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7 Things You Can Do To March On The Road to Happiness

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Our family went hiking in Myanmar last year. The hike went through extremely basic villages and it was the first time my kids saw villages that don’t have electricity, people drink from a well and local kids play soccer barefoot with a bamboo ball.

It was eye opening to see how little these local kids have and how happy they seem. “Mom, what’s happiness” my 5 year old asked hearing my comment. “Feeling of satisfaction, pleasure, cheerfulness, and enjoyment… “ I explained.  “So why when kids have so little they can be so satisfied and happy?” my kid insisted. She was right. Happiness above all is a DECISION. It’s a state of mind. We can decide to be happy and content or decide to be gloomy.

Many spend their lives waiting for happiness: Only until we get that job. Until we find love. Until we lose a few more pounds. Until we make more money. True happiness comes from within and needs to be actively pursued.

This is actually great news for everyone because with just a few simple changes to your daily habits – you can be a happier person. You don’t need much to be more successful at everything you do. You just need to decide to feel content, and happiness will follow.

Here are a few simple changes anyone can do to march on the road to happiness:

1. Understand you’re responsible

You are in charge of your own happiness. Don’t wait for others to make you happy or blame others for making you feel bad. Understanding that you are responsible is the first step.

“If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy

2. Fake it till you make it

I learned this one the hard way. When my mom was dying of cancer I had some of the worst days of my life. However, I did learn that when you smile even if breaking inside, the world smiles back and you start feeling better. So when things are rough, force yourself to smile. Think of something that made you feel great and visualize it. It will feel completely fake at first but soon enough you will simply feel better. 

 

3. Sleep is key

Sleep deprivation is a key reason for depression. You are much more likely to feel negative emotions with lack of sleep. So get yourself enough hours of sleep especially when you are stressed. Also positive thoughts before going to bed proved to help the overall feeling. You can use ThinkUp app or any other motivation and affirmation techniques to fall asleep. You will sleep better and wake up a more positive person.

 

4. Remind yourself of things you are grateful for

What are you grateful for? Remind yourself of things you are grateful for and things that made you happy each day. Look for the positives in every experience. You can use a journal or simply sharing them with a partner or friends. With my kids we used to play “Good news, bad news”. Each would need to tell something great that happened to them and something not so great and we would talk about both. I would start to get the conversation going. The bad news mostly turned out not so bad and the great news were many times a reason to celebrate so we all became happier.

 

5. Give more

Give more and be genuinely happy for others and you’ll see how well you feel. Compliment others on their achievements; help friends in need, offer a hand and your day will look better. I used to have a rule – one good deed a day. Whether I helped an older lady carry bags, assisted a blind man cross the street, volunteered for a great cause, helped a friend or even just gave a complement to a co-worker. I always felt much better afterwards. Try it!

 

6. Exercise

Even just a few minutes may be enough. Stretch with calming music or even add affirmations to the routine. Go on a hike or join a group exercise. You will relax and start the day on a high note.

“To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.” – Gene Tunny

7. Cultivate optimism

Positive thinking is an important part of self-esteem and overall life satisfaction. Optimism also tends to make your personal and work relationships better.  It’s not only about expectations, it’s about how you interpret everything in life. For example instead of: “I’m going to fail the test tomorrow so I’ll go watch TV” an optimistic will say “I’m concerned from the test tomorrow but I’ll study and give it my best shot”.  Force yourself to an optimistic state of mind and slowly it will become more natural.

The road to happiness is long and windy with quite a few forks in the road. A positive mindset is key to make even the uphills feel great. Don’t worry about wrong turns, you’ll find yourself back on the road again. So smile and see the world smiling back. Enjoy the journey!

Have you found your happiness yet? Leave your thoughts below!

Ilana Golan is a serial entrepreneur, speaker and advisor. Currently Founder and CEO of Stiya - Storytelling platform through automation and AI and an active advisor to a few startups. Mentioned as top 40 women to watch in 2016.  Before that, she founded Quali US and grew it to $15M yearly revenue. Prior to Quali, Ilana served in various engineering and product roles in companies such as Intel and been part of a startup exit of $300M (Verisity). Ilana started her career as an F-16 flight instructor and became the first woman to become a commander and in-charge of training of all F-16 pilots in Israel. Connect with Ilana on her website: http://www.ilanagolan.com/.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Joel Sussman

    Oct 25, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I totally agree with all your happiness recommendations, and your example of the poor, but happy children in Myanmar beautifully illustrates how happiness does not have to be dependent on external conditions. Being happy in our “advanced” society is actually more challenging because our lives are negatively impacted by the media, rampant consumerism, and a culture of competitiveness. So the net result of living in that environment is that most of us feel like we need to do, be, and have more (of everything) in order to feel fulfilled. One of the solutions, as you suggest, is to spend more time and attention appreciating the things we now have. I saw a saying in a Hallmark store which sums it up nicely: “If you want to feel rich, just count all the gifts you have that money can’t buy.”

