2015 has seen a swell of hype and attention around the theme of how to be happier. Whether it’s through keeping a gratitude journal, meditation or random acts of kindness, everybody’s trying to find the Holy Grail of instant, long-lasting happiness. The trouble is, this endless quest can make some people feel more stressed and more unhappy because they never find what it is they are looking for.
So is there really a magic formula? Sadly, it seems not. But it’s not because what we’ve all been told is good for happiness doesn’t work, it’s just that what seems to work for one person, doesn’t work for another. Just as everyone’s tastes for running vs swimming, classes vs gym, team sports vs solo activity are different, so are our tastes for different happiness practices. So it is just a question of finding the right set of tools and the right kind of routine for you. But how?
Thankfully, an academic over in the States, Ken Sheldon, has devised a way to assess what kind of happiness practice might work for you. Here’s how it works:
- Take a look at the happiness practice you want to try out (e.g writing down 3 good things each day, doing random acts of kindness, keeping a gratitude journal, meditation) and give it a score out of 7 for each of the following:
- Natural – this is how natural it feels for you to do this activity. If you normally write lists, for example, listing 3 positive things each day might feel quite a natural thing to do
- Enjoyment – this is how much you think you will enjoy the activity itself. If you like the feeling of being in peace and quiet on your own, you might score meditation highly here, for example.
- Value – this is how much you value and identify with doing the activity. A high score here means that you think you’ll still keep doing it, even if it’s not always enjoyable. The same reason marathon runners press on through the pain of the 15th
- Guilt – this is how guilty you would feel if you didn’t do this activity. If you promised yourself you’d do 10 minutes mindfulness practice a day and now only do it to alleviate the guilt of breaking that promise, give yourself a high score for this. Activities that you do through guilt are less likely to be the ones that work for you!
- Situation – this is how much your situation compels or forces you to do the activity, when you wouldn’t do it otherwise. For example, if you have a friend who wants you to do some random acts of kindness with him, or if there is a policy of happiness practices imposed on you at work.
- Once you have given the activity a score based on the above criteria, you then add together your scores for Natural, Enjoyment and Value (the intrinsic motivators) and then subtract the scores for Guilt and Situation (the extrinsic or negative motivators). The closer the result is to 21 the more likely it is to be a good fit for you and an activity you will succeed at building into your day with real improvement to your subjective wellbeing (that’s what scientists call happiness).
But there’s more to it than that. As with anything, the more we do it the less we start to notice it, so variety is key to ensure that what you are doing continues to have a real impact. As soon as an activity starts to feel routine, change it. You might want to change one thing about it – where, when or how you do it, for example – or change to a new activity altogether. It’s up to you, but whatever you do, know why you are doing it and be open to trying new things that might work better for you.
How might this mean you change what you’re doing at home and at work? As with any kind of fitness regime (because this is fitness for your mind), it needs to be something that you feel genuinely motivated to do, otherwise it won’t stick. And just because it works for Shona in accounts, doesn’t mean it has to work for you. If you’re in an office trying to encourage happiness habits, why not offer people a range of things they could do and encourage them to try out what works for them? It will not only make for more interesting water-cooler moments, but a more genuinely happy workplace too.