A lot has been written about what makes you happy, how to be happy, and the specific hormones that happiness creates (see the list of happiness hormones at end of article). There is no doubt that feeling happy has a strong positive physical impact.
But happiness can be elusive and short-lived for many people.
The 2 habits to make you feel happier
There are two personal characteristics, or habits, which you can adopt that will make you happier now and in the future.
Habit #1: Self-acceptance
In a study of 5,000 people the characteristic that had the biggest impact on being happy for most people was self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is defined as: an individual’s satisfaction or happiness with oneself.
Self-acceptance involves self-understanding, a realistic, albeit subjective, awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Whilst many respondents in the study recognised the impact of self-acceptance on their happiness (that is, they know they are happier when they practice self-acceptance) self-acceptance received the lowest rating for people actually performing the habit.
In other words, most people don’t readily accept the way they are and therefore struggle to be as happy as they could be.
Habit #2: Helping others
The most used habit for feeling happy is to help other people. This was one of the findings from the 5,000 people studied, and is also on the list of wise things that supremely happy people do from Emotional Intelligence author Dr Travis Bradberry.
Helping other people gives you a surge of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which create good feelings. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were 10 times more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion.
The secret to happiness is no secret – you can manufacture happiness
It’s ironic that many people undertake a quest to discover how they can be happier, when in fact the answer is already known.
- How can I be happier at work?
- How can I be happier with my partner?
- How can our team be happier?
The real secret is that happiness can be manufactured. That doesn’t mean you pretend to be happy. It means you can create happiness by doing certain things.
5 ways to practice self-acceptance and help others
It’s easy to say, but can be harder to do. How do you you start being more accepting of yourself, or to reach out and help others where in the past you haven’t? Here are some practical tips on things you can do start feeling happier.
1. Be kind to yourself and “give yourself a break” when things don’t go as planned.
See your mistakes as opportunities to learn, seriously. But don’t be arrogant and pretend you don’t make mistakes. Be humble and reflect on what you have done and what the outcome was. Think more deeply about how you contributed (or not) to that outcome.
Notice things you do well and congratulate yourself. Pause and recognise that “Hey, I was good at that” or “I did that better than I did last time”. Even for smaller tasks take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back.
2. Get feedback on what your strengths are.
We all struggle to see ourselves as others do. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are, or what they value about you.
This can help you balance out any negative self-talk that could be going on in your head. It also helps you understand what others see in you.
If you manage a team this is a great example of how you can help individuals on your team develop greater self-awareness and self-acceptance. WARNING: When giving feedback don’t mention what an individual could be doing better (often called “opportunities for improvement”) – instead give positive feedback on what they are already doing well!
3. Spend some quiet time by yourself.
It sounds like a cliché but in the modern world people are too busy. In fact they are rewarded for being ‘busy’. The busier the better! If you’re not busy, it’s like you’re not worth as much or as good as someone who is busier than you.
And it’s so easy to always be ‘busy’ with:
- Technology at our fingertips
- Social media sending us notifications
- FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real phenomenon for many young people
- Work hours extending beyond the traditional “knock off” time (thanks to technology)
- Constant downsizing, or right-sizing, or outsourcing, or off-shoring that makes the remaining workers busier than before
What can you do to combat these forces of busy-ness?
The solution is to tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are.
Here’s an idea. Why not schedule some ‘alone time’ when you can reflect on what you have achieved. Do this weekly and use it as a self-coaching process. Ask yourself: What went well? Why did it go well? What could be done differently next time?
4. Help others in a meaningful way.
Studies have found that spending money on others makes you happier than spending it on yourself. But it’s not about spending a lot of money. Buying a small but meaningful gift will achieve the goal of pleasing the recipient and making you feel happier.
But remember you don’t need to spend money to feel good about helping others. You can just do something unexpected (yet of value) for others. Or you can be a volunteer. Research into volunteering has found there are many benefits for those who volunteer, including feeling better about yourself.
5. Have more meaningful conversations.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness or become too concerned about ‘prying’ and thereby avoid having deeper conversations with people. Plus, having deeper conversations might take longer than the communication you are used to having. So it’s easy to put it off. But don’t. Instead be flexible and be prepared to spend a bit more time if you really want to communicate with more meaning.
To help you focus on having meaningful discussions – and maybe save some time – avoid participating in gossip and joining in with others who are being negative and/or judgemental (in person or on social media). Happiness spreads through people, so surround yourself with others who are also happy and have a positive outlook.
To encourage meaningful conversation with others, develop the habit of being a better listener:
- Be quiet more often
- Give the other person more room to express themselves
- Don’t jump in with your own opinions
- Let thoughts settle before rushing to analyse them
- Seek to really understand why the other person is saying or doing what they are
- Be patient
If you manage others it’s a good idea to create suitable opportunities for regular meaningful one-to-one conversations so you can gain a better understanding of each individuals reasons and motivations, and discover why your team members do what they do.
It might sound very idealistic, but it’s important to avoid being caught up in endless busyness and responding to the non-stop demands on your attention.
To become happier you must:
- Find time to be comfortable with yourself
- Make space to consider the impact of your actions, and
- Create opportunities to help others.
As a business owner, executive or business leader your decisions and your frame of mind have an impact on your whole organisation. Your happiness, or lack of it, will directly affect others around you. Therefore, it’s imperative you understand what makes you happy and be true to yourself in finding ways to make that happen.
If you would like to discuss options for improving happiness in your business you are very welcome to get in touch.
A happiness hormone creates happy feelings. Here are 11 of the main ones (many of these also act as neurotransmitters):
- Acetylcholine: Alertness, memory, sexual performance, appetite control, release of growth hormone.
- Dopamine: Feelings of bliss and pleasure, euphoric, appetite control, controlled motor movements, feel focused.
- Endocannabinoids: The ‘Bliss Molecule’ or Endocannabinoids worn on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors in the body. Researchers have isolated over 85 cannabinoids from the Cannabis plant. Each of these cannabinoids is some kind of a key to the system which alters the consciousness and state of perception in people.
- Endorphines: Mood elevating, enhancing, euphoric. The more present, the happier you are! Natural pain killers.
- Enkephalins: Restrict transmission of pain, reduce craving, reduce depression.
- GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid): Found throughout central nervous system, anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-panic, anti-pain; Feel calm, maintain control, focus.
- Melatonin: Rest and recuperation and anti-aging hormone. Regulates body clock.
- Norepinephrine: Excitatory, feel happy, alert, motivated. Anti-depressant, appetite control, energy, sexual arousal.
- Oxytocin: Stimulated by Dopamine. Promotes sexual arousal, feelings of emotional attachment, desire to cuddle.
- Phenylethylmine (PEA): Feelings of bliss, involved in feelings of infatuation (high levels found in chocolate).
- Serotonin: Promotes and improves sleep, improves self esteem, relieves depression, diminishes craving, prevents agitated depression and worrying.
List source: Sebastien Gendry