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How many times did you wake up feeling like you could conquer the world? You set ambitious goals for the day, you put on your best attire and walked out the door with a big smile on your face but eventually, life took over. Traffic, emails, work, family, and everything else you have around slowly but steadily started to drain your energy and made you feel exhausted.

You run out of battery, and the only solution that seemed viable was to rely on more caffeine. When that stopped working, all the temptations around you started to look much more appealing, and that sense of drive and commitment you had before slowly faded away. This is you running out of willpower.

Willpower: what is it? Why is it limited?

The American Psychology Association describes willpower as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” In the book “The Willpower Instinct”, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, explains how every person’s willpower is limited, and slowly depletes throughout the day. The more “willpower challenges” you face, the quicker your reserve drains. Dr. McGonigal divided the different types of willpower challenges you might encounter in three categories:

  • I will: We face this type of challenge whenever we should do something, but we simply don’t feel like getting it done right now.
  • I won’t: We face this challenge when we try to resist temptation, or we try to keep cool in stressful situations.
  • I want: This is a particular type of challenge where we keep track of our long term goals, dreams, and desires. In this instance, we feel like we should take action right now to come one step closer to the goal. 

It’s easy to recognize it when you face a willpower challenge because you literally “feel it in your body.” Imagine being really hungry and walking in front of a bakery. The sight and the smell of pastries quickly triggers an “I won’t” type of challenge, and it takes a severe amount of effort and energy to walk away.

Every time you manage to win one of those challenges, a little bit of your willpower reserve gets used. The more challenges you face daily, the harder it will be to stay true to your goals.

Can you train or recharge your willpower?

A growing body of research suggests that willpower should be considered a muscle. To strengthen it, you should exercise it regularly, but you should not overwork it. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to “be good” at all times. Instead, we should learn how to relax and recharge our willpower.

The general advice on how to improve willpower involves sleep, proper nutrition, and regular exercise. This broad and general recommendation is often not downright applicable by most, because it consists of changing various daily habits. Luckily, three very effective hacks have been discovered, that have an immediate effect on our willpower and take just a few minutes to apply.

Here are the 3 ways to refill your willpower reserves:

1. Focused breathing

Breathing, when done correctly, can stimulate the release of calming hormones while reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines. To make this effective, you should deeply and slowly inhale through the nose for at least five seconds. Fill your belly with air first, then your chest, and when there’s no more space for air, still try to do tiny inhalations through the nose.

You should feel a pulling sensation around your neck and trapezius muscles. Once your lungs are full, try to hold the breath for five seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth for at least five seconds. If you repeat this process ten to twenty times, you should feel dramatically more relaxed. Use this method several times a day, especially when you’re experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.

2. Reward yourself when you accomplish a micro goal

According to a recent study, frequent instant rewards can boost motivation, and therefore, willpower. Creating your own reward system can help you to accomplish your to-do list, and also resist temptations. Since every individual has different tastes, you should come up with creative ideas about the small and frequent rewards you will give yourself upon winning any willpower challenge.

You can see this hack in practice in Apps like the popular Duolinguo, where after completing each lesson you get presented with a chance to open a treasure chest. This rewarding system seems to keep the users much more likely to keep learning new lessons.

3. Taking cold showers

Your body has an autonomic response to cold water. Getting into a cold shower is a difficult (but minor) willpower challenge on its own. As I previously mentioned, winning a willpower challenge strengthens your willpower muscle. Having a morning cold shower, on top of having multiple health benefits, will set you up for a positive winning streak of further challenges.

High performance is the sum of many small habits. Successful people don’t have an unlimited reserve of willpower, but they do have a set of daily rituals that made them succeed. These three hacks are some of the most effective techniques to develop willpower, but some of them may not fit every individual. You should try to find the perfect mix of daily practices that best fits your lifestyle and likes, so that you can strengthen your willpower muscle and perform better at work.

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