As a human race, we’ve come far from our beginnings several thousand years ago. We’ve explored space (both inner and outer), carved out a comfortable existence for ourselves and come closer to understanding the fundamental question that has been at the heart of our race – “What makes us happy?”
From the carving on the entrances of Greek temples (Know Thyself) to the essays of Jung we’ve explored everything from animal sacrifices to exploring our unconscious in the search of meaning and happiness.
We’ve created belief structures and philosophies to justify each of these actions and spread them in society. Religions have been spawned, countless wars have been waged, philosophies pitted against each other in tomes of books and we’ve inched forward in our understanding of this fundamental question.
Even still, the best answer to the great question will come from asking yourself more questions…
“What makes me feel truly alive?”
“What excited me?”
“What does follow your bliss mean to me?”
“What do I know has made me happier before?”
“What’s the simplest, most effective thing I can do everyday to be happier?”
The answers to these questions aren’t as important as the process of continuous digging for the answer. The burning desire to seek a fundamental truth behind a question and dig deep for your personal truth will take you farther than any answer you hear from the outside.
My personal answer
I think the essence of happiness and well-being is changing your focus.
Did you know that clinically depressed folks experience gratitude about 50% less than everybody else? It’s as if their psychological muscles of focusing on what’s good in their world has been compromised.
Cultivating gratitude is the gateway to changing your focus. Ancient traditions and 15 years of positive psychology agree that the easiest and most fundamental way to change and shift behavior to create positive feelings is to practice gratitude.
Now that we have the answer, we still need a system to put it into place.
Think about it. If a person wants to drop 20 pounds, just telling the person to eat more greens and exercise will get you subpar results.
However, if you run the person through even a mediocre program/system involving peer support, accountability, tracking and real-world consequences for not reaching their goal we multiply their chance of success significantly.
There’s no magic here, just the power of a good system in place although the results can feel quite magical. And therein lies the beauty of it all.
What does a happiness system look like?
It’s as simple as asking a good question and ensuring you ask yourself this question regularly at the end of each day:
“What did I learn today? How does it make me a better person?”
“What would I have done differently today?”
Last year my good friend Alex Ikonn and myself put together what we consider the Occam’s Razor of positive psychology. We call it The Five Minute Journal.
It’s dead simple. You answer five questions, which will take you 5 minutes a day in total.
Here’s what it looks like:
For us, this illustrates what a good system can do for your life. Apart from building on the principles above, there are a few things that make it effective:
Beginning your day right
Practicing gratitude and priming your brain right in the morning have a disproportional effect on creating a good day. Most people decide (unconsciously) how their day is going to go within the first few minutes of waking. What if you could consciously choose to have a great day consistently?
Ending your day right
Practicing introspection and closing open loops in your mind before you sleep has the added advantage of helping you sleep better and reduce anxiety.
It’s a system that works. Just as readily as your body responds to a drug. Don’t take my word for it. Give it your 100% for 5 days and evaluate results. I look forward to hearing about it from you folks.
And remember to ask yourself – What persistent problem am I having in life? And what system(s) can I put into place that this problem is handled? Who are others who consistently get the results I want and what systems do they use?