Make Your Happiness Recession-Proof
Until recently, psychologists dismissed happiness as simply a "pleasurable emotion with no evolutionary value." The theory was that happiness feels good but it isn't useful. However, new psychology research reveals that happiness has a powerful effect on the brain that helps you to think broadly, to be more resilient and to come up with creative solutions for difficult situations. Happiness helps you to bring out the best in yourself.
My new book, Be Happy: Release the Power of Happiness in You, gives you a front-row seat of my happiness course, also called Be Happy, which has been tested by independent psychologists and brain scientists who judged it to be "a genuine fast track to happiness." Here are 10 tips to help you recession-proof your happiness and beat the economic blues.
The Big Rethink
The recession is a global shock wave that is forcing everyone to rethink the pursuit of happiness. Happiness research shows that, in spite of a golden era of economic growth, happiness levels have not increased in the UK since 1950. Since 1957, the number of Britons who describe themselves as "very happy" has plummeted from 52 percent to 36 percent.
Our most basic assumptions about what happiness is, and what will make us happy, are now being tested. Happiness researchers confirm that money is important for basic needs like food, rent and clothes. Thereafter, the link between higher income and increased happiness has been described in one 16-nation study as "surprisingly weak" and "virtually negligible." In fact, a third of all millionaires are less happy than the national average. Real, enduring happiness cannot be bought.
The Reality Check
The recession is an opportunity to do a reality check on what is truly important to you and what isn't. Happiness research shows that people with consistently high happiness scores demonstrate an ability to prioritize their lives according to their true values. In other words, they've worked out what is most important to them, and they don't allow themselves to get sidetracked by unnecessary busyness, hurry, money or other distractions.
To do a reality check, set aside some time to ask yourself questions like, "What do I really value?" and "What do I most appreciate?" and "When am I truly happy?" You don't have to do this on your own; you could do it with your partner or a friend. You can even get the whole family around the kitchen table to do a reality check on what is most important to you as a group. To be happy, it's important to remember what's really important.
"The Rich List"
In recent decades, our purchasing power has more than doubled, which means we can afford to buy more stuff than ever before. And yet, more stuff hasn't made us any happier. I know it sounds like a Spice Girls song, but to be happy you have to know what you really, really want. After all, you can never have enough of what you didn't want in the first place.
In Britain, people are exposed on average to 500 advertisements a day on billboards, television, radio, magazines, other people's T-shirts, at petrol pumps and ATMs. Brands like Molton Brown tell us, "Everything is never enough." However, as comedian Stephen Wright says: "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" True happiness is not a "thing" or a "commodity." It's not something you have or get; it's something you cultivate and share.
The Rich List
Money is important, but it isn't everything. One of my favorite happiness and abundance exercises is called "The Rich List." To do this exercise, write down a list of everything in your life that is more precious to you than money. Think also about everything you already have that money can't buy. Obvious examples are, friends, health, laughter, enjoying nature, creative hobbies, your imagination and spirituality.
To be happy, you have to have a healthy relationship with money. The sooner you take responsibility for your financial well-being, the happier you will be. his may mean you need to get some extra help. Don't delay. Poor money management can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety and stress. You can start by setting yourself some simple challenges like using cash instead of credit cards, entertaining more at home and challenging yourself to spend less.
Treasure Your Relationships
What influences your happiness more, life circumstances or personal choices? Does it surprise you that happiness researchers mostly agree that life circumstances influence your happiness by only 10 percent in the long term? Obviously, life events have a short-term effect. A loss of job or a divorce can be devastating, and winning the lottery or falling in love can be wonderful, at least initially. However, the key to being happy in the long term is not circumstances; it's disposition and attitude.
Living through a recession is very challenging, and the challenge starts with identifying the best attitude that will help you the most. Thinking positively isn't the answer to everything, but it will help you do everything better than thinking negatively. Your attitude makes a difference to how happy you are and how well you cope with life. Try this: Set an intention to enjoy your day 10 percent more than yesterday. Back up your intention with three specific actions like calling a friend, smiling more and doing something you love. Notice what effect this has on your day.
Treasure Your Relationships
New research commissioned by The Body Shop has found that nearly a quarter of people interviewed (24 percent) say recent financial events have helped them to focus on what is really important in life. And what is most important is spending more quality time with family and friends. Indeed, nearly one in five men (18 percent) claim the recession and spending more time at home has improved their relationships.
