingness to the universe. Nobody had to teach us about spirituality, it’s something that we already know of. My suggestion is to believe in these instincts within yourself rather than on vain practices such as going to religious retreats or being guided by people who claim to have eternal knowledge. We already know what we need to know.
The key point I would like to bring out from the lessons of spirituality is that we already have the knowledge that is required to live life, we only need to listen to this inner voice and use this knowledge that we have already attained. Don’t be fooled, or follow people who claim to hold some secret knowledge that would be the solution to our troubles. Instead of turning to such sources or rituals, start believing that you already have the knowledge required to live life. As an example, we can look at a few statements – It’s always better to be honest. Loving someone is better than hating someone. Sharing with others is good. We should treat people with respect.
All of the above statements simply involve common sense that is already available within each human being. Our first source of knowledge should be from within ourselves and that is how spirituality can help us in living a better life and making good decisions. When looking at spirituality, the thumb rule that we should have is never to be hung up on our negative sides. If we have made mistakes in the past, forgive yourself and move on. In the previous sections we tried an activity which included placing a dot and creating concentric circles around it. The activity can be applied here as well, wherein the dot represents you as the centre of the universe. The purpose here would be prioritizing your spirituality and how it affects those by starting from the circle closest to you.
Start with doing good to others, beginning from the ones that are closest to you. Being a philanthropist blindly and being charitable towards people that you barely know is not something I would suggest. This is because the reality is that charity is something that we do for ourselves. You never know what the loose change you give to a beggar is being used for. You don’t know if the donations you are making are actually being utilized for good or not. Even if they are, charity is something that we do to make ourselves feel good. Indeed, it’s a huge part of spirituality, however the point I would like to raise is to begin with being charitable to those closest to you. Prioritize your resources accordingly as the concentric circles get bigger and bigger.
Having a positive state of mind and attitude is easier said than done. It’s a huge part of facing your problems courageously, being happier and enjoying your life as you live. In this section we will be looking at some techniques on how to inculcate a positive attitude and use that in our recipe for happiness.
During the time I was completing my Masters in Business Administration (MBA), there was research that we were being taught in our class. It was a study on a company that sold various types of tiles, such as the one you would see in your washroom. The purpose of the study was to identify the target audience for the clients, who were the tile company. So, what they did was conduct an experiment, in which they built the setting of a bathroom, containing their best design of tiles. Once this was done, roughly 100 people – carefully selected from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sex, etc – were asked to go through the bathroom and write their feedback about the same. However, intentionally a single tile from the ceiling of the washroom was removed, and almost every one of the sample audience had noticed the missing tile. In their feedback, though they appreciated the beauty of the bathroom, everyone expressed their desire to see the washroom with the missing tile replaced.
This experiment was done to prove that human psychology was such that our concentration would inevitably go towards the missing tile. Popularly known as the ‘Missing Tile Syndrome’, the conclusions that were derived from this experiment are universal. Every human being is looking to fill the missing tile in their life. We want to strive for perfection in every aspect of our life. While being a perfectionist seems to be a good thing which should make us work harder, we need to understand that our need to be happy is limitless. So instead of being productive, the missing tile syndrome sets us on the wrong path wherein we try to achieve something that is unachievable.
Let me take an example from my personal life so that we can understand this logic better. Having spent a decade in marketing, I was also involved in training various divisions at my company for increasing efficiency and profits. In my 10 years of training, I might have trained close to 5000 people, which included people who were not experienced in sales at all as well as seasoned salespersons. During calls with clients in which the salesperson would be pitching our product, they did not have a lot of time for it. At the most they would have 10 minutes to make the sale, as most of the meeting is spent on general presentations and making the customer aware about the company itself. A common question that I used to pose in my training sessions would be what was hampering them from making more sales. Almost unanimously, the most common answer would be that the competition’s products were doing better or were more economical. So often the salesperson would waste their valuable time defending our product, before they could make the actual pitch.
My solution for them was simple. I would draft them a list of positive aspects of our own product, which they could in turn pitch to their clients. Whenever the client pointed out that maybe the competition has better USPs than we do, the salesperson should divert the customer by informing them that they would come back to the question or point. After this, they needed to continue the pitch using one of our positive attributes. At the end of the day, people following this practice would realize that either the customers forgot about the negatives of the product, choose to ignore them or were impressed by the positive aspects, resulting in more successful sales calls. This sales technique can be applied to life as well. The idea behind the above example as well as educating you about the missing tile syndrome is not to focus on the negative part of anything, instead reinforce and sell our positive USPs. It’s the utilization of the positive traits that we have, which leads to a positive attitude and state of mind. Often, we would find it hard to let go of the little things and keep on looking for the missing tile in our life. Only when we start to appreciate and focus on our strengths can we start moving towards a positive attitude.
As a visual exercise, you can imagine all your problems as a line. It can be any problem or anything that is causing you stress. Now you are asked to reduce the length of this line without touching it. The answer is to draw a longer line next to this line, which makes the first line look shorter on a relative basis. (add an exhibit) Once you have done this, start thinking about your own strengths and creating this longer line representing the positive activities you enjoy. You will always find that your strengths overpower your weaknesses to the extent where the smaller line can just be ignored. Adapting a similar outlook on life can help you be more positive when dealing with any issues. While ignoring the problem or weakness is not a permanent solution, your strengths provide the required encouragement so that you don’t get disheartened and replenish your inner power to deal with the situation head on.
We can use a similar technique to introduce or strengthen a positive attitude in our relationships. The thing about focusing on your negative aspects is that you will inadvertently keep stretching the problem further. There will come a point where the problem is very small, but we have built it up excessively in our head and are scared to face the issue. In relationships, whenever there is any bad blood, it’s best to apologize first. This diffuses the situation and allows you to have a somewhat stable relationship with the person. From here on, you can start investing in other relationships that you already have, or choose to invest in new relationships. Ignore the bad relationship for now and don’t stress on it any further, it will only waste our own resources. If we don’t want to ignore the person, that’s fine. However, be wary of investing further into that relationship and give existing or newer ones more attention.
Apart from ignoring our weaknesses and stressing on the strengths, another boost to positive attitude can come from the activities that we are doing. Nobody likes working all day in an office, it’s just something that we have to do so that our basic needs are met. Moreover, if we are prioritizing our time and resources, we will often find ourselves with more extra time, which we need to utilize wisely. However, to meet our emotional needs, we need to develop certain hobbies or pick up activities, which act as a great way of distracting ourselves. Not only does this keep you happy, the activity itself can have other benefits such as being able to socialize with someone, laughing, having new experiences or learning something.
While some problems may need fixing, most times simply ignoring, allowing time to heal and focusing on positive activities to fill your time is better.
Positive activities energize you a lot more than fixing the problems.
Whenever I am at a crossroads and not sure what to do, or if I am simply bored, I try to recollect various periods of my life. I divide my life mentally into different timelines, such as in gaps of five or ten years. I then try to make an inventory of myself with regard to what I used to like to do at that time, what my passions were, who my friends were, type of food I loved to eat, etc. Recollecting such memories will give you some great ideas for new activities you can try. You can try to relive these moments by visiting the same places again, eating the same food or trying out the hobbies that you enjoyed before at a previous time. You will find that you still love most of the activities that you enjoyed before. In this way, we can try to come up with techniques to utilize our time as well as promote a positive attitude in ourselves. It aids in our goal to look for new ways to pass our time. Never allow yourself to be idle, instead be proactive and never turn down the opportunity of a new experience that you would enjoy.
We can also apply this to the relationships that we used to have at that time and try to reconnect with maybe old friends that we have lost contact with or have not kept in touch with. In today’s age with the help of the internet, communication has become much more simpler and effortless. With platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, etc you can easily connect with someone you had a good relationship with at some point and it can lead to good experiences. I remember connecting with my old college friends 6 or 7 years back. I do believe it was one of the best decisions I have made, as I got the chance to relive the joyful experiences with them, share the stories of how we used to be at that time and joke around. For me, this is the definition of happiness. Being with people who love you and who you love being with requires some effort by either of the parties. What I can personally assure you is that you will not regret taking the first step. Before you realize, you will be surrounding yourself with the positive energy and zeal to live life more enjoyable than you did before.
I do hope we decide on taking the initiative and come up with ways to enjoy our free time. The emphasis on having a positive outlook increases more as we grow older, particularly at the age of retirement or after it. At the age of 71, I still continue with my job and honestly, retirement is something that I don’t believe I will ever willingly opt for. Using my simple techniques, I am able to overcome most problems that I face and I have the strength to keep fighting. I do as I preach and I am sincerely hopeful that my experiences and ways of living life helps you in living yours. Remember the goal is to create your own recipe for happiness, which involves your own judgement. To the people who are nearing their retirement or have already retired – use this time to live your second life, and this time the goal should be to live 20 years in 10. If you haven’t already retired, my heartiest suggestion is not to be too quick to opt for it. If it’s causing you too much trouble or stress, then it’s surely not worth it. However my belief is that retiring from work would accelerate the ticking clock of life. On the other hand, for some people this might be the opportunity they were looking for so that they can finally discover themselves. At the end it’s your life and you know what is best for you.
Before we proceed further and get to more specific techniques, we shall review some of the well-known research that provides general guidance and what things people do who are happier and living longer. You will find the similarities in what we have discussed with the scientific research done by various credible sources.
What Makes You Live Longer?
After many years of research, Susan Pinker (https://www.susanpinker.com/about-the-author/), discovered some of the things that help people live longer. Without much commentary, here is the list and relative importance of various activities that help you live longer.
This should help in getting a clearer idea on why emphasis was laid on the previous sections on the relationships that you have, on your emotions and controlling your environment. Not only do these factors affect how happy you are day-to-day and how we are living life, it also extends the longevity of our life. The research clearly shows how a positive attitude towards life and dealing with your problems can help in increasing the years that you live. So not only are we actually living longer, we are also living each second of our life with that much zeal.
What Is Happiness?
Most of us probably don’t believe we need a formal definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it, and we often use the term to describe a range of positive emotions, including joy, pride, contentment, and gratitude.
But to understand the causes and effects of happiness, researchers first need to define it. Many of them use the term interchangeably with “subjective well-being,” which they measure by simply asking people to report how satisfied they feel with their own lives and how much positive and negative emotion they’re experiencing. In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky elaborates, describing happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
That definition resonates with us here at Greater Good: It captures the fleeting positive emotions that come with happiness, along with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life—and suggests how these emotions and sense of meaning reinforce one another.
What are these Happier People doing?
Happiness is one of the most important things in life, yet it’s also one of the hardest to study.
Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._Waldinger) is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest and most complete studies of adult life ever conducted.
The study followed two cohorts of white men for 75 years, starting in 1938:
The researchers surveyed the men about their lives (including the quality of their marriages, job satisfaction, and social activities) every two years and monitored their physical health (including chest X-rays, blood tests, urine tests, and echocardiograms) every five years.
They came away with one major finding: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
In his TED Talk, Waldinger pointed out three key lessons about happiness:
1. Close relationships
The men in both groups of the Harvard study who reported being closer to their family, friends, or community tended to be happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also tended to live longer. By comparison, people who said they were lonelier reported feeling less happy. They also had worse physical and mental health, as defined above. A 2014 review of dozens of studies published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass suggests that loneliness can get in the way of mental functioning, sleep, and well-being, which in turn increases the risk of illness and death.
2. Quality (not quantity) of relationships
It’s not just being in a relationship that matters. Married couples who said they argued constantly and had low affection for one another (which study authors defined as “high-conflict marriages”) were actually less happy than people who weren’t married at all, the Harvard study found.
However, the effect of relationship quality seems to depend somewhat on age. A 2015 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging that followed people for 30 years found that the number of relationships people had was, in fact, more important for people in their 20s, but the quality of relationships had a bigger effect on social and psychological well-being when people were in their 30s.
3. Stable, supportive marriages
Being socially connected to others isn’t just good for our physical health. It also helps stave off mental decline. People who were married without having divorced, separating, or having “serious problems” until age 50 performed better on memory tests later in life than those who weren’t, the Harvard study found.
And other research backs this up. A 2013 study in the journal PLOS ONE found that marriage, among other factors, was linked to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
So, what do I have to do?
As obvious from research from these credible people, relationships, networking are key to being happy and live longer. While it does provide a good general direction but developing, maintaining, terminating bad relationships isn’t easy. It needs analysis, reviewing personal history and ability to come up with a specific action plan. Given that it is our only life and no one else can do it for us, we must make every possible effort towards this goal.
This is our challenge and the rest of this book shall focus on helping you go through a systematic approach to get to your objectives. Before we start doing the right things, we need to identify the obstacles that may be preventing us from making those positive moves.
We are all victims of our habits and inertia we develop over the years and it is so hard to make a change. However, there is no gain without some pain.
Needs Vs Wants
This is perhaps the biggest difference between Humans and other species. Most species such as animals, birds, plants and other species have enough intelligence to procreate, provide food and safety to survive and live their natural life within their environments. All of them are able to satisfy these basic needs. Even some human tribes that are still mostly isolated are also in similar conditions.
However, the extra power to reason, having dreams, desires and WANTS is why the world of humans is so much more developed today, with millions of new inventions, systems and a constant desire to want more from life. Wants are your dreams, wishes, experiences you like to enjoy more of. It is easy to confuse wants with greed or something unreasonable, but the fact remains we are all different and have so many things we aspire for and like to achieve in life which can be described as “wants”. It is important to note that it is the wants that have led most of the progress beyond the basic needs. We are all unique due to these aspirations and ability to achieve these goals or wants which has led to millions of amazing creations in the world.
Like all of you, I have had many dreams and wants and still do. Just to mention a few, I used to read about inventors in a Library and aspired to be an inventor. I watched my dad meeting his friends every year from preschool for more than 50 years. He enjoyed music, poetry and entertained musicians and friends at home. Despite his meager income to raise a family of 6, I saw him satisfied, rarely angered. His ability to befriend people from lowest level to highest levels was worth watching. I didn’t appreciate so many small things my mother and father did at the time. For example, I recall they used to address, especially small, poor workers as Sir (in Hindi “Ji”), which is usually reserved for higher level persons. My mother would serve tea to the workers before they start their work, allowing them to sit on the sofa instead of floor. Frankly, I used to feel embarrassed then since none of my friends’ families were doing that.
As I grew up and started to look back and analyze why they had so many friends and enjoyed their life, some of these habits stand out to me as keys to happiness. My Father lived till 84 and mother till 93. I recall another unique habit my parents had was to always praise their children in front of anyone outside of family as “Obedient” “respectful” and “the best” which had an enormous impact on me as I always wanted to live up to their expectations.
I cherish their memories so much more now than I appreciated then.
Did I achieve my dreams?
My quest for being an Inventor resulted in me trying out so many new ideas and businesses to introduce new products, ultimately achieving a Patent and a successful product while most of the businesses were commercial failures but the process of trying was very satisfying.
I also wanted to be financially more successful not only to live a better life for myself but also be able to help my own and extended families. I did achieve this goal and was able to enjoy and help many members of my family.
