There is ever-growing research on happiness and well-being. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky found that in general, 50% of our happiness levels are based on our genetics, 10% is based on our circumstances, and a whopping 40% is based on our activities — let me repeat that…..
40% of your happiness is based on activities that you can control.
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar found in his research that there are five elements of well-being, which he names S.P.I.R.E. We experience greater levels of happiness when we focus on meaningful practices that nurture these areas.
As we close out 2020, take an inventory of your year, and also look forward to the year ahead. You have a choice; Take whatever happened to you this year and use it as fuel for your greater purpose, or at the very least to offer fresh perspective and wisdom on how to move forward in 2021.
Each of the items on this list corresponds to one of the elements in S.P.I.R.E, in no particular order. With that in mind, it might be wise to do some self reflection and ask yourself which of the 5 areas you are struggling with the most – then get to work on using some of the tools that are jam packed by research and proven to improve happiness levels.
1. Get clear on your values. [Spiritual]
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we really have control of very little. All of your “stuff” (business, money, and even people) can be lost in an instant. Control is an illusion that most of us cling to tightly, but in reality, all you truly have is your character and values. Values serve as your “north star,” that you can always come back to when you are feeling stuck or out of alignment. Similar to how a business has “Core Values”, you should have values for your life. Go through your list of 5-10 values and ask yourself, “am I living according to the principles that are most important to me?”
Some examples of values might be “health, love, family, integrity, honesty, fun, experiences, or service.” Values also should be in order of priority, or it can get you into trouble. For example, if “Family” is listed as one of your top values, but you are working 60+ hours per week, neglecting your family, and are distracted at home trying to build financial wealth, something is out of alignment. This dissonance in values makes you feel guilty and causes the strain in your relationship with your spouse or children. For me, Health is my top value, because if I am overweight, sick or don’t feel good, I won’t be able to live my life to the fullest.
2. Forgive & let go of all resentment. [Spiritual, Emotional, Relational]
Our constant need to be “right” or to “win” can really sabotage our happiness. Once while listening to a podcast by best seller author and speaker Brene Brown, she said something to the effect of, “imagine the Gods of Right came down from above and confirmed, you are in fact right. You are the winner. You are justified. Does that actually change anything? You might be right, but are your actions serving you?”
Anger, bitterness and resentment only hurt us. They are like an infection that when left untreated, can poison the entire body. Choose to show empathy, forgive and let go. That doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat or punching bag — you can choose not to allow toxic people in your life. Most of our issues with people are trivial. One exercise that can help you have perspective is to imagine you would never see that person again. Is the issue really worth hurting the relationship?
3. Begin a daily gratitude practice. [Emotional]
The research on gratitude is overwhelmingly conclusive. Gratitude is the answer to a meaningful life. It forces us to look at what we do have, instead of succumbing to our nature of “never enough”, or focusing on what we don’t have.
Life is never happening to us, instead it is happening for us. If you always remember that, you can learn to approach situations without labeling them as “good” or “bad”, and know that there is always, and I mean always something to be learned from the experience.
For the heck of it, think about a couple of challenging situations that you may have been through that you thought of as “bad” at the time you were going through them. I would wager that now, after some time has passed, there has been something positive that has come out of the situation, right? Even incredibly painful situations like the loss of a loved one can shake us to our core and cause us to take another path in life that we wouldn’t have otherwise taken.
4. Prioritize your health and come up with a plan [Physical]
“The healthy man has 1000 dreams. The unhealthy man has but one.”
You might be working so hard to accumulate wealth or status now, but what would happen if you got a Cancer diagnosis tomorrow? Wouldn’t your priorities completely shift? The only thing that would matter is becoming whole again.
Behavior change is hard work, so don’t make the mistake of trying to overhaul everything at once on January 1st. Be smart. Start small, but start now. Drinking 10 sodas per day? Go down to five. Not exercising at all? Begin walking 5 minutes per day. Eating no vegetables? Add one per day.
There are a million tips I could give to get you started, but here are the most important ones:
- Get clear on your “why”. Human beings are only motivated by two things – avoiding pain or seeking pleasure. Pain is a stronger motivator. Really about why this really matters to you and what are the consequences if you don’t change.
- Hire a coach. If you are serious about changing, you will need accountability. At TriFit Wellness, we offer comprehensive individual programs and corporate employee wellness, including online training and nutrition coaching, live stream classes, or in-studio small group training. Drop us a line if you would like more info: www.trifitwellness.com/contact-us/
- Read the book Atomic Habits. It is jam packed full of research and is an amazing resource with the tools that are most effective for changing behavior.
- Create support. We become like the people we spend time with. A newly sober person likely wouldn’t spend their time at a bar. Do you have a community of people who have similar goals? If not, go find them.
