Growing up in a working class Asian American family, I was taught that success was the key to happiness…and that success came from working harder than everyone else. We work hard to get the best grades to get into the best college, then work hard to get a good job, then work hard to excel in the job to get to the next level, and then work even harder to achieve the next (you can insert the next goal here).
I followed that template and got into Stuyvesant, the most selective high school in NYC. Stuyvesant was an ultra-competitive school where the goal of every student was to get into an Ivy League university. I then went to Columbia University. During my time at Stuyvesant and Columbia, I was puzzled about why many of my classmates were absolutely miserable, stressed out and focused on grades, projects, reports, exams, grd school...the “next goal”. Many of these kids were well off and didn't have to work or worry about tuition as I did so I couldn't understand how they could not be grateful. Being accepted to and attending these schools were privileges and I was thankful for my teachers and professors opening up a new world to me (my parents never completed any formal education). Thoreau, Emerson, Camus, Sartre, Timoshenko, calculus and partial different equations weren’t merely assignments but opportunities to think and grow. The proverbial glass of water always remained half empty for many; happiness was always another goal away (and unfortunately always will be).
Happiness is the journey, not the destination. Success does not lead to happiness. Most of us are brought up to have the cart before the horse. It is happiness that leads to success.
Shawn Anchors, a professor at Harvard is a leader in positive psychology who states that “90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality.” He also states that 25 percent of job successes are predicted by I.Q. 75 percent of job successes are predicted by optimism levels, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, at the University of CA Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness” believes that 40 percent of happiness is determined by intentional activity (the remaining 50 percent is innate and only 10 percent by circumstance).
Train Your Brain to be More Positive.
Practice these 7 positive exercises to changing your baseline for 2013:
1. Gratitudes - Write down 3 things that you are thankful for each day
2. Journaling – Positive visualization. Imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself.
3. Simplify vs. multitasking – You can’t multitask and our brains like to do one thing at a time.
4. Utilizing Strengths – Do what you do best. Pick one of your signature strengths and use it in a new way.
5. Exercise – 10 minutes per day.
6. Meditation - Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.
7. Acts of Kindness - Be a “Go-Giver”, Do charity. Simply write one positive email praising or thank someone in your social support network.
This means that happiness takes work. Try at least one positive exercise for 21 days (the time it takes to change a habit and rewire your brain). Shawn Anchors' research shows that if you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what he calls the "happiness advantage" - your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.