My 3rd dream evolved later in my life when in 2011, I decided to invite some of my college classmates and their spouses in Delhi for lunch after a gap of 40 years. This turned out be a life changing experience not only for me but many of my classmates and their spouses. It resulted in a similar social experience I described above that my Parents used to enjoy and has been one of the most satisfying. Frankly, it resulted in my decision to write this book.
One last dream I would like to share is the impact of music and poetry my parents and siblings used to enjoy as I was growing up. I used to listen but never participated then but left a lasting impact on a memory of so many lyrics. When Karaoke singing became available, I started to attempt singing and enjoyed this new found treasure by singing almost daily, recording >500 songs in the last 2 years and continuing.
The research done by Susan Pinkermakes it clear we need to generally focus on social interactions and activities that include other people. However, each of us needs to make a change in our life-style and priorities which is never easy. There are many challenges each of us face which are unique and different based on our history, place of birth, ethnicity, economic backgrounds and taste. In order to sort out the complex set of all these parameters, we shall group them and address the common threads that we all go through during our daily routines. Who should we choose to socialize with, who should we ignore or reduce interaction with or how? Biggest issue we all face is making the change to what we are used to our entire life so far. All this may sound very hard and complex – it is. However, that is the purpose of this book to help you analyze quickly and work out a personal plan which can guide you to achieve your goal and overcome your challenges.
Some of these challenges include:
- Where to begin? What am I doing right or wrong?
- How to analyze, develop and prioritize objectives?
- How to set realistic goals and a plan?
- What are the traits and habits required to be able to achieve these goals?
- How to go about finding or selecting people who make you happy or you want to socialize with?
- How to allocate your time and money for reaching your new objectives?
- How to develop the right attitude and realistic expectations?
We have discussed in brief various elements of life such as your relationships and how to handle, the idea of faith and the effects it has on our mind, how to manage finances, etc. However, most of these aspects included my personal experiences and views on the subject. In order to reach closer to the ultimate goal of being happier and living life longer by enjoying every moment, we need to understand the value of another trait that human beings have, which makes us stand out. These are the human emotions. We cannot live life without these emotions, and it’s emotions which define human beings. Let’s take a deep dive into what this emotional capital is and how we can invest it as well as regenerate it.
Chapter 3: E-Capital
We discussed how relationships are like a bank. We need to make some deposits before withdrawals. We have also investigated why we choose God as the first source of help that we need – it’s the trust that we have in him. However, in choosing God as the first source of help instead of the last, we lean towards never getting to the root cause of the problem and solving it, but it’s all for a temporary sense of pleasure or relief. Trust is something that can be invested into your other relationships.
The concept of Emotional Capital starts to emerge from this idea of being able to invest certain emotions. It’s everything within our psyche that we are ready to invest or that can be invested. Similar to God, Emotional Capital is invisible, and it’s a concept with its own set of principles. One of my purposes of this book is to illuminate what Emotional Capital is, how it is generated and how it needs to be used.
It is similar to the allocation of our time and financial assets to various activities we all do. One obvious difference may be that Emotional capital isn’t easily measurable like time and money. However, we can all relate to our state of mind after an intense argument at your workplace or possibly with your family – we would be feeling drained out by the end of the day. Obviously, we spent a huge amount of E-Capital during the exchange and can feel the lack of energy and mental stress. On the contrary, we go out to watch a game with friends and cheer for our favorite team where we might feel thrill and pleasure if they win. We can feel the positive energy at the end of the day or addition of Emotional Capital.
Therefore, the obvious answer is that we should minimize the negative emotional situations and increase or invest more in activities that create positive energy and emotions leading to more happiness.
In economics, capital is the financial wealth and other assets owned by a person or organization that provide income. Sociologists and psychologists have metaphorically extended this idea to include cultural capital, social capital, and human capital. I propose another extension, introducing the idea of emotional capital to cover the abilities of people to use emotions effectively for many purposes.
Cultural capital covers the non-financial assets that promote success, including education, intellect, style, and physical appearance. Social capital includes a network of all relationships in a certain society or workplace, with the purpose of enabling that society to function efficiently. Human capital covers the knowledge, habits, personality traits, and creativity that enable people to be economically successful. In these definitions, a common pattern is that all types of capitals are related to the generation of something. For example, in the case of social capital, efficiency is generated. In the case of cultural capital, the goal is to accumulate a higher social status.
None of these explicitly mentions emotions, so we need an additional idea of emotional capital.
By definition then, Emotional Capital is the emotional wealth or simply all emotions that a person has the ability to exhibit or experience, with the purpose of generating a positive outlook on life and being happier. For the purposes of our book, we can extend the goal of emotional capital for understanding how to live 20 years in 10.
Before taking an in-depth look into what E-Capital is and how E-Capital can be generated by us actively, let’s check out an interesting concept that was devised by psychologist, Robert Plutchik.
Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
Robert Plutchik introduced the concept of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, also known as the Feelings Wheel, with the purpose of helping people understand better what they were feeling.
One of the most basic versions of the Wheel of Emotions can be seen below.
It shows there are 8 primary emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. There are versions of the wheel which encompass many other emotions that we feel as human beings. In the given figure, you can take Joy as an example, so that we can understand the Wheel better.
On the opposite side of the wheel is given the opposite physiological response to the emotion. In the case of Joy, you can see sadness at its opposite. What makes the Wheel unique is its ability to determine what the reaction of a combination of emotions can be. Anticipation and joy combine to be optimism. Joy and trust combine to be love. Emotions are often complex, and being able to recognize when a feeling is actually a combination of two or more distinct feelings is a helpful skill.
Another feature of this model is that it takes into account the intensity of emotions. This helps in understanding what might happen if we leave any negative emotions unchecked. The behavior of an emotion to intensify itself can be seen here. It also shows the benefits of reinforcing or actively pursuing positive emotions. In the Wheel of Emotions, we can take a look at Anger to understand this better. It all starts with the feeling of Annoyance, which grows into Anger and ultimately becomes rage. In its least intense state, Joy is similar to the feeling of serenity, whereas in its extreme it’s being ecstatic.
The main purpose however of depicting Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is to help you visualize which emotions you want to pursue., It’s obvious we would only want to pursue all positive emotions – we want to be ecstatic as soon as possible, right? It’s important to understand though that pursuing positive emotions does not guarantee a good E-Capital. Remember to ensure that we keep our negative emotions in check so that they don’t intensify over time.
Emotions, therefore, can be quite complex to manage. It’s how we manage our emotions that determines the intensity of our happiness and if we are able to live our life to its maximum potential.
Sources of E-Capital
Human beings are social animals. This statement was often repeated by my father and is something that has inscribed itself on my mind. You will see the statement being repeated often in the book as well, the purpose being to make the reader understand that the solution as well as cause for most of their problems lies in this statement. To live 20 years in 10, it’s important to focus on our interactions with others. Being social and being emotional are two interdependent activities.
Being social with anyone requires that you share your positive or negative emotions with that person. Being emotional would automatically bring forth an urge to be social. As an example, if you have any good news, you often share it with anyone you find. In those interactions you might feel proud of yourself or be happy for your achievements. This is emotional capital being credited. Similarly, we had discussed how we might feel drained or down after having an argument with anyone. This would represent a debit from our emotional capital.
With accumulating more positive E-capital, we will feel energized, confident and most importantly, content.
However, this raises the question – How do we accumulate more E-Capital? With every person being unique, what makes them happy can be different as well. So the source of accumulating E-Capital would be different for everyone. Keeping this in mind, we can examine a few general methods of accumulating E-Capital, before moving onto how to generate new methods on your own.
- Seeking positive emotions –
In Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, we could understand the importance of reinforcing positive emotions as well as keeping check on our negative emotions. Our emotions have a great impact on our level of happiness. Not only does negative emotions drain your E-Capital, which is essentially your energy, zeal and happiness but it also takes up time that could’ve been used by you to pursue positive emotions.
An example of a positive emotion can be as simple as expressing gratitude towards someone. Another example could be contentment with yourself – be happy with what you have or your achievements.
While it might seem like common sense on what positive emotions are, the real question here is how many of us are actively seeking out positive emotions? The benefits of pursuing positive emotions can be exponential. The reason for this is that we will often affect others in our interactions and pass on the positive emotions. You can recall the example of the relationship-bank I had mentioned earlier, where the more you deposit into a relationship, the more returns you will be getting. Similar is the nature of positive emotions – it’s a two-way street. Once in practice, we will find that the people we had shared these emotional experiences with, come back to us to share their own emotions with us. Therefore, we begin to accumulate even more positive E-Capital and we would notice an increase in our happiness scale.
2. Cherish every moment –
One of my favorite quotes is one by Robert Brault, ‘Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.’ This is exactly the gist of the second source of E-Capital that we would be discussing. For this, you can try a simple activity and try to recall the last big event that happened in your life, which made you happy. This could be a promotion, a successful financial venture, any travelling ventures etc. Now try to count how many such moments you had in your life, which you would determine as big or decisive moments of your life. Only focus on the positive events, the negative events don’t matter now. There would only be a handful of such ‘big’ moments or events, if you’re lucky.
The point I want to make is that if we are holding back for the next big thing to happen in our life, we might end up missing more than we realize. Even if we were to reach the stage that we were looking for, would a single moment of happiness be worth a lifetime of positive emotions? Instead, what we should practice is being happy with the smallest of things. Maybe you had your favorite meal today. Maybe you met with an old friend. Maybe your neighbour greeted you today. Maybe you read a joke online that made you laugh.
Always remember that even the largest of oceans are created from billions of tiny drops. Each drop matters, it’s what makes the ocean complete. Once we are aware of our surroundings and pursuing positive emotions, we will be able to see even more of these little moments. Hence we should begin practicing acknowledging these little events that fill you with positive emotions. Drop by drop, our E-Capital increases allowing us to enjoy even the simplest of activities with more enthusiasm and cheer.
3. Emotional Relationships –
Previously I had given some insight on how we can better allocate our resources when managing our relationships. These resources can be time, money or our E-Capital. You might be able to recall an activity wherein we had made a dot to represent ourselves, and we made concentric circles around the dot, to represent the level of trust we have in our various relationships.
We had also talked about the need to invest into our relationships based on these circles, prioritizing our resources for those who are the closest to us. While we did not invest with the motive of getting anything in return, more often than not our relationships will start rewarding us. This too can be included in our E-Capital generation plan, as a source of getting more positive E-Capital.
However, relationships are possibly the most complex source of E-Capital, in the sense that it’s possible to be drained after a bad interaction. Our attitude should be living with a glass half-full outlook on life. If we did have a bad interaction with anyone, let it go and move onto other relationships that will support you and help you recover. Rather than trying to fix things it’s better we utilize the time and our E-Capital towards something more productive. Like the ‘Missing Tile’ we had discussed earlier, we need to learn to let things go in our relationships.
Another method of gaining more E-Capital is by creating new relationships. Never be shy to be the first person to reach out to someone. In most cases, the person you reached out would be happy that you took the initiative. Recalling a similar incident in my own life, I remember a trip I had made to Delhi, wherein I made the initiative of organizing a get-together with my college friends. Needless to say, the moments we shared reminiscing about our college life and bringing up old jokes was mesmerizing. We continued to stay in touch even after I returned to the USA. Due to the experiences we shared that day, my friends even took the initiative to come out to the USA to meet me. So I had even more positive interactions with them.
It’s not necessary to always look out for new relationships. The choice is up to you. If you feel like there is someone you want to reach out to, then don’t be afraid to do it. Encourage yourself to reach out to this person and it could be the start of something beautiful.
An important part of a relationship that cannot be overlooked is communication. I would always advocate communicating with your loved ones or anyone you want to get closer with on a personal level. Ideally it would be best to interact with them face-to-face. If that is not possible, even a simple phone call can go miles in building a relationship. Every person has a certain vibe to them that can only be felt by being in the presence of the person. I am sure you can think of some examples in your own personal circles, of certain people whose mere presence energizes you. Using channels such as the internet to chat might not often convey your emotions and positivity. I do understand it’s not possible to maintain direct communication with all your relationships, however wherever there’s an opportunity to do so, we should opt for it.
Communication requires give and take. You cannot be the one who’s always talking. There should be a balance between you talking and listening to what the other person has to say. In my opinion, listening to someone is a better way to build the relationship and learn more about the person. Once you start listening, inevitably our mind tries to understand what the person is going through and a connection is made.
I might have mentioned a lot of tips and advice on handling your relationships. However, at the end of the day you are the best judge on how to handle your interactions. My only emphasis would be on being aware of how you can use your social relationships to generate positive emotions. Once we begin to understand the importance of our relationships and how to develop them, we will find ourselves surrounded by the people whom we actually care for and who reciprocate these feelings.
Through this we generate more E-Capital and also help others in doing the same. The main purpose of increasing your E-Capital is so that we have more positive experiences and can live a happier life. Pursuing positive emotions, cherishing the little moments in life and taking care of our relationships are only a few ways through which we can increase E-Capital. In my experience, these methods have the most impact on the kind of life we live. However, any other activity that evokes positive emotions will also contribute to your E-Capital.
To help you identify on how you can generate more E-Capital and identify its sources, we can take a brief look at some other common sources of E-Capital –
Self-esteem is having a positive overall opinion of yourself, valuing your own ideas and abilities. If we keep focusing only on our negative aspects, we are simply wasting our resources, in terms of time as well as draining out our E-Capital by focusing on something that will bring us down.
Self-regulation is the ability to control undesirable behaviors such as overeating, alcohol abuse, nicotine abuse or any other activity which is harming our body. Being dependent on anything can evoke the feeling of being weak. It also takes up our precious time, where we are pursuing an activity that has no benefits but harms us instead. On the other hand, when you are taking care of your body, eating healthy and having good habits, you automatically feel energized or rejuvenated because your body is being taken care of.
Emotional energy is the capacity to motivate action by positive emotions such as enthusiasm. Generating emotional energy as our E-Capital requires a pro-active approach from our end, wherein we are completing any activity or interacting with anyone with full interest and zest.
Resilience is the power to respond to life’s challenges by bouncing back and moving forward. Being resilient when facing daily challenges adds to our E-Capital as it promotes a feeling of proudness and confidence. It also inspires others to face their own challenges which helps us in promoting positive emotions in others.
Optimism is the confidence that life will work out, as opposed to the neurotic pattern of excessive worrying. Often we would be expecting the worst from any situation and we justify it by claiming that we were just being realistic. With an optimistic outlook on any situation or outcome, we can cease worrying about the outcome and instead focus on how we can contribute to the outcome. Being optimistic contributes to our E-Capital by providing a mindset that is ready to face any challenges.
People are rich in emotional capital if they are high in self-esteem, self-regulation, emotional energy, attachment, resilience, agreeableness, and optimism. As with the other kinds of capital, individuals may vary in the extent to which they have such emotional resources.