Investing time, energy and attention in your most important relationships will increase your happiness. Friendships are a source of great joy, laughter and entertainment. They also help you to better handle life challenges like stress, bereavement, job loss and illness. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal confirms that having "rich and satisfying social relationships" is the key difference between people who are "quite happy" and "very happy."
Count Your Blessings
If you are too preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness, you may be in danger of forgetting how to enjoy your life. Modern life is so busy, manic and hyper you may see your best friends less than you want, you're too tired to have sex with your partner, and you can't find enough time for your hobbies and passions. Making a conscious commitment to having fun can be the creative spark that makes you enjoy your life instead of waiting to be happy.
My favorite proverb is, "He who tickles himself can be happy whenever he wants." Obviously, some types of fun require money; but not all. A picnic in the park costs less than a meal at a restaurant; a film night at home with friends is cheaper than a bunch of cinema tickets; and a massage from your partner should cost you less than a spa treatment! People who decide to enjoy themselves generally do.
Count Your Blessings
On my eight-week happiness course, participants keep a gratitude journal in which they log at least three things a day that they are either thankful for, made them smile or genuinely inspired them. The positive effects of doing gratitude exercises like this are well documented. In a nutshell, the more you practice gratitude, the happier you will be. Also, it's practically impossible to be grateful and neurotic. Gratitude boosts your mental health.
The happiest people are not the ones who have the most in life; they are the ones who appreciate life the most. Research shows that people whose main focus is financial wealth are the least happy. One reason for this is that they are too busy striving for eventual happiness to appreciate what they already have. A rich person is someone who can enjoy his or her life as it happens. Gratitude opens your eyes so that you can see the blessings in your life now.
Have a Little Faith
People who have a strong spiritual faith report greater-than-average happiness. Also, they are able to handle crises with a bigger perspective and more optimism. Spirituality is very personal, and it is essential therefore that you work out for yourself what inspires you and what you believe in. No one can give you a faith; you have to choose one, or not. Happiness research shows conclusively that one of the best predictors of enduring happiness is if you have a spiritual faith that you practice daily.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has set up a special interest group on spirituality and mental health. Accumulated evidence shows that spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, yoga and tai chi can help you to de-stress, feel more balanced and enjoy each day more. Most importantly, a spiritual faith is often practiced in community, and it encourages us to look past our individual egos. Also, most spiritual faiths remind us that happiness is our true nature...minus our neuroses. In other words, happiness is an inside job.
Invest in You
A classic mistake in tough times is failing to look after yourself properly. Difficult challenges are made more difficult by self-neglect, self-sacrifice and depriving yourself of the proper care and attention you need. To be happy, you must never compromise on your health. Your health is more valuable to you than any amount of money you can borrow or earn. Therefore, invest in you. Be true to yourself. Know what your strengths are, and use them. Above all, don't wait for things to get better before you start treating yourself better.
Being healthy helps you to be happy. Committing to a regular exercise program improves your mood and your confidence. Remember, exercise can be fun. Get off the treadmill and join a dance class, for instance. Following a healthy diet improves your energy levels. Learning to cook a signature dish can also be great fun. Also, make sure your body gets enough sleep. It's virtually impossible to be exhausted and be a nice person! Sleep well; live well. Remember, your life gets better when you treat yourself better.
Celebrate the Joy of Giving
One last thing: Remember that the recession isn't happening only to you. The whole world is in financial rehab right now. Everyone is affected. Happiness research reveals a strong link between happiness and altruism. Psychologists call it the "feel-good, do-good" phenomenon. It works in two ways. First, when people are happy, they tend to give more. Second, when people give more, they are happier.
Another key to beating the economic blues is to give more to others. Your giving doesn't have to be monetary; although it definitely feels good to throw some coins in a charity box. Giving can also mean little acts of kindness, a note to a friend or offering some support. Research indicates that the number of people engaged in volunteering has increased in the past two years. To be happy, be a friend to others. It's one more way we can get out of this recession together.
Robert Holden, PhD, and his innovative work on happiness and well-being have been featured on The Oprah Show and Good Morning America and also in two major BBC TV documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy, shown to more than 30 million TV viewers worldwide. He is the author of the best-selling books Happiness NOW!, Shift Happens! and Success Intelligence. His latest book, Be Happy, is published by Hay House. Robert lives in London with his wife and daughter.