When I graduated from Massage Therapy College and started my full-time job, I remember asking myself, is this it? What’s next? After graduating from high school while juggling my gymnastics career, 4 years of university and 2 years of private collage, I thought at the end of it all I would be happy! Yes I was relieved I no longer had to go to school and I had become a Health Care Professional, but the celebration was short lived. Soon I found myself striving to work harder as a Massage Therapist so I could earn a greater income. The problem was no matter what I did, success always seemed one step away, and I was depending on my success to be happy! When would I truly be happy?
As a young gymnast with an Olympic dream, I was taught that the harder I worked the more successful I would be; if I worked hard enough I would go to the Olympics and be happy making all the effort and sacrifice worth it. When I missed making the Olympic team by only a few spots I felt like a failure and incredibly disappointed that I had sacrificed my childhood for a dream I never realized. The race for success continued into my adult life as I continually set goals for myself, hoping that would bring me happiness. But it seemed the harder I worked, the more I sacrificed my present enjoyment, hoping that I would be happy in the future. As long as I believed in no pain, no gain, all I got was no happy!
I refer to this period in my life as’ always striving and never thriving’. Tal Ben-Shahar, author of ‘Happier’ would classify me as A Rat Racer. Someone who lives in the hope for being happy in the future, and yet is unable to enjoy the here-and-now. The science of happiness explains that when I was waiting to be happy until I successfully completed a goal, the brain automatically prevents me from reaching happiness because the brain measures the achieved success, then changes the goal! I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who believes that we have to be successful in order to be happy. Well as it turns out, we have the happiness formula backwards!
Shawn Achor studied the science of happiness at Harvard University and discovered that we commonly assume that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels. He found that in reality only 10% of long term happiness is determined by our external world. 90% of long term happiness is based on the way our brain processes the external world. So this means that our happiness is determined by the lens from which we see the world. It’s a matter of perspective!
Shawn Achor explains that if we can raise the level of positivity in the present moment, the brain experiences what he calls ‘A Happiness Advantage’. When the brain is happy, it performs significantly better than it does when its negative, neutral or stressed. A happy brain increases intelligence, creativity and energy levels and every single business outcome improves. When the brain is positive, people are 31% more productive and 37% better at sales. Studies in the science of happiness found that only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ and 75% of job success is predicted by optimism levels, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.
So if happiness comes before success, the next step is to re-wire our brains by training them to become more positive, just like I trained my body to do gymnastics. Practicing positivity 2 minutes a day for 21 days in a row is the key to creating lasting positive change.
We can do this through 5 practices:
GRATITUDE – Stating 3 things we are grateful for, every day for 21 days. This will re-wire the brain to scan the world for positive things.
JOURNAL – Journaling 1 positive experience over the last 24 hours allows the brain to re-live it.
EXERCISE – Exercise teaches our brains that our behaviour matters, and releases happy hormones into our system, like Dopamine, which turns on the learning centers in the brain.
MEDITATION – Meditation helps us get over our cultural ADHD and trying to do several tasks at once, and teaches us how to focus.
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS – We can do this in many ways, Shawn Achor suggests writing one email a day thanking someone in our social support system. But this could be as simple as noticing a stranger needing help opening a door, or helping an elderly person across the street.
Our family has dinner together most nights and we have a ritual where we share 2 things we are grateful for, one thing we were good at that day, and one thing we are looking forward to. The kids love this process and are the ones who initiate it at meal time. My next step is to in corporate these 5 steps to lasting positive change and practice happiness in order to achieve success!
What I’m really excited about is as we train our brains for more positivity and practice happiness in order to experience more success in our own lives, we will create a ripple effect and contribute to the happiness revolution!
Jen Newman is a former Elite Canadian Gymnast and after missing qualifying for the 1992 Olympics by only a few spots, she has been on a personal journey to fall in love with her imperfections and find true inner happiness. She is a Health and Business Coach, Registered Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher, but is mostly proud to call herself a ‘Happiness Practitioner’.
Jen founded HAPPITUDE as a forum to cultivate healthy habits for a happy life. HAPPITUDE is based on the science of happiness and the concept of neuroplasticity, which proves that we can re-wire our brains for a happy mindset, and by practicing happy habits we can change our physiology to become happier from the inside out.
Jen’s mission is to contribute to the happiness revolution by helping enough people recognize the true nature of happiness, and help them to habitually practice happiness and create society-wide-abundance.
ZenJen, as she is happily known, can be found on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/zenjenhappitude