Like other aspects of personality, the causes of emotional capital may be genetic, epigenetic, learning, or choice. Genetic means that your characteristics such as optimism are inherited through the genes you got from your biological parents. Epigenetic means that the genes are turned on or off by chemical modifications that result from environments including while you were in your mother’s womb. For example, parents suffering from poor nutrition or stress can produce epigenetic modifications in their offspring. Learning begins as soon as the brain is sufficiently developed to form new synaptic connections that may influence how new situations are understood and acted on. Finally, there are occasions when choices such as avoiding dangerous people can have long-term effects on future resources such as emotional energy.
With time and practice, we will be able to generate more sources for E-Capital. E-Capital can be used as a self-diagnosis tool from time-to-time to check what our emotional balance looks like, and how we can take efforts to reach a better state of mind. It’s merely a concept that I thought would streamline the process of how to become happier, so that we can march closer to our goal of living 20 in 10.
Chapter 4: Causes of Happiness
‘Happiness is a feeling of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.’
We have learnt that every Human Being is different, and therefore what makes them happy would be different as well. This is why we need a way to come up with our own personal recipe of happiness and work on exploring new sources of happiness. We already know what happiness is, beyond the literal definition given above. The bigger question is, what makes us happy?
In this chapter, my main focus would be to enlighten a few simple practices that we can follow to achieve our goal of living a more fulfilling life. The purpose of these practices or techniques is to boost our happiness scale. As you are the best judge of how to live your life, you can try to choose which practices are applicable to you for living a happier life and try to implement them in your own life. The degree of adoption would depend on what your outlook on happiness is, what your personal history has been and how you make your decisions. We need to choose the ingredients for our recipe based on what we agree with.
If we have a discussion regarding happiness with different people, most likely we will get a wide array of inputs regarding what their definition of happiness is. They might be talking about how they feel in the present moment, or they might be referring to a more general sense of how they feel about life overall. They might be referring to the actions that simply make them laugh,or makes them feel good.
As happiness tends to be such a broadly defined term, psychologists and other social scientists usually use the term ‘subjective well-being’ when they talk about this emotional state. Subjective well-being tends to focus on an individual’s overall personal feelings about their life in the present.
Through all the various definitions of happiness, a few characteristics seem to be common –
The balance of emotions: Everyone experiences both positive and negative emotions, feelings, and moods. Happiness is generally linked to experiencing more positive feelings than negative.
Life satisfaction: This relates to how satisfied you feel with different areas of your life including your relationships, work, achievements, and other things that you consider important.
How do we know if we are happy or not? While perceptions of happiness may be different from one person to the next, there are some key signs that psychologists look for when measuring and assessing happiness. You can also try to look out for these signs so that you can evaluate your state of mind. Once we become aware of where we are standing, we can make conscious efforts to further enhance our sources of happiness.
Some key signs of happiness include:
1. Feeling like you are living the life you wanted
2. Feeling that the conditions of your life are good
3. Feeling that you have accomplished (or will accomplish) what you want in life
4. Feeling satisfied with your life
5. Feeling positive more than negative
One important thing to remember is that happiness isn’t a state of constant euphoria. Instead, happiness is an overall sense of experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones.
Even people who tend to be happier would exhibit other negative emotions involuntarily, such as anger, frustration, boredom, loneliness, and even sadness from time to time. However, people who are happier more often tend to be more resilient; even when faced with discomfort, they have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that they can deal with what is happening, and that they will be able to feel happy again.
The Happiness List
In the previous chapter we had talked about what E-Capital is, why it’s important as well as a few sources of generating positive E-Capital. When we talk about E-Capital, it encompasses all emotions that a human being can possibly feel, which means it would include both positive and negative emotions. Zeroing in on our final goal of living each moment of our life to the fullest, we need to focus on the most important emotion and understand how we can identify sources of happiness.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ―Winston S. ChurchillThere is a similar Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
We must have heard the following statement numerous times: It is better to give than to receive. But is there a deeper truth behind the truism?.
Giving can come in a few forms and names. Some call it charity while some follow it as altruism. Giving does not only include material possessions such as money or food to someone in need, it also encompasses our instinct to share our emotions with other people. This includes our time as well, which we are spending with someone. However, we need to realize that there are no selfless good deeds. My father always used to tell me that whenever we are giving to charity, it’s for our own benefit. We give to others to make ourselves feel better and there’s no harm in doing this. By understanding the real purpose and benefit of giving, we will be inclined more towards the practice.
The more we give, the happier we feel. Our E-Capital automatically increases since positive emotions are being generated. Once we are aware of the benefits that giving or charity have on us, we will proactively be taking an approach to engage more in the activity. Giving also has many other hidden benefits to it as well. For example, volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
Therefore giving is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. You cannot be certain about the latter, you never know if the resources you are giving are being utilized for good or not. What we can do is hope for the best, be optimistic and embrace the feeling of happiness by giving more to others.
An additional benefit of giving is the way it has the ability to mobilize the community for a common cause. It is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. It strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.
It also helps to remember that Giving is an important aspect of spirituality. We had discussed the topics of Faith & Spirituality before and the effect it can have on our happiness. While Giving isn’t the selfless act we might have thought it was, it will greatly boost our happiness meter and it should be seen as our first source of happiness because of the many hidden benefits it has.
By relating, I am simply referring to our practice of connecting with other people. We have seen that Humans are social beings. Due to this, it is inevitable to not include our relationships as one of the main sources of becoming happier. We have discussed in length about how to handle our relationships, how to prioritize our resources for these relationships and which relationships to pursue or to let go.
Only after accepting relationships as a source of happiness will we be able to make more efforts and apply the techniques that we had discussed before.We need to start relating to others more and share our vibe. Being with the right company, we will often find ourselves happier and positive.
Till now we have discussed how to handle relationships, and why it’s important to do so. You might be able to recall our comparison of relationships to banks and how we need to make deposits before expecting to make withdrawals. We had also discussed an activity wherein we would prioritize our relationships based on those whom we trust the most and accordingly spend our resources such as time, E-Capital and money. Let’s take a look at the benefits of relationships with respect to a happier life with the purpose of fulfilling our objective of 20 in 10.
Benefits of Relationships –
1. Social support. People are by nature social beings. So, whether we want to celebrate good news or pour out our distress, we feel supported when we believe someone is truly there to offer a listening ear or some advice. Also, having a good social life, and especially a partner or inner circle of friends, can greatly increase our sense of well-being. All in all, it’s great to have someone to share your happiness with, as well as your sorrows. They can help you vent out the negative feelings within you, as well as provide you with the reassurance and encouragement required so that you can fare better in future opportunities.
2. Healthier Behaviors – Healthy relationships set the perfect tone for an overall healthy lifestyle. If your spouse, friends or other loved ones encourage eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, etc., you’re likely to follow in their footsteps. It’s a lot easier to take on healthy behaviors when you surround yourself with people who are doing the same. You will automatically see the positive change that these behaviors bring in your circles and will try to build healthier habits yourself.
3. Self-Acceptance – It can be reaffirming and energizing when your relationships show that they love you for who you are. It boosts a sense of self-confidence and self-acceptance, both of which are equally important. At the same time, constructive criticism from close relationships we are well-received can also help us in achieving our full potential, which will in turn help us in leading better lives.
4. An opportunity to be caring. When you are in a close relationship, you naturally want the other person to feel good. Over time, you will find many opportunities to show your care by celebrating with them during the good times and helping to comfort them through difficulties. Giving in these ways is actually a gift to yourself because it can calm you and reduce your own stress by replacing these emotions with a sense of pride and fulfillment, by helping others.
5. Be part of something bigger than yourself –
It’s natural for us to want to feel needed, and like we are part of something bigger. Many people strive to feel like they’re doing something good for someone else, and improving the world in some way. This is one of the reasons we give to others and engage in similar activities such as charity & volunteering. Our relationships can give us a sense of well-being and purpose. People have always needed to live in communities for survival, so being part of a community is wired into us. When you meet this need – whether through an intimate relationship, a network of friends, or a more formalized group, you will feel a sense of well-being.
6. Reduced stress – The many benefits of relationships include that they reduce stress. This feels good by itself, but it also reduces your risk for health conditions.
Partners and close friends often encourage us to exercise, eat healthy, and follow up with medical problems. So, when we have that kind of support, we may be less prone to illness and recover better than those who are more isolated. Moreover, relationships also help us become more resilient, which means the ability to overcome problems & situations which ultimately leads to a reduction in our stress levels.
7. Longer life – We had seen the significance of relationships in the research done by Susan Pinker. Research has shown that people with strong social connections are much more likely to live longer than people who are loners. Holt-Lunstad, the lead author of one study, explained, “A lack of social relationships was equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”. Going back to the search by Susan, it was seen that social integration and close relationships have a greater effect on our health than clean air or exercise.
8. Fun and fulfillment – Finally, coming to the crux of the benefits of relationships and why we are focusing so much on it, it leads to those moments of joyfulness and fulfilment which ultimately helps us in our quest for a happier life. Sharing our joy with others, going to social gatherings, cracking jokes and laughing around – I remember all of these elements being present when I reunited with my old college friends a few years back. Certainly the greatest benefits of our relationships is the fun that we have through them.
3. Keeping Healthy
To fall in love with yourself is one of the secrets to happiness. The emphasis here is on loving your body and appreciating the gifts that have been given to you. Every part of your body has an important purpose to serve. Exercising regularly, eating right and keeping a check on our habits is a huge part of being healthy. Most of us already know what we need to do to keep healthy and I have made it clear already – this book focus is not just physical health. . We already possess the knowledge for this. What we lack is the motivation to take the efforts and the first steps for living a healthier lifestyle.
To overcome this challenge of motivation, we need to understand why we need to take care of our health. Being healthy will ensure that our E-Capital is not drained by the negativity and stress of having health issues. We need to make conscious efforts to become healthier before it’s too late – Our goal of living 20 years in 10 cannot be achieved if natural causes get us first. I remember the changes I had to bring in my own routine after my heart attack in 2011. It was the wake-up call I needed to start keeping a check on my habits, especially the type of food I was consuming. Don’t wait for such signals, prevent if possible?
We already have some level of subconscious awareness among us regarding the link between happiness and health. This has been generated through years of experiences and advice that we have received from others. It’s often assumed that we need to be happy to be healthy, as if being happy is a prerequisite of being healthy. They have been anecdotally linked for quite a while now—”laughter is the best medicine” has become a cliche’ for a reason. I do agree with the statement as someone who is often in a jovial mood, laughter or being joyful can have huge impacts on your well-being.
What is often overlooked though, is the second approach – you must remain healthy to be happy. For many, especially those who find themselves lonely and lacking energy, it might be easier to follow a few steps to be healthy first, through which we can become happier. There is already an infinite loop between health and happiness – both of these go hand in hand. Moreover, when we talk about being healthy, we don’t need to take elaborate steps to do this. We can even exercise while lying down on a bed by simply stretching our body – though strolling through a greener place, with a friend if possible might be more beneficial.. We can become healthier by making a few changes to the food we eat. We need to discard the fear that becoming healthier requires a lot of effort on our end and instead focus on the benefits being healthy provides.
While the results might not be apparent immediately, by adopting a healthier lifestyle we will find ourselves automatically getting more energized. It also gives a feeling of pride within ourselves for being able to take care of our body. This provides a foundation to pursue higher levels of happiness.
While discussing the importance of health in promoting our happiness, we discussed how we are already aware of the link between our health and happiness. This awareness made it easier for us to understand why we need to live a healthier life. Awareness is a combination of instincts, opinions as well as direct information that you proactively gathered regarding anything or anyone. While I don’t want to exclude anything from the list of what we should be aware of, it’s not possible to be aware of every single detail. Nevertheless, what we can focus on is being aware of the events that directly affect us. Examples of this can include being aware of the well-being of your family & friends; being aware of the political situation in your country; being aware of basic safety instructions.
What does Awareness have to do with Happiness?
To understand this better, we can take a look at a simple example. Suppose you ask your friend how they are doing. We are proactively gathering information about someone we care for. Now suppose that your friend replies they are having a bad day, due to any reason. Through your inquiry, you became aware of how your friend is feeling. Naturally, our next response would be to reassure or console them. Here, we are giving our time and emotions to our friend. As every act of giving ultimately affects us, there will surely be a generation of happiness due to our efforts in consoling the friend. Therefore, awareness does have a role to play in leading a happier life.
Awareness v/s Self-Awareness
Building on the concept of awareness, we saw that it is being alert and conscious of your environment and as a result, understanding what is happening all around you. Self-awareness on the other hand only focuses on the ‘self’. It is our ability to identify our own thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Being self-aware means that we can see ourselves clearly to understand who we are, how others perceive us, and how we fit into the world around us.
While being aware has its benefits, we cannot control the outcomes of the environment, but only anticipate it. With being self-aware, we can control our reactions and modify our responses to any stimulus we are brought in contact with. It seems obvious that the latter is something we need to strive more for, as it allows us to be more flexible. Being self-aware is a skill that is developed over many years of experiences and introspection. We can briefly discuss a few methods of becoming more self-aware before we proceed with understanding how self-awareness affects our happiness.
How to Become Self Aware?
Building self-awareness is a life-long effort that seems to be easier said than done. The benefits of being self-aware are infinite. A self-aware person is a better leader as they can understand how they are perceived by others and make changes in their style of leadership. A self-aware person is also more calm, wary of their reactions and aware of their flaws. While we develop self-awareness, our own personal thoughts and interpretations will begin to change. This change in mental state will also alter our emotions and increase our emotional intelligence, which is an important factor in achieving overall success.
Here are few methods that might help you or give an idea of how to become more self-aware –
1. Look at yourself objectively.
Trying to see yourself as who you really are can be a tedious process, however if we make the right efforts, getting to know our real self can be extremely rewarding. When you are able to see yourself objectively, you can learn how to accept yourself and find ways to improve yourself in the future.
Here are a few techniques we can practice to look at ourselves more objectively –
A. Try to identify your current understanding by taking a mental note of your perceptions. These may be things that you think you are good at doing, or that you want to improve.
B. Think about things you are proud of, or any accomplishments that really stand out throughout your life.
C. Think about your childhood and what made you happy back then. What has changed and what has remained the same? What are the reasons for the changes?
In the end, your perspective regarding yourself may change as we start becoming self-aware.
This is possibly one of the most common techniques for becoming self-aware. Meditation is the simple practice of keeping your attention focused on your breath or some other physics sensation. The main objective of this practice is to keep your thoughts silent. I’m sure most of us have tried meditating at some point, and would’ve struggled to keep our thoughts at bay. Once our mind begins wandering to other thoughts, we gently return our attention to our point of focus.
All too often we lack self-awareness because we’re thinking too much. Overthinking can be a serious obstacle, not only in the way of becoming self-aware but also in our journey of becoming happier. We easily become lost in our thoughts, assuming they’re true or worth engaging with simply because our minds decided to throw them at us.
Moreover, unlike gym, yoga or any other exercise we might prefer, meditation can be done anywhere at any time. We don’t require anything extra for meditating, and even doing this for a couple of minutes every day can help us in understanding ourselves better. A regular mindfulness meditation practice will open your eyes to how the thinking mind works and how much more there is to you than the mere content of your thoughts.
