Happiness, then success

August 30, 2017

If you are reading this as a ‘Type A’ personality, the words productive and happy may not seem like a match. The stress of needing to get good grades may mean fewer hours sleeping, time away from social events with friends, studying for hours without breaks – all with the belief that “ I will be happy in the future when… FILL IN BLANK HERE.” Ironically enough, if you are more of a ‘go with the flow’ or ‘c’s get degrees’ type student, productivity and happy also may seem like polar opposites. The idea that you could feel happy being tied to a list of ‘to do’s’, might make your skin crawl.

However I am here to offer some evidence that in fact productivity and happiness are strongly connected and share some tips to help you cultivate a more successful life.

I want to start with a couple of definitions. Success: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Now, with individuals having many different aims/purposes, the idea of success can get quite muddy, especially when we start comparing our accomplishments with other people. That being said, a common aim is to be …. surprise, surprise, HAPPY! And happy simply means feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

Recently I read two books by author Shawn Achor called The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Achor spent 12 years studying happiness at Harvard and has defined it as the joy that we feel striving for our potential. So if we’re all trying to be happy and happiness is feeling joy striving for our potential well, hot damn, you can be successful and happy right now! Before your diploma, before the big job, before the raise, car, house, marriage, kids, etc. … with a couple of mind shifts, success is here now.

Achor explains that just like we once thought the sun revolved around the earth, we have believed for some time happiness revolved around success, when in fact time after time the opposite proves true. Success revolves around happiness. The happier you are the more energetic and productive you can be. The brain also finds solutions to problems faster when
soaked in good old fashion joy, hence productivity sky rockets.

So enough chit chat. Here are some things you can do to help bring on the happy, shift your mind to being joyful in the process of life, and by default be able to accomplish more in a shorter time.

1) Gratitude is the key! It is connected to changing the chemistry of the brain. A simple exercise is to write down three things you are grateful for a day. Anything you want, no rules here, no right and wrong. After 21 days of doing this, Achor’s research found previous pessimists were now scoring as low level optimists … in just 21 days. Another option I personally subscribe to, is a 4-2-1 journal. I learned about this from personal development author Craig Beck. Every morning you write four things you are grateful for, send love to two people and ask for one thing. Since starting this, I have missed maybe one day and the daily ask is really motivating!

2) Sleep, eat and move. This one is probably easy enough to understand but when it comes to watching one more episode of a Netflix series or going to bed, the struggle is real. Also, all bodies are different, so do the research, test your body and see how much sleep, what kind of foods and what style of exercise feel the best! Some general notes are eight hours of sleep, cut out sugar and do some form of activity every day.

3) Focus and then take a break. New research shows that the most productive people work for a allotted time and take breaks often. Some say the best ratio is 52 minutes of work then a 17 minute break. Others say from an hour to 1.5 hours of work, then a break. However, the trick is that you must turn off all distractions and focus your brain fully on the task at hand. This means the phone, Facebook, and all other digital distractions… as well as potential people distractions must go. Again, test this out, find what works for you!

4) Small goals that make a big difference. Of course, it is good to have big dreams but one of the common mistakes we make is to try and achieve too much in a short amount of time and end up feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins once said: “Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimatewhat they can accomplish in a year–and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!” Despite your thoughts on Robbins, he has had some amazing success. So break down your big tasks into little ones. I make a “To Do” list and try to put even the smallest things you have done like “Write to do list” on it… Then check DONE. The more you start checking off parts of the list, the faster the momentum builds to finishing it.

5) Keep the connections. Over and over in study after study it is revealed that the relationships we have with others, the support systems we feel we have in place and general human connection are the biggest factors for a happy life. So, while in school,
remember to take time away from the computer. It may feel draining to socialize and I get that some of the people you used to hang out with will not be as available but forge meaningful interactions with peers and get involved on campus.

For links to Shawn Achor’s TED talk, books and more, check out our Facebook page The NAIT Nugget.