5. Create a morning routine [Physical, Spiritual, Emotional]
My favorite book of all time, that has benefited me in more ways than I can count, is The 5AM Club, by Robin Sharma. In the book, he talks about creating your “holy hour” from 5-6AM where you rise before the sun and focus on three pockets:
- 5:00-5:20AM – Move: Getting sweaty exercise first thing in the morning to wake you up, release cortisol (stress hormones), produce endorphins (happy hormones) and improve your physical health.
- 5:20-5:40AM – Reflect: During this pocket you work on your internal world, and bulletproof yourself spiritually and emotionally through practices such as journaling, or meditation.
- 5:40-6:00AM – Grow: Spend time learning every day. Reading a book, planning or strategizing and improving your craft.
Rising early in the morning is a common theme of the best of the best, the most successful men and women. Waking early gives you an edge like no other. While the world is still sleeping you have prioritized your mental, physical and emotional health so you are better equipped to win the day ahead. If you implement this practice it will change your life – I guarantee it.
6. Get your finances in order.
Financial wellness is actually NOT on the SPIRE list, but it is important to note that finances and wealth are certainly predictors of happiness, however, only up to a point. I’m sure we’ve all met people who had all the money in the world, but also never saw their kids, had been divorced three times, and had a drinking problem. Money is not a predictor of happiness, above and beyond having your basic needs met.
That said, having your finances in order, a budget and a solid financial plan are just smart. There are many resources and courses that offer support such as Dave Ramsey’s program to get out of debt. Work with a financial planner to come up with a savings and retirement strategy including contributing to company sponsored 401K programs, 529 education plans, Roth IRA’s, market losses, charitable contributions etc. Fidelity Investments has a ton of resources, and a low fee advisement model to help you start investing. All investments have different requirements, limitations and deadlines, so make sure you have a good CPA to ask such as Price Kong CPA’s.
7. Declutter your spaces [Emotional]
This is a great practice to get rid of the old to prepare for the new every year. According to the Mayo Clinic, decluttering your space can have a huge impact on well being. Having a lot of extra stuff is stressful, makes us feel anxious and unorganized. Simply pick one room at a time and start clearing things out. Be ruthless. Have you used the item in the past six months? If not, then donate, sell or trash it.
8. Schedule and plan time out in nature [Emotional]
“ Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound effect on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.” Jill Suttie
We are spending more and more time inside, in front of our computer screens, phones, TV’s, but studies show that nature can help our brains and bodies stay healthy. In fact, trees give off a chemical called “phytoncides” that actually make cortisol and adrenaline go down. Forest therapy is a real thing. Grab your phone, map out the nearest forest, and go there.
9. Limit use of technology [Emotional, Relational]
Smart phones were introduced in 2007, and by 2015 fully 92% of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. According to a 2017 study of over half a million 8th through 12th graders found that the number exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, the suicide rate for girls in that age group increased by 65%.
Revisiting point number eight, as a society we are spending increasing amounts of time, inside and more and more time on social media. This results in an entire society who is more connected than ever (through technology), but also less connected than ever – through real relationships and meaningful conversations.
Technology and social media specifically, is designed to be addictive. Be diligent. Put limits on apps, turn off all notifications and put your phone on silent mode in a closed room when you are spending time with your family. Eat dinner together. Have conversations. Connect.
10. Feed your brain [Intellectual]
One of the common themes among many who retire is this overwhelming sense of a “lack of purpose”. Human beings are hardwired with a desire to learn, strive, and complete challenges. Stress enters our lives when the challenge is perceived as too great for our abilities, and depression sets in when we are not challenged enough. It’s a tricky line to walk. Without overthinking it, by feeding your brain I simply mean to focus on learning and growth. This can be accomplished by reading a book, learning a new language or new skill.
11. Bulletproof your relationships [Relational]
Psychologist, Arthur Aron, found in his research that “The single biggest predictor of human happiness is the quality of [a person’s] relationships.”, in other words, spending time with people you love and who love you back is essential.
We are relational creatures who are wired to have bonds and connections. In such a year of isolation, reflect on your relationships. How are you doing in this area? What can you do to improve strained relationships? Make a short list of the 5-10 people in your life that are incredibly important to you. What would you do if that person suddenly suffered a tragic accident and was gone? While a little dark, this exercise is immensely effective in putting things in perspective, and instantly helps us let go of the small trivial things that we allow to ruin our close relationships. Tell people you love them, forgive, and offer sincere appreciation for those you love.
I hope these tips have helped you gain perspective — that you’ll look for the hidden blessings in all of the challenges from this year. At the very least, we can be grateful for all of the simple things we so easily took for granted before COVID-19…..such as giving someone a hug or having lunch with a friend.
Remember than 40% of your happiness and well being comes down to your choices. I believe 2021 will be amazing, because we have the choice to make it so. Great light always follows the dark.