3. Identifying Negative/Inaccurate Thinking Patterns
Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts and beliefs that contort how we see things, including ourselves. Similar to how we all can get into unhelpful physical habits (e.g.: nail-biting, smoking, etc.), we also have certain mental habits that aren’t doing us any favors.
A simple example of an unproductive mental habit could be name-calling in our minds after an unpleasant interaction with anyone. You can try to recall the last time you had an argument with anyone. After the altercation, we might find ourselves lost in thoughts about how we can get back at the person, or how we can possibly make them feel bad.
This is often a problem because even though other people do make mistakes, sometimes we do too. But if our default reaction is to always externalize and blame other people or plot against them, we miss the opportunity to see our own behavior and self-correct.
A major source of a lack of self-awareness is inaccurate mental habits and self-talk. If we can learn to identify these patterns of inaccurate thinking and attempt to eliminate them, we can become more self-aware.
Happiness through Self-Awareness
Returning from our detour of how one can attain some degree of self-awareness, we can continue to focus on how it will aid us in our quest of becoming happier. When you develop strong self-awareness, you become more aware of not only yourself and your feelings, but the impact you have on the world. It allows us to see problematic behaviors, learn from our mistakes, and move forward. It’s from self-awareness that we can begin to know ourselves, value our being, and begin living a more fruitful life. We can learn about the importance of self-awareness by understanding how it becomes a means to achieve a happier life, which can be seen in the following topics.
I. Being self-aware of the actions that energize us
In the process of becoming more self-aware, we will be able to distinguish certain actions or activities that energize us and increase our E-Capital. Therefore self-awareness is important to identify which activities we need to pursue, with the motive of having a positive outcome and becoming happier.
Self-awareness also equips us with the confidence and determination to pursue the activity which we want to. In my case, karaoke singing is a pass-time that I have re-discovered over the past year. While I am engaged in singing, I have absolutely no worries and I am enjoying myself. Singing makes me happy. I know this because of some level of self-awareness. So I consciously made time to pursue this activity, and within a year I was able to record more than 500 songs on my karaoke machine.
Therefore becoming self-aware is very important so that we can identify the activities or hobbies which help us in enjoying our life.
II. Being self-aware of your strengths & weaknesses
Each person has a different set of strengths that are honed over a lifetime of experiences. Through self-awareness we can identify our strengths and try to utilize them as much as possible. Knowledge about our strengths will provide us with confidence in our daily interactions.
On the other hand, if we are only focusing on our weaknesses, we will often be down. Our E-Capital decreases with the increase in negative emotions. Through self-awareness we can look beyond the missing tile and appreciate the beauty that is already within us. Being aware of our flaws also helps teach us the valuable lesson of self-acceptance. Happiness isn’t about being perfect. It’s about embracing our imperfections and keep moving on in our journey of life.
III. Self-aware of your emotional health
The medical field today has at its disposal such an array of technologies which can diagnose any part of our entire body to detect what our physical health is. The case is not the same however with our emotional health. Sure there are many tests and self-assessment activities which claim to be able to do this; however, the degree of accuracy in these tests are often low, mainly because there is no standardized way of thinking among humans or a method of evaluating them. All the tests that are available today were made by psychiatrists & psychologists according to their opinion on what constitutes emotional health.
Therefore, self-awareness is possibly the only accurate way of identifying our emotional health. We need to evaluate ourselves constantly on how we are doing emotionally. If we are feeling distressed, self-awareness will help us in taking proactive steps to reach out for help to our relationships or look for other activities to increase their E-Capital. Self-awareness allows us to keep a check on our mental health, which facilitates our goal of becoming happier by helping us avoid or overcome negative emotions or state of mind.
IV. Being self-aware of your impact on relationships
We have established that our happiness is vastly dependent on our relationships, which is why we need to invest more in them. When we interact with anyone, self-awareness helps us to be wary of the other person’s feelings and how our words or actions might be perceived by them. This type of self-awareness is called external self-awareness, wherein focus is put on how others see our behavior and actions.
Until we understand our impact on others, we can’t build relationships and meaningful interactions to help bring us cheer.We don’t want to deposit negative emotions into the relationship, instead we look to reinforce them using positivity. The role of self-awareness is mostly hidden, however it cannot be overlooked. We need to understand what impact we had to make it positive. It is through self-awareness that we are able to sustain our relationships which becomes a generator of happiness in our lives.
V. Being self-aware of our needs
You might be able to recall a certain pyramid known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which we had discussed in our previous chapters. It’s not possible to completely satisfy every need in the hierarchy and only then move onto the next needs due to our resources being limited. If we get hung up on satisfying every need fully, then we would drain precious resources we have such as our time, money, E-Capital, etc. Instead, our goal should be to reasonably satisfy our needs so that we can proceed further and ultimately be able to reach the stage where we can focus on our self-actualization needs. How do we determine then that our needs have been reasonably satisfied? Indeed, self-awareness is the answer to this.
With self-awareness, we are able to estimate to which degree each of our needs have to be satisfied. It’s also through self-awareness that we know when these needs have been satisfied, and from there the process begins again. It helps us to allocate our resources and come up with action plans to move on further to satisfying other needs. Knowing when to stop means we can finally start allocating more time towards activities that make us happier. Our society does a lot to create standards of success for us. You need self-awareness to create your own metrics to find happiness.
Self-awareness can be summarized in a few beautiful words by Carl Jung –
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
5. Being open to new experiences
The comfort of what’s familiar and known is a space where often many of us find ourselves sitting in for too long. If we are self-aware, we would be able to feel our life becoming stagnant, wherein we are stuck with the same routine every day. Sometimes the idea of forcing ourselves to take that leap of faith and try something new can feel like swimming against the current. It’s uncomfortable and might be something we are afraid to do. Few well established studies suggest that we fear an unknown outcome more than we fear a bad one.
Why then, should we do the hard work of trying new things and chartering unknown waters?
Let’s find out by checking out a few benefits that trying out new things can have on our happiness and enjoying life.
I. Making new memories
There’s nothing better than adding a brand new experience to our memory bank that had a positive influence on our life. Moreover, we will find that each time we make the effort of trying anything new, the process becomes easier. This is because we have stored memories of the positive rewards associated with a new and exciting experience.The adrenaline rush, the endorphins, the sense of pride; they’re all stored in your memory banks. In a sense, these memories are like our buffer of happiness, which we can look back at someday and reminisce.
This is also evident in an article in TIME magazine by psychologist Rich Walker, wherein he says, “People who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimise negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.” Furthermore, by trying out new things and becoming susceptible to new experiences, we are generating additional sources of happiness that we can use at any time.
It’s almost important to not restrict the range of experiences that we are talking about. It doesn’t necessarily have to be life-changing experiences such as climbing Mt. Everest or going deep sea diving; it also includes simple activities such as learning a new skill or language, meeting new people, taking up new hobbies, etc.
II. Overcoming our fears
The issue of lack of self confidence is something that a lot of us struggle with. There are many reasons for this. Many times what we do is overthink the situation to such an extent that we feel it’s better to avoid the situation altogether. We experience fear within ourselves that we might fail or maybe do something embarrassing which others will notice. According to a study done by Dr. Joe Rubino of the BodyMind Institute, around 85% of the world’s population suffer from some form of low self esteem. Consciously persuading yourselves towards new experiences can become an important remedy for the issue of lack of confidence.
When you try something new, even when you fail you feel a sense of pride for having tried. This can do wonders for your courage and confidence and the more ‘normalised’ failing at something new becomes, the less fear and discouragement you’ll feel the next time you try something out. Our focus shifts from what others might think to what we felt when trying out the new activity, even though we failed. Therefore it seems like the real effort is only for the first few instances of trying something new. It gets easier overtime and with practice.
With each new experience, we become more confident and soon this energy will resonate from you. Where we used to be afraid of the situation or tend to overthink about others’ opinions, we will achieve more freedom.
III. Re-assessing our past beliefs
When discussing self-awareness, we were able to go over how it helps us in identifying our strengths and weaknesses. If someone was to ask you to list all of the things you’re good at and bad at in two separate columns, you’d probably be able to answer pretty quickly. We all have an image of ourselves and an idea of our limitations. Maybe when you were a child, you made an attempt at drawing but since other students were better at it, drawing went into our section of things we are not good at.
Trying new things can be extended to rehashing old activities that we might have dismissed too soon. This way we can find out more about ourselves and where our true limitations lie. This allows us to re-evaluate and revisit activities as well as any other weaknesses. We never know what our reaction might be this time and maybe we’ll end up reconsidering decisions that we had made earlier regarding our flaws or activities we are not good at. This is how people grow and change for the better.
Trying something new is more often than not the catalyst for personal growth. It teaches us about ourselves, pushes our boundaries and empowers us to action. That’s why it’s so important to just give it a go.
IV. Promoting an active mind
Research by the Alzheimer’s Association shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality. Pursuing their research further on what keeps the brain active, it was discovered that doing new things in new ways appears to help retain brain cells and connections. It may even produce new brain cells. Therefore, trying new things does not only promote a healthy brain, but it also advocates for an active brain.
Therefore, with every new activity or experience that we are trying, our brain automatically gets sharper and agile.
V. Using time efficiently
Once you get a taste for trying new things and pushing the boundaries, you’ll develop a curiosity for more and really realise the true value of your time. Time we usually spend on meaningless activities can now be allocated to our venture of trying new things.
This is particularly useful if we find our routine going stagnant. Instead of scrolling through social media news feeds or doing any other banal tasks for extended periods of time, we can instead redirect our focus, time and energy into activities that are rewarding. When the goal is making every second count, that is exactly what we should be doing.
We cannot grow from taking actions we’ve always taken. Thrusting ourselves into new situations however can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. Encountering constant self-challenges keeps us humble but confident, and open to new ideas. The spirit to try new things is synonymous with the spirit of self-improvement. Once we truly begin practicing this, we will experience ourselves evolving into better & upgraded versions. Naturally there will be the familiar emotion of happiness because not only did we conquer our fears by trying out new things, but we would have also discovered new activities that became sources of happiness.
6. Giving our life a direction
Everything that we do needs to have a purpose or objective behind it. By setting goals for ourselves, we will be able to have a degree of control on which direction we wish to take our life. This also helps us in evaluating if we were able to achieve our goals or not. If we are not able to achieve some of the goals, that is completely alright as long as we are heading in the right direction.
Life goals give us focus, motivation and vision. They help us in formulating action plans and identifying the steps we need to take. As we proceed further with implementing each step, we feel a sense of achievement as every step is taking us closer to our goal. Setting an objective can be motivating in itself and builds confidence in our ability to reach the destination.
The reason we are feeling more confident, proud and motivated is because we are heading towards the direction that we had decided.
Setting goals for ourselves and progressing towards them instills a sense of well-being. Therefore, setting goals becomes another addition in our happiness list.
While it’s easier to understand the impact of setting objectives and giving an apparent direction to our life, the hard part is how do we choose these objectives or what direction do we choose? According to a few research studies, goals can be broadly classified into two categories –
1. Intrinsic goals: For ease of understanding, we can consider them simply as internal goals. These would be the goals that affect us emotionally. According to positive psychologist Tim Kasser and colleagues, intrinsic goals ‘are those that are inherently satisfying to pursue because they are likely to satisfy our psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, competence, and growth’. We are already well aware of what our psychological needs are, thanks to self-awareness and Maslow. Examples of these goals include self-acceptance, forming social connections, studying further and physical fitness.
2. Extrinsic goals: Similar to intrinsic goals, these are the external goals. This would be a perfect example of goals wherein we want to satisfy every need fully. There seems to be constant pursuit here for material possessions as well as acceptance by others. Examples include financial wealth, fame, or popularity. They can be considered as means to an end, however often they are not as rewarding. People often pursue extrinsic goals under the assumption that these goals will bring them happiness, but evidence suggests otherwise.
I believe now there would be at least a clearer idea of what goals need to be set and pursued. Intrinsic goals lead to greater happiness because in the pursuit of these goals, people have positive experiences along the way that support their happiness. As this is your process of how you build your own happiness to live longer, you can choose to pursue extrinsic goals if you wish to, if incase we feel like our basic needs have not been reasonably met yet. What we need to focus on though is good goal setting.
The goals that we decide on might have varying durations. A long-term goal might be a big life goal, that would require considerable efforts and resources. A lot – for example, we might have a long-term goal of travelling around the world.. A short-term goal might be a plan for the coming weeks or months – for example to organize a party or monthly fitness goals. A day-to-day goal might be just to cook something different or contact an old friend.
Smaller goals may seem unimportant. But having personal projects that matter to us – and are manageable – has been consistently shown to boost well-being, especially when they’re supported by others around us. And it’s even better if we can link our smaller goals back to our bigger aims and priorities in life.
The way we set goals influences the actions we take to achieve them, the effort we put in and how persistent we are at sticking to them. Good goal-setting can be learned. Some of our goals may be ambitious, but it’s important that they’re still achievable. Achieving our goals brings a sense of accomplishment and makes us feel more positive about the future.
Process of Setting our Goals
We can check out the step-by-step process of how we set our goals, keeping in mind our overall goal of becoming happier and living a longer life.
1. Decide – Think of something you want to do or work towards. To do this, we can try the activity we had tried earlier to divide our life into various phases of 10 years apart, and recall the activities, people, places that gave us joy. You might be able to think of a few goals that include revisiting these elements of your childhood.
Other ways of deciding on what your goal should be can include something you’re interested in or feel excited by. It can be a big thing or a small thing – sometimes it is easier to get going with something small. And it often helps if it’s something that’s just a little bit beyond what you currently can do – goals that stretch us can be motivating.
Enjoying the process of achieving a goal can be equal or more fun than the goal itself.
2. Make a list – You can now make a mental note of your goals where you can even categorize them on the basis of daily goals, weekly goals or monthly goals. The purpose of having a list is keeping track of your activities, taking pride in the goals already achieved and planning for future goals when we look back on the list.
Describe your goal in specific terms and timescales e.g. ‘I want to reach back to this specific friend and see how they are doing’ rather than ‘maybe I’ll catch up with some old friends. Being specific when making the list helps us to be more confident about our goals and make us more decisive.
3. Break your goal down – While every goal might not be required to be broken down, the easiest way of completing your bigger goals that span a longer duration of time is to break the goals into subgoals. Think about the smaller goals that are steps on the way to achieving your bigger aim. Sometimes our big goals are a bit vague, like ‘I want to be healthier’. Breaking these down helps us be more specific. So, a smaller goal might be ‘go jogging regularly’ or even ‘to be able to walk around the park in 20 minutes without stopping’. Having several smaller goals makes each of them a bit easier and gives us a feeling of success along the way, which also makes it more likely that we’ll stay on track towards our bigger goal.
