- Write down three different things each day that you’re grateful for. Research shows this will significantly increase your level of optimism in just six months. Your brain is a “single processor” machine, meaning it can only process 12 bits of information per second. And yet our brains are constantly overloaded with millions of bits of information as we look at the world. So the more you train your brain to filter out the “noise” and start to focus on the positives, the less your brain fixates on stresses, hassles and complaints.
- Spend two minutes a day writing about one positive experience you had during the previous 24 hours. In The Happiness Advantage, I talk about the Tetris Effect, a syndrome that occurs when a person devotes so much time and attention to an activity that it overshadows his or her thoughts. We know that our brain gets stuck in patterns. If you scan the world for the stresses, hassles or tasks first, your brain is stuck in a negative Tetris Effect. Journaling causes your brain to develop a new cognitive pattern where you learn to scan for the positive first. This allows you to not only relive your most meaningful experiences of the day, it also perceives a trajectory of meaning running throughout your daily tasks. As a result, you will begin to find more meaning in your life.
- Exercise for at least 10 minutes a day. Think about it. After you work out, you not only have a release of feel-good endorphins, you feel like you have accomplished something. By exercising, you will train your brain to believe that your behavior matters. Researchers have found, for example, that people who exercise start eating healthier. Their brains say, “I have been successful in one domain, I bet I can be successful in another.” It is not the endorphins that actually cause happiness, it’s the repeated patterns of believing that your behavior matters. As a result, people form constellations of positive habits to help prevent them from experiencing depression and raise their levels of general happiness. Exercise raises your levels of dopamine and helps you buffer against feeling like your behavior does not matter. Your brain then imports that belief to every task during the day.
- Meditate (or sit quietly, away from work) for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This helps you neutralize the negative effects of multitasking. We have developed a form of cultural ADHD in our society by trying to multitask with a single-processor brain. As a result, it’s very difficult to focus on one task at a time. Even people who are amazing at multitasking lower their success rates on both tasks and increase their stress level. If, however, you start to meditate your brain gets better at devoting your finite resources down like a laser. You increase your accuracy and the amount of happiness you feel in the work you’re doing. Meditation has also been found to alter gamma waves in the brain on EEGs, which are associated with the eureka experience — when we suddenly understand a previously incomprehensible problem or concept, discover something new, or are more creative. Meditation decreases stress and raises happiness.
- Send one quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in your social support network. This significantly increases your feeling of connection, which studies show is the greatest predictor of happiness.