Would you like to be happier? Would you like to be more successful?
Over the past 35 years I have asked these questions to thousands of people, in several countries. What I’ve found – not surprisingly - is that virtually everyone’s answer is the same. A resounding “Yes, of course I would!”
When I follow up these two questions with a third, “What would it take for you to be happier?” I generally hear answers like, more money, more peace of mind, more time off work, or perhaps a better relationship or a better job, better salary, better body, and so on.
These answers reveal a fundamental thought pattern. Many of us feel we need something else to be happier. This concept seems so self-evident we seldom question it. We may never even notice when we are thinking this way.
But is it really true?
Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, calls this mindset one of “Living on Someday Isle.” Canfield says we are really telling ourselves, Someday I’ll have more money or Someday I’ll have better health or Someday I’ll have the right relationship or Someday I’ll lose that 10 pounds. Then I can be happy.
The underlying implication in all of these thought patterns is the same basic belief namely, “When I get the success I want, I will be happy.”
But is this line of thinking really true? Does more success really lead to more happiness?
“Not at all,” says Shawn Achor, author of the bestseller The Happiness Advantage (Crown Publishing, New York, 2010).
Achor helped design and teach the famed “Happiness” Course”, which for years was the most popular course at Harvard University.
Since then, Achor has gone on to speak to or work with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies. His TED talk has attracted over 13 million views.
He writes, “Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard, we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward.”
He explains that when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, more creative, more motivated. We, in turn, become more energetic, more resilient and more productive. After rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, this truth has been proven over and over again in boardrooms and on bottom lines of organizations around the globe.
According to Achor, this shift in thinking echoes the change in mindset that followed the new 17th century belief that the sun revolved around the earth. The recent discovery that conventional thinking is backward, that happiness leads to more success and not the other way around, promises to be just as transformative.
Achor is not the only one to focus on the recent findings of brain imaging studies which began in the early 1990’s.
Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, Professor Emerita at California State University, in her recent book, Habits of a Happy Brain (Adams Media, 2016) explains that we can actually retrain our brains to produce more of the chemicals that make us feel happy.
Her book contains exercises we can practice to boost our “happy chemicals”; dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin and serotonin, by teaching the electricity in our brains to flow down new pathways.
In the early 1980’s, I discovered the secrets of changing the brain for myself.
In researching how a dream I had experienced as a ten-year-old could actually come true, I eventually concluded that what we normally call ‘memory’ works in the future as well as the past. This insight, which at first glance seemed completely bizarre, has recently been confirmed by scientists using brain scans as well, as a recent New York Times article explains. (The Human Brain is a Time Traveller, NY Times, Nov. 15, 2018).
Simply close your eyes and you experience how your mind immediately begins to wander through both the past and the future. We call this process daydreaming and believe it has no value. However, controlled daydreaming is a completely different kettle of fish.
The process of learning to control our daydreaming is called ‘mindfulness training’ and turns out to be the key to both more happiness and more success.
Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase immune functioning, increase mental clarity and produce an increased feeling of connectedness.
When you learn that Steve Jobs credits his mindfulness meditation training for his increased clarity of mind and increased creativity, you begin to see just how much more success can be achieved when one learns to still the mind and use the imagination as a creative force in your world.
Anthony Hamilton is an established author and coach in Victoria BC.