4. Plan your steps – An ancient Chinese proverb says that the journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step. Before giving our life direction and completing our life goals, we need to have a plan on how to complete each goal. We have decided on what the goal might be, made our list and also broken down our bigger goals into smaller ones. Now we need to plan out how we will begin the process – Which goal we need to complete first? What and how much resources do we spend to attain the objective? As an example, one of our goals can be to learn a new instrument, such as the piano. (Remember, be specific in your goals.). So, my planning process can be something like the following, however for everyone the process can be different – To begin with, purchase a starter and reasonable piano. If I am learning well and enjoy playing the piano, at that point I could go for a better one. Next. I could take online classes for an hour every other day. I could learn the basics and opt for a 3-month course, and then continue learning myself.
So, in the above example, I planned out my steps and how I’ll reach my goal. We might not always know what the plan is, or where to even start from. For example, if our goal was to become happier, the planning process would be much more complicated. Wherever we feel help is required, we should always reach out to our trusted relationships for any advice or insight.
5. Keep going – Working towards our goals can sometimes be difficult and frustrating – so we need to persevere. If a step you’re doing isn’t working, think of something else you could try that still moves you forward, even a tiny bit. If you’re struggling, ask people you know for their ideas on what you could do. They may help you see a different way. Thinking about different ways of reaching our goals makes it more likely we’ll be successful. If you’re really struck – take a break and then circle back to the goal after completing other goals on the list. If you need to adjust your goal – that’s ok too.
6. Celebrate – Once you have finally achieved your goal, take a few moments to soak it in. Celebrating your achievements was a huge reason for why we set the goal in the first place. The best way to celebrate is with your friends. Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle. Happiness never decreases by being shared. By inviting your friends to share the pride and happiness of your achievements, you are also encouraging them to adopt a similar lifestyle where they would strive harder for their goals.
All in all, goals not only regulate our life, improve our skills and build up our confidence, but it also makes our happiness list stronger with the addition of giving life a direction and being joyful in our achievements.
7. Being Resilient
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
— Nelson Mandela
Being a venture capitalist for many years, I’ve had the opportunity of investing into many ideas and start-ups that have the potential to boom later. I’ve written many cheques in the past and still do, so that some of these ideas may come to life and change the world for better. When coming into such meetings, entrepreneurs are often prepared with these answers on what their strengths are, what their plans are, how they can make a difference, profits, etc. My first question however, which would often force the interviewee to take a pause or two, would be to ask them to describe what their biggest failure was and what they learnt from them.
Learning about the person’s failure and how they handled them would give me some insight on how they would perform in future. The world of business is possibly the most uncertain one. There have been instances where the whole economy turned upside down in a matter of days. Not everything goes as you have planned, many of us have learnt this by now from our own experiences. However, what we need to understand is that these failures are being faced by everyone. There’s not a single person who can say that they have never made a bad decision, or never found themselves in a bad place. What matters the most is what we learn from the experience and how we bounced back.
This is exactly what resilience is – it’s the ability or skill to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events.
7 C’s of Resilience
To understand the concept of resilience better, we can take a look into the insights provided by Dr Ken Ginsburg, child paediatrician and human development expert. In his research, he proposed that there are 7 internal traits that are linked with resilience. Understanding what makes up resilience can bring the self-awareness required to be more resilient in our day-to-day lives. Dr. Ginsburg introduced the 7 C’s of resilience so that these can be better encouraged in children. Each of these 7 C’s are explained briefly here –
1. Competence – is the ability to know how to handle stressful situations effectively. It requires having the skills to face challenges, and having had the opportunity to practice using these skills so that one feels competent in dealing with situations. We become competent by developing skills that allow us to trust our judgment and make responsible choices. When we pursue opportunities to acquire new skills, we feel competent. We undermine competence when we prevent ourselves from trying something new.
2. Confidence – is the belief in one’s own abilities and is rooted in competence. We gain confidence by being able to demonstrate our competence in real situations. We can enhance self-confidence by identifying our individual strengths and working on them.
3. Connection – According to Dr. Ginsburg children with close ties to friends, family, and community groups are likely to have a stronger sense of security and sense of belonging. These children are more likely to have strong values and are less likely to seek out alternative destructive behaviours. Having strong connections will help our resilience by determining the amount of support we have available to fall back to.
4. Character – People with a strong sense of morals or ‘character’ enjoy a strong sense of self-worth and confidence. They are in touch with their values and are comfortable sticking to them. They can demonstrate a caring attitude towards others. They have a strong sense of right and wrong and are prepared to make wise choices and contribute to the world. We must recognize our ability to make choices and that we can make “wise” choices towards our values rather than away from their values.
5. Contribution – By contribution, Dr. Ken wanted children to understand that the world is a better place, because they are a part of it. He would encourage parents to help a child or teen acknowledge that although they may be in a position of receiving more than they are able to give, the world is a better place because they are in it. Moreover, once we understand the feel-good factor of helping others, it becomes easier to ask for help when it’s needed – being willing to ask for help is a big part of being resilient.
6. Coping – Children who can distinguish between a crisis and a relatively minor setback can avoid unnecessary anxiety. A wide repertoire of positive, adaptive coping mechanisms can also help kids steer clear of dangerous quick fixes for stress. When they’re in crisis, strategies like exercising, giving back, practicing relaxation techniques, and sleeping and eating well can offer relief. While Dr. Ginsburg mainly intended to use his work in regards with children, I am sure everyone of us have heard of the importance of having a coping mechanism. Many of us have already developed our own mechanisms over the years.
Knowing how to cope with a failure is the essence of resilience. We need to evaluate what our own coping mechanisms are and develop better ones if possible. With this, we can come up with ways of channeling our stress and negativity by distracting ourselves with a different activity. With effective coping mechanisms, we can bounce back much sooner and get back to either pursuing a different goal, or taking another attempt after understanding where we might have failed.
7. Control–Realizing that we have control over our decisions and actions, we are more likely to know how to make choices in a way that we can rebound from life’s challenges. Individuals who lack a sense of control feel like their actions don’t matter. They can become passive, pessimistic, or even depressed. Whereas having a sense of inner control, we know that our actions matter and that we can make a difference.
Having taken a look at Dr. Ginsburg’s interpretations on resilience and what it’s made up of, we can come up with a few methods on how to become more resilient. Resilience is not a character trait. People aren’t born with resilience. Rather, it grows from the use of a set of skills that can be improved and strengthened over time. Time magazine, in one of their articles, provided tips to their readers on how to become more resilient. You can browse through the list yourself and check if there’s any advice you can follow, that will make you more resilient –
- Develop an unshakeable core set of beliefs
- Look for meaning in stressful or traumatic events that happen to you
- Maintain a positive outlook.
- Look for guidance from someone you know who is especially resilient.
- Face your fears rather than run from them
- Don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed
- Always work to continuously learn new things
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid beating yourself up or dwelling on the past
- Recognize the things that make you uniquely strong
The benefits of resilience in our life and to become happier are self-explanatory. The sooner we are able to get back up from our failures, the sooner we will be able to stop feeling negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, uncertainty, etc. This ensures that we don’t see a decrease in our E-Capital, that is a crucial part of becoming happier. Resilience inherently requires us to have a positive outlook towards the future. We need to be confident and understand that we are in control of our actions and to make the situation better. Therefore, resilience allows us to get back on the horse and continue achieving our objectives. By having faith in ourselves to overcome any struggle, we are able to concentrate more on the present rather than worrying about tomorrow.
“Never let yesterday use up too much of today.”
Chapter 5: Causes of Stress
After going through the Happiness List, we might have some idea on how we can increase our E-Capital and pursue positive energy and moments. At the same time, what we need to be aware of is the elements that can reduce happiness or are common hindrances to happiness in our day-to-day life.
The causes of stress for each person is different yet the effect it can have on the person is somewhat predictable. Stress has become a routine part of our life. Stress can motivate you to work harder to achieve your goals. But if we don’t get a handle on our stress and it becomes long-term or overwhelming, it can seriously interfere with our goal of living 20 years in 10. Research suggests that more than half of Americans say they fight with friends and loved ones because of stress, and more than 70% say they experience real physical and emotional symptoms from it.
In the previous chapter we had seen that self-awareness is a very important factor when it comes to our happiness. Learning more about stress, its effects and how we can counter it will help us become more self-aware of situations that might cause us stress and how we can tackle the same.
What is Stress?
Stress is the feeling that we often have of being overwhelmed or when we are unable to cope with emotional or mental pressure. It is our body’s response to pressure. Stress is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or anything that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation. We all deal with stress differently and we have got accustomed to our methods of coping. My idea is to provide a few ways that I use in my own life to deal with stress. Our ability to cope can depend on various factors such as genetics, early life events, personality and social and economic circumstances.
So what exactly happens internally when we start feeling stress? During such times, our body secretes hormones which are called stress hormones. These are the hormones that trigger a fight or flight response within us and are responsible for activating our immune system. This response by our body helps us to react quickly to situations that our brain considers dangerous. However, stress shouldn’t be considered all that bad. It too has its own uses. Stress can help us overcome our fears by pushing our body beyond its limit. For example, you can imagine a marathon runner, for whom the stress of completing the marathon helps them push the last remaining miles. When speaking publicly too, we might often find ourselves stressed. These are examples where our stress levels increase temporarily, and in most cases the level of stress hormones will go back to normal quickly once the event is over. In such cases there are no lasting effects on our body or emotional state.
However, too much stress can cause negative effects. When we start feeling stressed all the time, we might start getting detached from reality and will find ourselves trapped in a permanent stage, where our stress hormones keep on secreting. We are trapped in the state of fight or flight. In such cases, we would often ourselves be overwhelmed all the time or not be able to cope with daily events such as work, relationships, etc. Such long-term stress can have significant effects on our physical as well as mental state.
Fight-or-flight response:what happens in the body
So what is this flight or fight response that seems to be the centre of stress? When we feel threatened, our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including components like adrenaline and cortisol, which rouses our body for emergency action. This can cause our muscles to tighten, our heartbeat raises, blood pressure also rises and sometimes our senses can also become sharper. Stress can also cause various other physical changes such as increasing our stamina or strength, our reaction time would be faster, our focus would be enhanced- these are all preparations that our body makes to either fight the danger or flee from it.
If we think about it, it’s amazing how our body is created in such a way that it automatically secretes the components that are required to deal with any situation. If we could learn to harness our stress and make ourselves more productive, not only can we counter the issues related with over-stressessing but we can also use stress effectively in our day-to-day lives.
What makes us stressed?
There can be various situations that exert pressure on us. mental or physical state, which can cause us stress. These are known as stressors. When thinking of stressors, we might only think of negative situations such as a tedious work routine or sour relationships which cause us stress. However, we need to keep in mind that stressors are not limited to such negative situations, instead it can be any situation that puts high demands on our body or mind. This can include positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, receiving a promotion, etc.
External factors, however, are not the sole reason for stress to be generated. Stress can also be internal or self-generated. Often there are times when we build up the event too much in our head and start worrying ourselves, even when it’s not required. A lot of the time, we have no control on the outcome and even then we worry about it. When we worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life it can cause unnecessary stress and not the type that can benefit us in any way.
Finally,our perception of what causes stress can also have an effect on it. Something that’s stressful to us may not affect someone else; they may even enjoy it. You might find such occurrences often around yourselves, wherein some people are hesitant of getting on the stage to perform, while a few live for the spotlight. Some people seem to shine harder when they are under pressure or being chased by a deadline, whereas some people might. For example, in a family some members enjoy taking care of the elderly such as their parents, whereas in the same situation other members of the family might find taking care of them too demanding or overwhelming. So stress affects everyone differently, however there are a few signs that we can look out for, that are common indicators of excessive stress.
When trying to deal with stress, our first objective should be to discover what sources cause us stress so that we can address them. Many things that can lead to stress such as bereavement, divorce or separation, losing a job or unexpected money problems. Another common source of stress which can have a negative impact on our health is work-related stress.
It’s not necessary that all sources of stress generation need to be negative. At times, we might find that even life changes that we consider positive, such as getting a promotion at work, shifting into a bigger house or going on a long vacation can become sources of stress. In these situations, we might struggle to understand why we are feeling that way or might be hesitant to share our feelings with others. Therefore, the sources of stress can be many, some of which might not be that apparent.
What are the signs of stress?
How we might feel
We may feel:
- angry or aggressive
These feelings can sometimes produce physical symptoms, making us feel even worse.
How we might behave
Stress will have effects on our behavior as well. We may:
- Snap at people close to us or withdraw ourselves
- Might face issues while making decisions
- Become more emotional
- Our sleeping patterns can also be affected by stress
- We might face physical issues such as sexual issues, restlessness, etc.
- We might look for outlets such as drinking more, doing drugs, smoking, etc.
How our body might react
If we’re stressed, we may experience:
- shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- heart palpitations
- aches and pains.
As we already discussed, when we are in a stressful situation, our body launches a physical response. What happens is that our internal systems such as the nervous system become activated and begin secreting & releasing hormones, which induces us to either take some action or run away, avoiding the situation. It’s called the “fight or flight” response and is one of the reasons why, when we’re in a stressful situation, we may notice changes such as the speeding up of our heartbeats or our rate of breathing becoming faster. Our muscles might also get tensed and we might to perspire. This short-term stress is usually said to be temporary and our body can recover from it easily.
However, if our internal systems such as the nervous system remain activated for a longer period of time due to stress, this could be a gateway to more serious problems. This long-term stress is called chronic stress and with it comes the constant rush of stress hormones that can put a lot of pressure on our body, causing symptoms such as making us more vulnerable to illness or we might physically age more quickly.
So depending on if we’re undergoing acute or chronic stress, we might exhibit different physical signs. In the case of temporary stress or short-term stress, we might notice the following signs –
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Upset stomach
As we can see, the symptoms are milder and usually with some changes to our lifestyle we should be able to tackle acute stress easily, which will be discussed more in detail later. Before proceeding, let’s take a look at what some of the signs of chronic stress can be, so that we can evaluate ourselves on whether or not we are facing issues related to stress. If chronic stress is not properly addressed, it can lead tof more concerning health conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Ulcers, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome
- Upset stomach — cramps, constipation, and diarrhea
- Weight gain or loss
- Changes in sex drive
- Fertility problems
- Flare-ups of asthma or arthritis
- Skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.
How to deal with stress?
Emotional resilience might be considered something that we are born with, however we need to understand that it can be, and should be learnt and developed. If we’d like to be able to handle life’s challenges (both major and minor) with greater ease, to grow from adversity, and to turn potentially negative events into positive ones, the following steps can help us to become more resilient to stress.
Developing the Right Attitude
Emotionally Resilient people often view life’s hurdles as challenges. They analyse the situation and respond accordingly with action. Whereas if we are not emotionally resilient, we might respond with fear, self-pity or start blaming ourselves instead of looking for a solution.
An important step in becoming more resilient towards stress is to develop positive self-talk and to remind ourselves regularly that we are strong and have the potential to become stronger. lWhile life can be very challenging, an important step in becoming more resilient is to develop positive self-talk and to remind ourselves that we are strong and can grow stronger and wiser as we handle life’s challenges.
