Ask Yourself: What Will Make You Happy?

I’ve spent years exploring what makes people happy, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Photo by Allef Vinicius

It is a fundamental questions we ask ourselves. Many think happiness is found in that big promotion or a hefty salary. They believe that once we achieve a status or marker, we will be happy. Others have argued that happiness occurs by chance or luck. But, what if there was a way to find fulfillment and happiness in a completely different way?

As a human behavior scientist and author of The 2 AM Principle: Discover The Science of Adventure, I have spent years traveling around the world exploring what is it that causes people lead fun, fulfilling and exciting lives.

You can buy happiness (Sometimes)

Research has found that money will make you happier if you earn below a stable income. If someone lives in poverty, more money will lead to more happiness. But, once you are not concerned about your food and shelter, more money won’t have a significant impact.

Photo by nomao saeki

Shut off your alarm

When was the last night you got a full night’s sleep? When you are tired, it is difficult to enjoy any aspect of your life, from food and travel to work and family. Exhaustion will greatly affect productivity, creativity, and happiness, so make sure to sleep and take naps when you need them.

Get in the Flow

In fact, the one influence that is rarely discussed but can have the greatest impact on your happiness, at work and in life, is known as flow state. Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied professionals across all industries and found that they all describe a state of peak performance that became known as flow. In this state, people report not only great satisfaction but also:

  • Time distortion, as if time slows or speeds up. A musician may think that minutes have passed when really they have been practicing for hours. A ballerina going into a turn that lasted a fraction of a second will be able to see every person in the audience.
  • Being fully engrossed in the activity to the point that they and the task are intertwined.
  • No self consciousness
  • Participating in something intrinsically rewarding.
  • They are in control of the activity.

According to Csikszentmihalyi three conditions must be met in order to enter flow.

  1. The objective you are pursuing and progress you are making are clear.
  2. You are getting clear and immediate feedback as to make adjustments and maintain flow.
  3. You need to believe that you can succeed. The task needs to be hard enough to engage you, but not so hard that you are constantly failing.

Since most of us are not professional athletes, artists or dancers, the greatest access to flow may be found in work or through social experiences. In light of this, there are a few ways we can more easily enter flow from day to day:

Now it’s your turn

The mistake that many people make when it comes to happiness is that they believe it happens passively. The happiest people I know put the most effort into it (The Happiness Project, 10% happier, Stumbling on Happiness).

While studying the science of adventure, it became clear that we must be pursuing a goal slightly outside of our comfort zone to be engaged and excited. If it is too easy, we will be unmotivated. If it is too hard, we will not believe we can achieve it. Whether you are working on a project at work or going out for a night on the town, set a clear goal. If the goal isn’t engaging enough, use constraints such as limiting time, resources and options to make the activity more exciting. Also, since you need to be singularly focused to enter flow, eliminate all unnecessary distractions, notifications, etc or you will be constantly pulled out.

Flow is the ultimate feeling of enjoyment from participating in an activity. But, don’t worry if you don’t instantly reach it. It takes time and experience. You can still be rewarded in the pursuit of developing skills and doing great work. To find out more science-backed tips and tricks to living a more fun, exciting, and fulfilling life pick up a copy of The 2 AM Principle.

Originally published at medium.com

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