before happiness

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What You Want: To be more engaged and joyful about what you're doing.

What to Try: A happiness graph.

Meaning is what makes us happier (and usually more successful) in our professional and personal lives. And yet we don't always immediately recognize what is most meaningful to us—which is why Harvard researcher Shawn Achor's designed an experiment called the "happiness graph. How to do it: Think about the last year, then sketch a line graph with two axes, the vertical one for happiness and the horizontal one for time. "So, if you got a promotion in January, and that made you happy, that should be a high point on the graph," he writes in Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. "Or, if you were miserable in January but then in early February your football team won the Super Bowl, you'd draw a spike," and so on, all the way through December. Then, label the events that determined your highs and lows.

"The events you include can uncover important yet hidden nodes of meaning in your life," writes Achor. Some people's happiness fluctuates around family events, others around world events, still others around work events. "Whatever our individual graphs look like, they help us understand what parts of our lives our happiness (or conversely, our unhappiness) depends on." The question then becomes: Are you spending your time on your points of highest meaning? And if not, how can you change things in your life to let you focus more on those?