Therefore, a positive attitude is a prerequisite to deal with stress. If we feel like we have made any mistakes in the past, it’s best to let go of them and instead focus on what lies ahead.
Self-awareness was an important element discussed in our Happiness list. To become more resilient to stress, we need to learn to have more emotional awareness. It’s important to understand what we’re feeling and why. Sometimes we might feel overwhelmed with our emotions and this can frighten or immobilize us for some time.
By evaluating why we feel upset can help us with valuable information regarding what changes we need to bring in our life. An important part of awareness is doing our own research and homework to understand how we can meet our challenges. Another method is to share our feelings with our closest relationships and ask for their advice and help on how we can deal with any situation.
Develop an Internal Locus of Control
You are in control of your life: this is the belief that resilient people have and it’s true. While external circumstances might be out of our control, what we can control is how we respond to the circumstances that we face. Therefore what we need to do is develop the belief that we are in control of what we feel and how to deal with situations. If we allow stress to take over us, then the outcome has already been decided and we would lose control over it. Instead, use the stress as a motivator and keep a positive attitude. We can develop an internal locus of control to bring stability to our emotions and reinforce us to deal with issues that might stress us out.
Being an optimist is more than looking on the bright side, even though that helps. It’s a way of viewing the world where we can maximize our strengths and accomplishments and minimize our weaknesses and setbacks. By adopting a more optimistic approach to life, we can become more resilient. We can try to recall our discussion regarding concentrating more on our strengths and ignoring our weaknesses.
We have discussed how humans are social animals and the importance of relationships. Having somebody to fall back on allows us to share our load and worries. There are innumerable benefits of having good relationships and investing in them. The more we invest in our relationships, the more rewarding it would become eventually. The rewards can also come in the form of mental support when we are stressed out and are in need of help
Rely on your Sense of Humor
If we’re able to laugh at life’s frustrations, we can have increased immunity to stress and adversity. Humor can be used as a method to reach out to people and helps us bond with others during difficult times, and experience the benefits of laughter as well as sharing your troubles. As they say laughter is the best medicine, we have discussed this in further details later in the book.
What we need to remember for now is that if we can take a step back from difficult situations long enough to maintain our sense of humor, we will be more resilient, too.
It’s often found that resilient people have some form of exercise in their daily routine. During most exercise routines, there are endorphins released which can affect our mood positively, and the physical benefits of exercise are obvious. As we’ve already seen, adding a regular exercise habit to our lifestyle can benefit you in more ways than one.
When we are overburdened by stress, we also become more susceptible to the powers of spirituality and experiencing its positive benefits. Studies have shown that those who are more spiritual tend to be more resilient to stress as well. It’s important to note that if you are not spiritual, you cannot be emotionally resilient or resilient to stress. However, by welcoming the ideas of spirituality such as giving, we are able to have a positive impact on our mood, which can give us more strength to deal with our stress. Remember the concept of E-Capital here. Spirituality and the positive affects adds to your E-Capital, so that you are able to have excess to deal with issues such as overstressing.
It’s also important to note that spirituality itself has a different meaning to different people, and it’s not necessary that you may agree with my ideas of spirituality in the book. You might prefer using means of meditation or yoga to connect with your spiritual side, or you might prefer doing this by taking some quiet time out and strolling the park, or possibly some other method or ritual. Spirituality attained in any way would have positive benefits at the end of the day.
Never Give Up
We might all be already aware of various coping strategies that can help us deal with stress, such as diets or exercise programs. However, what sets the most successful or the most resilient people apart is that they keep their practices and maintain their efforts for the long term. We need to learn to not give up in any situation, instead keep trying to achieve the goal. To do this, you can remember the story of the miner who was looking for a buried treasure. He mined for days and days, but in the end gave up. What he did not realize was that he had almost reached the treasure, he just had to keep working. Don’t miss out on your own treasures by giving up. Trust the process and I’m sure we will be able to overcome our stress so that it does not block our path of living 20 years in 10.
Developing a Plan of Action –
We can take various steps to cope with being overstressed or being under pressure. This section gives some tips that can be useful, but it’s important to remember that different things work for different people. Only try what we feel comfortable with as this is ultimately a personalized recipe for happiness.
IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS
Working out what triggers stress for us can help us anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Even if we can’t avoid some of these situations, being prepared can help us deal with these situations more effectively
What we can do is take some time to reflect on events and feelings that could be contributing to our stress (you could do this on your own or with someone you trust). We could consider:
- Issues that come up regularly, and that we worry about, for example paying a bill or the well-being of a loved one.
- One-off events that are on your mind a lot, such as moving house or taking a long trip.
- Ongoing stressful events, that might be related to our career, relationships or having problems at work.
We might be surprised to find out just how much we’re coping with at once. We need to keep in mind that not having enough activities or work in our life can be just as stressful a situation as having too much work to deal with. When we have nothing to do, we will find ourselves more wary about wasting our time and thinking that we could’ve been using it for something productive.
ORGANISE YOUR TIME
Time is the most important resource that is available to us. Time is also limited, which makes it more important to concentrate on how we’re allocating our time to different activities. This can be seen as the gist of living 20 in 10. Making some adjustments to the way we organise our time could help us feel more in control of any tasks we’re facing, and more able to handle pressure.
- Identify the time of day during which we feel most energetic, and try to focus on doing important tasks during this period. For example, you might find yourself more energetic during daytime and lethargic during noon, or it could be the other way around.
- You can try to prioritize your activities by making a list of things you have to do for the day or the week. You can arrange them in the order of urgency or importance, and then try to complete the activities in order. Each task is then treated as a goal, and every goal that we achieve encourages us to keep working and complete the whole list. We can also apply this in our work environment and even ask our managers to help prioritize the activities. When feeling overstressed, we can push back some of the tasks on the list and instead concentrate on completing the simpler tasks first.
- Vary your activities. We can try to balance mundane or stressful tasks by adding interesting activities in between. This will allow us to do tasks which can potentially cause us stress, with relative ease.
- Try not to do too much at once. If we take up too many activities together, we might find ourselves even stumbling on the easiest ones, due to the pressure of having too many activities to do. We would waste time overthinking and the easier way is to not burden ourselves too much. We can often feel like we have the power to do everything, however it’s best to start with a few activities at first and then see how we are doing.
- Take regular breaks and take things slowly. There’s no harm in rewarding ourselves with a good break after completing every task or any task that causes us stress. It might be difficult to do this when you’re stressed as we might be looking at a timeline or time would be of essence, however it can still make you more productive. Taking breaks revitalizes our energy and we are able to get back to work with full force.
- Ask someone if they can help. For this, we can fall back to our friends or relatives and ask them to help us with any task that we are facing difficulty doing. Even if they are not able to help directly, their insight or words of encouragement can reduce our stress for sometime and provide motivation to continue.
Accept the things you can’t change
Lastly, the key aspect of dealing with stress is accepting things that cannot be changed by us. Self-acceptance is indeed a hard task to achieve. Often we blame God, our parents, our relatives or other causes for ‘the way we are.’ However a lot of times, this is just an excuse that we make up that seems to be a better alternative to facing reality. While I won’t go too deep in this topic, any mistakes made in the past or faults that we had made need to be accepted by us and more importantly, we need to learn to move on. This can be done in many ways. Whenever we find ourselves thinking about the failed task or any of our past mistakes, we can instead refocus our time on any activity that would boost our E-Capital.
We cannot keep beating ourselves over it, instead we need to make a firm decision to accept things the way we are and not read too much into it. Once we begin to accept that we cannot control every event and its outcome, we can stop stressing about it and instead focus our time and energy into something more productive.
Now that we have discussed a few methods to overcome our stress and deal with it, let’s look at something that not only helps us in dealing with stress, but also helps in directly increasing our happiness and has an incredible effect on our physical and emotional health.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
It’s true: laughter is a strong medicine. It attracts people to come together and promotes healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. A few of its benefits include boosting our mood, encouraging positive moments and generation of E-Capital, strengthening our immune system and protecting us from the damaging effects of over-stressing. Humor lightens our burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others and encourages others to do the same, and keeps us grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps us release anger and forgive easily. It’s easier to harsh words to our heart than laughing it off, however the latter would help us in maintaining our relationships better. At the same time, laughing all the time is not what I am suggesting. The importance of this section is to merely stress on the importance of humor and why it cannot be ignored in our recipe.
Laughter has the ability to heal as well as renew. With so much power at its disposal, the ability to laugh easily and frequently can become a huge resource for tackling surmounting problems, strengthening our relationships and boosting our physical and emotional health. To top it off, laughter costs absolutely nothing but its benefits are infinite. However, as we grow older, the moments of laughter seem to be decreasing in most of our cases. You can try to recall the days of your childhood and teenage, which would’ve included many more moments of fun. By seeking out more opportunities for humor and laughter, we can improve our emotional health, strengthen our relationships, find greater happiness—and even add years to our life, which is exactly what the goal is.
To strengthen our confidence more in this age-old remedy, let’s take a look at some of the most important benefits that laughter has, with respect to our main objective.
1. A Free Medicine – Good for our Health
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good laugh not only relieves physical tension and stress, it also can relax our muscles for upto 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter can increase the immune cells in our body as well as decrease the stress hormones that we had talked about earlier. They also promote infection-fighting antibodies, which improves our resistance to disease.
Laughter can trigger the release of endorphins, which is also known as the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. These endorphins can increase our sense of well-being, essentially putting us in a good mood. It can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. By laughing, the function of blood vessels in our body is improved which increases blood flow. This can help protect us against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter burns calories. While it’s no replacement for going to the gym or exercising, studies have found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—while this might not seem like much, it can add up to losing three or four pounds over the year just by laughing.
Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. One of the best uses of laughter is its ability in diffusing anger and conflict. By looking at the funnier side of our problems, we can put them into perspective which enables us to move from confrontations, without being resentful or holding onto bitterness.
Laughter may even help you to live longer. A research conducted in Norway concluded that people with a strong sense of humor or who laugh more, outlived those who didn’t. In the case of this research study, the difference was most notable in the case of patients who were battling cancer. This definitely bodes well for us. While our objective is living 20 years in 10 by enjoying every moment, an increase in our life-span means many more moments of joy and happiness.
Physical health benefits
|Boosts immunityLowers stress hormonesDecreases painRelaxes your musclesPrevents heart disease |
Mental health benefits
|Adds joy and zest to lifeEases anxiety and tensionRelieves stressImproves moodStrengthens resilience|
|Strengthens relationshipsAttracts others to usEnhances teamworkHelps defuse conflictPromotes group bonding|
2. A Free Therapy – Boosting our Emotional Health
Laughter makes us feel good. Even after the laughter subsides, the positive effect it has lingers on. With a little bit of humor in our lives, we can become more optimistic, resilient and positive. It can also help us get through disappointments, difficult situations and loss.
More than a temporary relief from pain or sadness, laughter can give us the strength and courage to venture out and explore new sources of meaning and hope. Even in our most difficult times, a laugh or a simple smile can go a long way in turning the tables. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter primes our brain and readies us to smile and join in the fun.
The link between laughter and mental health
Laughter stops distressing emotions. When we are laughing, other emotions such as anxiety, anger or sadness are diluted and we can’t feel these emotions.
Laughter helps us relax and recharge. By increasing our energy and reducing stress, we are able to stay more focused and accomplish more goals.
Laughter shifts perspective, which allows us to see situations more realistically or in a less negative light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help us avoid feeling overwhelmed and diffuse conflict.
Laughter draws us closer to others, which can have a profound effect on all aspects of your mental and emotional health.
Laughter brings people together and strengthens relationships
Often when watching a sitcom we can hear the prompted laughs of an audience in the background. The reason for this is simple: laughter is contagious. It’s more likely for us to laugh around other people, rather than when we are alone. This also enables us to seek out people that we can share laughs with. We will often tell our friends the hilarious incidents that we might have encountered, so that everyone can laugh. By bringing more laughter in our life, we will not only feel more happy ourselves, instead we would be promoting it with the people we interact with.
Sharing humor includes half of the fun- in most cases laughter comes from being with family and friends, instead of hearing jokes. It’s this social nature of laughter that makes it so important and beneficial to our health. We can’t enjoy a laugh with other people unless we take the time to really engage with them. When we care about someone enough to switch off our phone and really connect face to face, what we’re doing is putting brakes on defensive stress responses, such as the “fight or flight” response. And if we share a laugh as well, we’ll both feel happier, more positive, and more relaxed—even if we’re unable to alter a stressful situation.
How laughing together can strengthen relationships
By sharing laughter within our relationships, we can keep them more fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing provides the foundation for a strong and lasting bond in the relationship. Moreover, laughter also adds vitality and resilience. Laughter unites people during difficult times.
Humor triggers positive feelings and emotional connections in a relationship, which in turn makes the relationship more stronger. A positive bond is automatically created by sharing a laugh with someone. During disagreements and disappointments, it’s this strong bond that acts as a strong buffer. Humor and laughter in relationships allows us to:
Be more spontaneous. Humor helps us to forget our troubles and can allow us to be more spontaneous by not overthinking.
Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps us forget resentments, judgments, criticisms, and doubts.
Release inhibitions. Our fear of holding back is pushed aside.
Express our true feelings. Emotions that we feel deeply are brought to surface through humor or laughter.
Using Humor to resolve tensions.
When emotions are running high, laughter can be a powerful tool to help us manage the conflict and reduce tension. We had discussed that we need to treat relationships like a bank, wherein we cannot make a withdrawal before making deposits. With all our relationships, we can use humor to smooth over disagreements and communicate in a way that promotes a strong bond in the relationship rather than breaking it down.
How to bring more laughter into your life
We often forget that we have the right to laugh, it’s a natural part of our life that has been with us since the time we were born. Infants can be seen smiling during the first weeks of their life, and they are able to laugh within the first months of their birth. Even if our childhood did not have that much laughter, we can learn to laugh at any stage of our life – there is no age-limit to laughing.
To seek out our moments of laughter and humor, we can begin by setting aside some time during our week for activities that would promote humor, such as getting together with friends or calling them up or any other activity of your choice. You can think of it as an exercise for your mind. Once we get into the habit of laughing, we will be able to incorporate humor with every aspect of our life, finding it naturally in most things.
Here are some ways to start:
Smile. Every laugh begins with a smile, and eventually erupts. Similar to laughing, smiling is also equally contagious. We can practice smiling consciously by simply being aware of our surroundings. There are many beautiful things in nature or around us. would make us smile. Whenever we find something pleasing, simply smile. To do this, we need to spend less time looking at our phones, and start living our life more in the moment. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have to travel further to reach humor and laughter.
When we hear laughter, move toward it. We will often find a joke being passed around in a small group or somebody laughing in our surroundings. We often feel like the joke is private to the small group, and this might be the case sometimes. However, more often than not, people want to share the funny moments so that they themselves have the opportunity to laugh again. It’s a natural instinct within us to share a funny incident. So what we can do is try to get more involved and whenever we have the opportunity to seek out laughter, we should pursue it. Simply ask, “What’s funny?”
Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find humor in everyday events. While being with such people, you’ll find that their playfulness and laughter becomes contagious. Even if we consider ourselves serious or not as lighthearted as others, we can still seek out people who like to laugh and make others laugh. Every comedian appreciates an audience.
I’m sure by now we would be wondering, what happens if we are not able to find these funny people, or if we don’t consider ourselves humorous. What happens when we can’t find the fun? In such cases, we can treat laughter simply as a medication. We’re not especially fond of medications, we just take it cause we have to. Simulating laughter, even without experiencing anything to trigger it – can be just as beneficial as really laughing. There is also research done to support the benefits of simulated laughter. Simulating laughter can even make our exercise routine more ‘fun’ and productive. A study done by Georgia State University concluded that incorporating bouts of simulated laughter into an exercise program can help improve older adults’ mental health as well as their aerobic endurance. Moreover, hearing others laugh, even if they are doing it for no reason, can often trigger genuine laughter. So it’s still contagious, and still beneficial. If you feel like you don’t have enough opportunities to laugh, try simulated laughter instead. Simulated laughter is also part of laugh yoga or laugh therapy groups – if you’re wondering where you can get involved with simulated laughter.
Another way simulated laughter can work is laughing at other people’s jokes, even if we don’t find them funny. While the simulated laughter would be beneficial for you, the person telling the joke will also feel good and it can strengthen the relationship. It might also lead to genuine moments of spontaneous laughter.
Creating opportunities to laugh
- We can invite our friends or co-workers for comedy clubs or casual get-togethers
- Read the funny pages.
- Seek out funny people.
- Share a funny story or joke.
- Check out your bookstore’s humor section.
- Host game night with friends.
- Play with a pet.
- Go to a “laughter yoga” class.
- Goof around with children.
- Do something silly.
- Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke).
Tips for developing your sense of humor
An essential ingredient for developing our sense of humor is to learn not to take ourselves too seriously and laugh at our own mistakes and foibles. We all do things that can be considered foolish or impulsive. We need to embrace our perfections instead. While some events in life can be sad and not an opportunity for humor, most events don’t carry an overwhelming sense of sadness or delight. Most events in our life fall into a gray zone- therefore we have the choice whether to laugh or not. Naturally, we should choose to laugh whenever we can. How to develop your sense of humor
Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. Attempt to laugh at situations rather than allowing them to agonize you. Looking for humor in a bad situation can uncover the irony and absurdity of life, which can make way for a good laugh. This is not to say that we should just keep laughing when anything negative happens, however I’m sure we would be able to find negative moments where laughing was appropriate and helped diffuse the situation.
Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. This reminder can be anything, such as a toy on your desk or car, or you could put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh or we could frame photos with family and friends of moments that remind us of the fun times.
Remember the funny things that happen. You can make a mental note of anything amusing that happens to you or if you hear a joke. You can then tell someone the joke to relive the moment and share the joy.
Don’t dwell on the negative. As we have discussed, dwelling on negative events will only pull us down. This is time that can be better spent elsewhere. Also we need to make an attempt to avoid negative people or possible conversions that make us unhappy. We need to understand that many things in life can be beyond our control—particularly the behavior of other people. Carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders is unrealistic and also unhealthy in the long run. We need to let go.
Find your inner child. We need to bring out our inner child – after all, children are the experts on playing, taking light lightly and laughing at the most ordinary things.
Don’t go a day without laughing. Similar to our daily exercise or breakfast, we need to take time and make conscious efforts to find something each day that can make us laugh. By setting aside 10 to 15 minutes and doing something that amuses us, we will slowly get in the habit of incorporating laughter and humor into our lives. Soon we’ll find that we have to make less effort each day to find moments of laughter or humor.
Using humor to enhance your life
By laughing, playing and having fun, not only are we making our lives more enjoyable, it also helps us in solving problems, connecting with others and thinking more creatively. When we begin to incorporate humor into our daily lives, we’ll find that it also renews a lot of our relationships and makes them more exciting and enjoyable. .
Life will often test us by bringing challenges that can either best us or become negative stimuli for our imagination. When we only think about these problems, it can be hard for our mind to think outside the box and look for a solution. When we begin playing with the problem or issue that we are facing, we can see that it transforms into an opportunity for creative learning.
Now that we have learnt more about stress, how to overcome it and about the secret elixir that is laughter, let’s get back on track to know more about happiness and what makes you, specifically, happy.
Chapter 6 – What Makes You Happy?
Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.
While the ultimate goal is living 20 in 10, Happiness lies at the centre of it and it’s the means that we need to use to reach our goal. Happiness can be seen as the universal feeling that we all want to experience all the time, yet at times we are overcome with anger or depression. We all want to experience more happiness, yet often we would find ourselves being angry, moody or depressed. The science of happiness says that being happy is indeed a choice that everyone has. If we’re still struggling to make lemonade when life hands you lemons, maybe we just need a little motivation to boost us.
A huge reason why we steer ourselves away from this path is because a lot of the times we feel like we don’t deserve to be happy, or maybe being happy is overrated or just difficult. So let’s take a look at a few reasons why we should be happy right now.
1. If not for yourself – Do it for others.
We already have some idea of who are the most important people in our life. To determine this, you can look back to the activity that we had tried earlier and draw concentric circles in your mind. Chances are, you’d do anything for the people that are the closest to you and on whom you trust the most. If we’re looking for a reason to be happy, this is the place to start. No matter how bad life gets, there will always be someone who loves us unconditionally. Do you think your loved ones would want to see you unhappy or troubled? Of course they don’t. So we need to choose happiness for the people who love us. It will make our relationships much more enjoyable.
2. Life is Unpredictable.
The thing about life is it’s completely unpredictable. We could wake up tomorrow and find that we have lost our job, lost somebody we loved or that we have a life-threatening disease. The point is, we never know and there’s no way to know for sure what the future holds for us. So we shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to be happy. We have precious little time left and we need to get started right away. Choose happiness today and enjoy every single moment we have – this should be the decision that we should be taking now.
3. Happy people are more productive.
You can try to imagine two different people. One who is optimistic, happy and focused on their goal, while the other person uses their energy to complain, and constantly vents out their anger and blames themselves for failing. Who do you think gets more accomplished on an average day? Happier people tend to be more productive and are more likely to accomplish their goals than unhappy people, mostly because they don’t dwell on the negative aspects of life and view life with optimism.
4. The world needs more happy people.
Every week we hear about a new tragedy that has left humanity in grief. We live in a world where war, violence, poverty and destruction seem inevitable. However, as it happens in the movies, in real life too, good always trumps evil. The actions of one happy person can have a butterfly effect, which might not be apparent at first. Slowly yet surely happiness can spread throughout the world. What I’m trying to convey is that the world needs more happier people, if we ever want to reach the image of a ‘perfect’ world where there is no violence or sadness. So we need to be the change sd wish to create and choose happiness for the greater good.
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
5. You’re alive.
No matter how unhappy, sad or tired we are, there’s one thing we can still be grateful for and that’s the fact that we’re still here and alive. People that we love might leave us unexpectedly anytime. Imagine today was your last day on earth, what would we doing and how would we spend our time? what If we take a moment to think about this, we would realize that there is no answer in which we would spend our last day brooding or being sad about the things that we don’t have. Instead, we would make an effort to spend time with those we love most, to relax, laugh and live. So one way to achieve our goal of living 20 in 10 could be by imagining this is our last day on earth, which can be an interesting experiment.
6. Happy people have better relationships.
Surveys have found that married people tend to be happier than single or unmarried people. That doesn’t mean we need to be married to attain happiness. What it means is that when we choose to be happy, we’re more likely to have better work relationships and better relationships with friends, family members, and other loved ones.
7. Happy people are healthier.
Here’s another reason for why we should be happy right now, and this one is also backed up by scientific studies: research shows that there is a direct relation between health and happiness. We can also see this in the research that we had seen earlier by Susan Pinker. Happier people often take better care of themselves, for example, by eating healthier food or exercising more often. All this adds up to a healthier lifestyle and longer life span, and also enjoying the most of our lives.
Now that we know of a few reasons why we should be happy, we can move onto the next stage of brewing our own recipe of happiness. You can recall the Happiness List that we had talked about earlier, which mainly included attributes that could make us happy such as Self-awareness, Giving, Resilience, etc. However, there are other general ways to obtain Happiness. In the next section, we’ll take a look at some broad definitions of Happiness and ways to achieve our goal. The idea is to help you use this information in your own recipe of Happiness.
Other Definitions Of Happiness.
There might be innumerable definitions of happiness, and there is no definition which can be stated as the correct definition. This is because what happiness is depends a lot on our perspective. However, making an effort to define happiness, researchers and philosophers developed the two key conceptualisations of happiness. Defining happiness is no small task, but philosophers and researchers have drilled the notion down to two key conceptualizations. These are namely, hedonia and eudaimonia. Together, these conceptualizations represent the two long-running traditions in the study of happiness that can be traced back to times of ancient philosophers. (Ryan & Deci, 2001).
Happiness as hedonia
Let’s begin by taking a look at the first conceptualization of happiness – Hedonia. In the Hedonic perspective of happiness, it’s argued that life’s ultimate goal is to experience the least amount of pain and maximum amount of pleasure. According to this conceptualization, the measure of one’s happiness boiled down to their sum of ‘hedonic moments’.
For measuring hedonic happiness, modern psychologists often use assessments of Subjective Wellbeing (SWB). Subjective Wellbeing is the term that is used to determine happiness and overall satisfaction with life. For SWB assessments, self-report surveys serve as the main source of information to assess happiness of individuals. These scales are often validated with other types of measures.
Previously, hedonism was said to have a narrow point of view, wherein happiness was determined in terms of pleasure and pain. Bodily sensations, appetites and self-interests were at the centre of hedonic assessments by previous philosophers. Examples of such forms of hedonia include eating tasty food, enjoying physical relationships, and being free of physical discomfort.
Nowadays, psychologists have adopted a much broader view when it comes to hedonism. Now, pleasures of the mind also are included in the hedonic assessments, as opposed to the sole measure of physical body that was done previously. (Kahneman, 1999).
In this broader view of hedonic pleasures, it’s argued that happiness also comes from behaviors that promote mental stimulation, feelings of social connectedness, positive mood, stress relief, etc. (Arnold & Reynolds, 2003).
The expansion of the hedonic pleasures also resulted in its studies with respect to fields such as economics and finance. For instance, now hedonic conceptualizations of happiness can be used to understand how shoppers make decisions between the goods they purchase, estimating how much utility they would gain by consuming one product over the other. The term marginal utility is a popular term in economics. (Babin, Darden & Griffin, 1994).
Happiness as Eudaimonia
Moving towards the second conceptualization of happiness – Eudaimonia argues that true happiness can be found only when one behaves morally or virtuously. Therefore pursuing eudaimonia represents pursuing something that is worth doing.
To understand the term better, we can think about the eudaimonic perspective being related to reaching your full potential and living in congruence with one’s principles and morals. It includes developing ourselves and our talents, as well as strengthening relationships with the ones that we love. According to the eudaimonic perspective, living this way would allow us to feel deeply engaged with ourselves and fully alive. (Waterman, 1993).
When it comes to measuring eudaimonic happiness, most researchers tend to use Ryff and Keyes’ (1995) multidimensional scales of psychological well being.
Contradicting the hedonic view, according to the eudaimonic perspective, happiness cannot be measured by pleasures of body and mind. This is because something that is pleasurable, might not always be the thing that is worth doing, according to one’s principles or morals. For example, volunteering for a cause that one feels deeply about might not be included in the hedonic perspective of happiness, as this activity might not be pleasurable to the body or mind. This is because volunteering could include spending many hours and working hard, as well as dealing with challenges and people. However, volunteering would be included in the eudaimonic perspective of happiness, as the activity is congruent with the person’s values and virtues.
An interesting fact to note is that the philosophers who did adopt the eudaimonic perspective, denounced hedonic views as vulgar and self-centered. So it can be said that both these views are opposite of each other, even though both are supposed to be a definition and measure of happiness. For instance, Aristotle believed that hedonic happiness would turn humans into slaves of worldly desires, which were not important.
Spiritual conceptualizations of happiness
Today, a third perspective of happiness has emerged and it would be interesting to learn a bit about this definition of happiness, which is a little different from the previous definitions that we have discussed. While the previous perspectives considered happiness as something that needs to be pursued, the spiritual perspective of happiness argues that happiness is a form of inner peace, which is available to us at any given moment.
According to Sam Harris, a successful neuroscientist and mindfulness practitioner, most of us spend our time in seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the purpose for our search. According to him, all of us are looking for a path to get back to the present: where we can find good enough reasons to be satisfied now. Acknowledging that all our attempts at happiness include feeling happy in every moment is how we can change the way of how we look at happiness.
How much attention we pay to the present would determine the character of our experience, and therefore the quality of our life.
– Sam Harris, Waking Up, p. 3
The mindfulness-based perspectives on contentment have traditionally been affiliated to eastern religions. These traditions bring the view that one’s desires or pleasures (hedonia) or pursuing a self-actualized sense of morals (eudaimonia) have nothing to do with happiness; instead its source is psychological wellbeing.
In this perspective of contentment, happiness is achieved by being aware of the present moment and self-transcendence. In other words, the mindfulness perspective of happiness suggests that we should give up the pursuit of happiness through morals or pleasures, and instead find contentment in what is happening around us.
A rapidly growing body of neuroscientific and psychological evidence has emerged to support the claims made by this perspective (Hanson, 2009), pointing us toward another avenue for cultivating sustainable happiness.
Overall, happiness is likely to appear differently for different people. As an individual, we might find the most value in considering how these three perspectives affect us, and from there begin the first step of cultivating happiness.
Ways to Find Happiness
Going back to the Happiness List, we had seen attributes that we need to hold closely to pursue Happiness or become happier. Next, let’s consider a few different sources of happiness that we can leverage today to find joy in our own life. In the following sections, we can explore ways to find happiness, according to all three perspectives of happiness that we had discussed earlier.
Finding happiness through neurotransmitters
In this approach, the main focus is given on attaining contentment through the hedonic perspective of happiness. Hedonic happiness is directly related to the neurotransmitters in our body associated with pleasure. There are numerous transmitters which affect our happiness. The most important ones though, and the ones that we can focus on are: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
Dopamine, which is also commonly known as the “feel-good” hormone, is one of the most important neurotransmitters, which is directly associated with pleasure. It can be considered as part of our brain’s reward system. There are many ways to trigger dopamine in our system. A few of these include: exercising, keeping a healthy diet, having sufficient sleep, meditating, etc
Next is serotonin, which is the hormone that has the most effect on our mood. Serotonin can be secreted by many of the same activities that are responsible for the dopamine being produced in our body, such as getting regular sleep, exercise, maintaining a diet, etc.
Third is oxytocin, which is most commonly associated with love and bonding. Oxytocin is usually released through physical stimuli, such as cuddling, hugs or even spending time with others can result in oxytocin being released.
