Monday, September 13, 2010

Happiness is not that elusive

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” — Thornton Wilder

On TED.com a fellow named Nic Marks gives a wonderful talk about the "Happy Planet Index" asking people to reconsider how one measures a country's success. He'd like for us to replace GNP and GDP as measures of national success and well-being with this index that measures happiness as a function of planetary resource usage. Putting planetary resource usage aside for the moment "happiness" is a wide and complex topic to enter in with your mentee. But isn't their happiness and well-being something you as their mentor inherently care about?

Periodically I'll ask my mentees if they are, in general, happy. No matter the answer I get I always want to know why. If they are unhappy I like to dig deeper to see if there's something we can work out together. If they are happy I'd like to learn what makes them tick and perhaps also learn a thing or two that could help me be more happy. Mentoring is, after all, a 2-way street.

What I like most about Nic's talk is his straightforward boiling down of the actions one can take today and everyday that have been proven to lead to happiness. And those actions aren't that hard! I would recommend watching the whole presentation but if you don't have the time you can advance the time marker to 13:08min where Nic discusses the 5 things you can do to improve the sense of well-being in your life. I list them below but Nic talks about them in a little more detail.  They are:

  1. Connect - Be social 
  2. Move - Be active
  3. Take notice - Be observant
  4. Keep learning - Be curious
  5. Give - Be generous

I'd like to add a sixth one:

    6. Give Thanks - Be grateful

We've all heard the cliches that there's someone out there worse off than us. That's almost definitely true but may not strike the right chord. Comparing oneself to others usually leads to competition, stress and unhappiness. Gratitude for the abundance one already has independent of what others may or may not have is the key. Whether it's outward gratitude expressed to someone in particular or gratitude that's inwardly focused when one recognizes the "positives" of life - both will work!

There are several techniques for "practicing gratitude". Some people pray. Some people make sure to say a specific "thank you" to at least 3 people a day. Others make daily written lists of what they are grateful for from that day. Still others may have a ritual or a picture or a thing on their desk that reminds them to be grateful. Whatever it is a well-placed reminder to focus on "the treasures" one already has will spark an important, positive feedback loop in the brain.

I derived the title of this post from the fact that these are all steps right in front of each and every one of us and we can all start immediately. None of these 6 activities have any barriers to entry. They cost nothing to engage in and yet are powerful and effective. They can and will bring about a sense of well-being if put into practice over time. Try it - you'll like it!

For Nic Marks' talk click here.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” — Epictetus

2 comments:

Ms. said...

Alan, you seriously need some help with this social media thing. I tried to leave a comment here -- a very good one, I'll add, but the barriers to doing so were too high. I typed it all out, jumped throough the hoops and Google wouldn't let me use the account I tried to use since I was already signed in to another one. So I signed out of that, came back to this to try again, only to find out my original comment had been completely erased. If I REALLY, really, really wanted to leave a comment, I could go through it all again.

Uh, no.

So I went back to Twitter to try to tell you there are better choices (WordPress, self-hosted),
only to find out I can't even reach you that way: you didn't have the grace to follow me back. Unbelievable.

Oh, yeah, I'm real interested in your mentoring service. Uh-huh.

On said...

Hi Ms.

Thanks for your post. I'm sorry you had an issue leaving a comment. I generally like google products and found blogger to have everything I need. I'll consider wordpress though - thanks for the suggestion.

Regarding my "mentoring service", I don't have a "mentoring service" for you to be interested or not interested in. I have a full time job. Blogging about this topic is something I do out of passion and enjoyment. I don't do the "social media thing" to make money. I understand that many people do and that's cool - but not for me at this time.

If you do change your mind about posting your original comment it would be welcome! Take care.