Happiness is hot. We want to read about it, analyze it and, most of all, find it.
Yet despite hundreds of books published on the topic, people are not getting any happier, said Neil Pasricha, author of “The Happiness Equation” and director of The Institute for Global Happiness.
“We’re desperately searching for it,” Pasricha told TODAY. “We want it more than anything else, and we are not moving the needle as a society.”
Genes determine 50 percent of your happiness; circumstances account for 10 percent. That leaves 40 percent up to you, studies have shown.
Most people believe success leads to happiness, but that's the wrong way to think about it, Pasricha said.
Rather, invest in your happiness as the first step towards success.
“It’s not whether our glass is half full or half empty, it’s knowing the glass is refillable and using those intentional activities to top off your glass,” he said.
Five exercises can boost your happiness. Commit to any of these for 20 minutes a day, 20 days in a row, and you'll develop a new habit, Pasricha said. Don’t pick all five, just try one for now.
1. Take 20-minute nature walks
People suffering from depression who took part in three exercise sessions per week felt better than those who took antidepressants, one study found.
Pasricha recommends taking three 20-minute walks a week to keep your spirits high.
2. Try the 20-minute replay
Chronicle your positive experiences in a journal.
“Our minds have no GPS signal in them. We don’t actually know where we are,” Pasricha noted. “So when you write down a story about the coffee your coworker bought you… you relive that experience. If you read your own journal, you re-live it a third time. So you get a tripling effect.”
3. Do five conscious acts of kindness a week
This works because it makes you feel good about yourself. “You think, ‘I’m the lunch-making mom’ or ‘I’m the flower-buying husband.’ Your ego increases so you feel happy,” he said.
Most people know meditation is good for them, but very few have a daily meditation practice. Pasricha believes it’s because meditation is not very accessible.
“I found this myself. I was picturing going to the basement wearing sweat pants, closing my eyes and chanting. I thought, I can’t do that,” he said. But he now regularly meditates, especially at night after a stressful day. “It helps you zoom out of your life,” he said.
Pasricha recommended three free apps that provide guided meditation: Headspace, 10% Happier and Calm.com.
5. Keep track of five gratitudes a week
Write down five things you are grateful for and you’ll feel happier. He recommends playing the “Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud” game with your partner before going to bed. This is how it works when he plays with his wife:
- She reveals a “rose” from her day, or something good that happened. He says one back.
- She recalls another rose; he says one back.
- She reveals a thorn, “because it’s important to be heard and to have an opportunity to vent a little if something bad happened.”
- Finally, she tells him about a “bud” — something she is looking forward to.
In addition to the five exercises, here are three more things to keep in mind:
6. Keep working
Work is often the place where people are the unhappiest, so this may sound ironic. But a fulfilling, meaningful, challenging job is an important part of happiness because it provides structure and a sense of purpose, Pasricha said. Never retire, he advises.
“We don’t actually want to do nothing; we just want to do something we love,” he noted.
Residents of Okinawa, Japan — one of the world’s “Blue Zones” where people live extraordinarily long lives — don’t have a word for retirement. Rather, they use “ikigai” — which translates as “the reason you get out of bed in the morning.”
Work — including volunteering — often satisfies that for us, Pasricha said.
7. Be authentic
Here are three tests Pasricha recommends taking to help illuminate who you really are:
Saturday morning test:
What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do? Cook? Play guitar? Work out? The answer reveals what your natural passions are. Boost your happiness by incorporating more of these activities into your life and work.
Inspired by one of Pasricha’s friends who chose his college by quietly sitting on a bench at each campus. It’s a test drive before you commit to something big.
Tour the office before you accept a job offer. Walk around the neighborhood before buying a new house. Do you really like what you see and how you feel?
Five people test:
Look at the five people you spend the most time with, whether friends or family. It sounds shocking, but you are likely the average of their intelligence, looks, interests and other traits, Pasricha said.
8. Realize you’ve already won the lottery
There are 115 billion people who have ever lived on Earth and you are one of the 7 billion people alive today, Pasricha said.
“That means 14 out of every 15 people will never see another sunset, never have another bowl of chocolate ice cream, and never kiss their kids goodnight ever again,” he noted.
Of those 7 billion people on Earth, you’re lucky enough to live in a prosperous, peaceful and free part of the world.
“You won the lottery to be here right now,” Pasricha noted. “You have so much to be thankful for.”