The final neurotransmitters to consider are endorphins.These hormones reduce physical pain and are also part of our body’s natural reward system. To produce more endorphins, the most effective way is to exercise more and engage in other activities which might be considered ‘good behaviors’, such as demonstrating acts of kindness. (Breuning, 2015). Other ways of secreting endorphins include consuming cocoa or dark chocolate, which naturally lead to the production of endorphins in our brain.(Ottley, 2000).
Finding happiness through real goods
Moving on from neurotransmitters, we can look at a way of achieving contentment, in the eudaimonic sense. Finding happiness through real goods require us to learn what real goods mean. It does not mean actual goods, instead it’s a reference to Aristotle’s definition of ‘real’ goods. He defined real goods as basic necessities required for our well-being and development. An example of real good could be the need for warmth through clothes, or nourishment through food. Real goods satisfy the natural needs of our bodies. (Moss, 2012). This can be seen as the basic needs that we had seen in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Love, arts, music and literature are also part of the real goods, and are considered as the “goods of the soul.” These can be compared to the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which included needs for self-fulfillment and self-esteem. Without these goods, it is said to be hard to achieve eudaimonic happiness.
For instance, without goods such as shelter, we won’t be able to gain any rest, which would lead to lack of energy to develop any new talents, such as painting. Nor would we be able to gain this talent without exposure to other sources of inspiration, such as other artists’ work or cultural influences.
To sum up, we can conclude that Aristotle’s principles regarding real goods provide two means for improving happiness –
The first way to become happier is by securing our basic needs, such as health and wellbeing. This also includes eating well, taking care of our body, having a stable income to satisfy our wants and getting regular sleep.
Secondly, we need to surround ourselves in an environment that would bring out our best qualities or attitude. For example, we can surround ourselves with good company, knowledge and cultures.
Finding happiness through gratitude
Gratitude is the common ground between the eudaimonic and mindfulness-based perspectives of happiness. There are a few ways through which we can practice gratitude. One simple practice includes taking a moment at the end of our day and looking back on one event that happened for which you were grateful. Another method for practicing gratitude can include sending out thoughtful messages to someone that we care about.
Finding happiness through flow
Looking at another method of becoming happier, there are activities that brings out the experience of flow, which is also known as “being in the zone.”
In an interview, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the researcher credited with having popularized the concept of flow, explained that those in a state of flow are involved in any activity for its own sake. There is no ego when completing these activities, instead every action, moment and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Our whole being is involved, and we’re using our skills to the maximum potential.
A few activities that can generate flow include games, sports, cooking, dancing, artistic pursuits, gardening, etc.
Most flow experiences include an optimal level of challenge which enables us to develop our talents to the fullest. Therefore, the experience of flow is a key practice in the eudaimonic perspective of contentment.
Finding happiness by living into our values
Studies have found that when we make intentional efforts to live lives according to the values that we have chosen to follow, this can bolster our happiness or provide a buffer against unhappiness.
For clarity, we can define values as our beliefs on what is considered desirable. Examples of values include creativity, being respectful or fair, freedom, etc.
Values are the central theme in understanding how we can achieve eudaimonic happiness. As we had discussed, the eudaimonic perspective of happiness involves engaging in activities that are worth doing. To know what we can consider as worth doing, we must first understand which actions generate outcomes that are in line with our own values. To begin this process, a prerequisite is looking closely and establishing a set of values that we intend to follow. There are various useful exercises that have been developed by scientists and practitioners to help individuals discover their core values.
Once we have established which values we believe in or choose to pursue, we can initiate to take steps for finding happiness through our values.
As an example, if we discover that one of the values that we believe deeply in is growth – we might then begin considering different ways to enact this value in our day-to-day life.
There are various studies which prove the alignment between our values and professional pursuit plays an important role in determining our overall happiness.
This leads to the emergence of research on job crafting, which includes altering one’s work to better align it with our own preferences. Therefore, this leads to the facilitation of hiring practices which support a good fit between the person and the job. The link between values and incorporating them into our professional life is something that is being further researched by organization leaders and HR professionals, so that they can recruit a happier staff or keep their existing staff satisfied by allocating jobs appropriately.
Finding happiness through needs satisfaction
A prominent theory of happiness poses that in order to be happy, we must first engage in behaviors that satisfying our core human needs:
- the need for being competent (feeling effective);
- the need for more autonomy (feeling of being in control of our behavior); and
- the need for emotional relatedness (being understood and feeling cared for by other people.)
Finding happiness through satisfaction of our needs falls under the eudaimonic conceptualization of happiness. Satisfaction of our needs promotes a long-term effort for being happy rather than just temporary pleasure, as defined in the hedonic conceptualization.
There is a simple assessment which can determine the extent to which our core needs have been satisfied, called the 21-item Basic Needs Satisfaction in General Scale.
After we have completed this assessment, we can try to calculate our total score by checking the score for each core need that was satisfied. This also helps us to identify areas that require growth. Identifying this area of growth is the first step towards becoming happier, according to the eudaimonic perspective of happiness. ,
For example, if we discover that the need for competence was the least-scored in the assessment, we might consider engaging in work or hobbies that better utilize our skills, enabling us to become more competent through daily activities.
Finding happiness through mindfulness
Finally, and at the core of the mindfulness-based approach to finding happiness is the practice of mindfulness itself. What this means is bringing our attention to internal and external experiences which occur in the present moment, such as being aware of our sensations, thoughts, and emotions.
The practice of mindfulness functions to better understand feelings and motivations. It allows us to train our capacity for attention and relaxation, and free our mind from overidentification with negative emotions and thoughts.
One way of practicing mindfulness techniques is regular meditation, as it best allows us to be aware of the present. There are also other approaches such as yoga and journaling, which can be tried as well.
No matter how we practice mindfulness, the aim is typically for the practice’s benefits to spill over into our experience of day-to-day experiences and consciousness, enabling us to return to states of mindful awareness throughout our day and not be at the whim of negative thoughts and emotions.
So far most of the ideas in the book were from my own life experience. It would be best to take a look at what some other people, who have dwelled into research of Happiness, have to say regarding the concept of Happiness and how it can be attained.
“Happiness isn’t something you feel. It’s something you do.”
Nataly Kogan, who is the CEO of the learning platform – Happier described how her idea of happiness changed as she grew older. When she came to U.S. at the age of 13, she had to undergo really difficult times, especially having emigrated from Russia with her family. She recalls being overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt. However, for her, she found that was happy whenever she achieved something or completed a task. Therefore, she decided that her achievements would be her path to happiness. So she naturally set her goals in a similar way – goals were made up of getting into a good college, moving to a big city, getting settled and so on. She kept pushing herself for the sake of her achievements, however something seemed out of place. As she describes it, one day she stumbled onto a research for gratitude and the effect it can have on happiness. The research included stating these we were grateful for, everyday. While she dismissed the idea at first, her experience after practicing this habit for 30 days was completely different. She found her attitude changing from day 1 itself, wherein she involved her husband and daughter and told them what she was grateful for, every day. She would say thank you to them atleast once. What happens when we force to think ourselves of something to be grateful about is that we actually start putting emphasis on the little things that bring us joy. Nataly remembers recalling things to be grateful about such as the moments when her daughter ran up to her and hugged her innocently or noticing the flowers that lit up her own house. Even when driving to work she would be grateful for days when there would be minimal traffic wherein she could enjoy the commute.
She is now author of the book, Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones).
She realized that her initial pursuit of happiness through her achievements did not actually make her happy, instead it put more stress on her. Once she began practicing gratitude, she could focus on the present and cherish little moments of happiness, instead of relating happiness with success and achievements. She realized that happiness is not something that can be felt, but is something that needs to be done. She says that we don’t have to earn happiness, or be “good enough” to experience. We just have to practice being happy.
“Winning the lottery won’t make you happy indefinitely.”
Moving on to the next experience, Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research institute emphasises that while money matters, with money alone we cannot become happier. Money might contribute to our happiness as first as our basic needs get satisfied. However, once all our basic needs are met, an increase in our income would follow the theory of diminishing returns, which we might have learnt about in Economics. According to this theory, with more money the amount of satisfaction that one receives keeps decreasing. There is an inversely proportional relationship between the two. If you’re already rich or decently well off, more money won’t make a difference. Drawing from his findings, he states that in happiness research there is something known as the “set-point theory.” This theory states that an increase in someone’s happiness, such as if an individual were to win the lottery tomorrow, would return to its baseline after some time. The purpose of this theory is to teach us that we should learn to enjoy the journey, instead of being in a rush to reach the destination. He stresses that we should remove the illusion from our mind that there is any one thing that would make us permanently happy.
“Being happy is more than satisfying your impulses.”
If we were to ask a neuroscientist about happiness, they might respond that it’s nothing more than a chemical reaction and an electric process that is carried out in our brain. Ellen Petry Leanse, author of the book: The Happiness Hack: How to Take Charge of Your Brain and Program More Happiness into Your Life does not completely agree with this view point on happiness. According to her, it’s important to remain curious about possibilities beyond what science might be able to prove. Talking about timeless happiness, she correlates it with relationships, contribution and mastery. According to her, relationships include a feeling of belonging and connection, where we can be seen as who we really are. Giving an example, she mentions how tribes in South Africa traditionally greet each other by saying “Sawabona”, which roughly translates to, “I see you.” The response received is “Sikhona”, or “I’m here.” Contribution according to her includes offering something unique to the world that would make a difference to others. By mastery she is referring to always working on improving ourselves and striving to become better versions of ourselves. She also places emphasis on the relationship of happiness and reflection of our actions and recommends making time to quiet our mind and evaluate where we are in our lives. She encourages saying yes to things that strengthen our relationships or make some contribution to the world, in order to become happier. Mastering new skills should take priority over merely satisfying our impulses. She recommends spending less time looking at phone or TV screens, instead she encourages spending more time in nature, with people we care about or just ourselves. According to Ellen, when we start doing more than just what our brain is telling us to do, we’ll be able to find more satisfaction in our lives.
“We can find happiness at work.”
Promoting quality of relationships as the number one factor of our happiness, Scott Crabtree – the founder of Happy Brain Science, he comments that often we misunderstand that relationships can only be handled at home. He recollects how he used to have the same misunderstanding, and that he used to consider making friends at work as a worthless task. Reminiscing back on his old-self, he states he understands now that his mentality might have been short-sighted. Now he promotes making relationships at work or wherever possible. If we’re working full-time, we spend more time with colleagues than anyone else. So we should try to invest in these relationships by getting face-to-face and having real conversations. He talks about “mirror neurons” which are present in our brain, which make emotions such as laughter, anger, happiness and unhappiness contagious. So it’s important to keep a check on our own behavior in workplaces, because we might receive the same behavior back from our co-workers. According to Scott, we all have some effect on each other, and there is also research that proves that we might not just affect our colleague, but our colleague’s colleague as well. Practicing forgiveness and kindness are some of the exercises that Scott recommends, along with celebrating our success with others to strengthen relationships. He places utmost importance on the relationships that a person has to determine how happy the person is and how satisfied they are with their lives. Solidifying our bond with others is the key to happiness, according to him.
“Don’t chase happiness—look for meaning instead.”
Referring to the traditional perspectives of Happiness that we had discussed earlier, Emily Eshfani Smith supports the concepts put forth in Eudaimonia saying that Aristotle in his philosophies was referring to “flourishing” when he said “happiness”
Continuing on the same trail of thought, the author of the book: Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness states that flourishing is living a virtuous life, where we pursue excellence in all aspects of our life, such as work, relationships and contribution to community. According to Emily, doing these things might not make us feel happy all the time, as excellence comes with its own hard work. However, she gives the example of being a parent or a leader, which also involves considerable effort on our part. By excelling in these roles, we automatically attain a sense of fulfillment and pride, which can make us happy. The key point that is stressed on by Emily is not to pursue happiness directly, instead to pursue a meaningful life, where we can have an impact on others. According to her, when we pursue eudaimonia, we end up[ with a greater sense of well-being by being healthier and living a meaningful life. She has also supported many research studies which prove that people following eudaimonia can live longer.
Addressing the million dollar question of what constitutes a meaningful life, she states that one of the key aspects of leading a meaningful life is transcendence- she defines transcendence as the rare moments that we might have experiences wherein we feel connected to a higher reality. This could happen anywhere, maybe when we are on a vacation, or meditating, or praying. She believes in the power of these transcendent changes to have an impact on us, which can change us for better.
“To be happy, be brave.”
Talking about her former job, Courtenay Hameister recalls her days hosting a nationally syndicated radio show – Life Wire! According to her, she was living a dream. She was paid to write humorous content, she met interesting people and actually had fans who adored her and the show. However, she also goes onto mention how she used to dread the time between her shows, always worrying about how she would perform or how the show would do. She used to be filled with anxiety during this period. She continued to work with the radio for almost a decade, when an incident changed her life. On the night before her ninth-anniversary show, she suffered a massive anxiety attack which did not seem to go away at all. The ordeal went on for two days. The show had brought her success and people who loved her. This is why it took her longer to realize how miserable it was actually making her. She considers the anxiety attack world’s most unpleasant wake-up call. Even after the attack, it took her some time to let the hosting job go. What she wants to illustrate is that she had everything that most people would want – money, fame and success. However the moment she gave herself more importance rather than these things, she felt a change in her body, as if she was free. She talks more about her learnings in her book, Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went from Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things.
Talking about her experience with happiness, she confesses that she wasn’t immediately happy after quitting her job. In fact, quitting her job initially sent her spiralling, wondering what she would now do with her life. During this period, she started writing on her Okay Fine Whatever Project. It was an experiment that she had decided to do – she wanted to train her brain to think that everything was going to be okay by doing things that scared her initially and then writing about them. Instead of concentrating on the terrifying aspect of things when confronted with something new, she instead took the approach of converting the event that terrified her into an event that interested her. By doing this, she started feeling a difference in herself.
When asked if she feels like there is a link between bravery and happiness, she replied that there definitely is a very strong link between them. She considers regret and complacency as our enemies, and that the only reason we turn towards regret or complacency is due to fear.
According to Courtenay, bravery can be a daunting word in the sense that there is an image in our head that we are overcoming a huge task. Instead, she thinks there should’ve been a word for tiny “bravieries” as well, such as trying to make a new friend as an adult or telling somebody that you like them. These might not be the things that net us medals or plaques, however at the end of the day Courtenay feels like it’s these tiny braveries that define if we have a life worth living.
According to her, people striving for the ideal definition of happiness might surprisingly encounter more unhappiness. Instead, what we should strive for is a healthy mind and body, a sense of purpose and the ability to cherish our relationships without any fear. For her, this is the path to true contentment, though she says that also loves a good, strong cheddar.
The purpose of going through experiences of others is to provide some outlook on what others, who have faced a lot in their lives and have a lot of experience, feel is the way to become happier. We may or may not agree with the ideas of happiness and the methods to pursue them. Remember though, this is your personal recipe, so it needs to have the ingredients that you like.