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The Cheat's Guide To Happiness

It’s happiness month here on Same Same. In our quest to find an answer to “What makes you happy?” we sent Jody Ekert to a two day happiness workshop, armed only with a pen, some curiosity and a handful of hope. This week she gives us some shortcuts to a more joyous existence.

I’m always looking for shortcuts. So over the two days of the conference I took notes on any easy ways of increasing happiness. I didn’t want airy-fairy bullshit. I didn’t want a definition of happiness that was impossible to achieve. I wanted scientifically proven, practical suggestions to feel happier, whatever that actually meant. The simpler or lazier the better I figured, and the more likely I would be to put the idea into practice. Then I hit upon the idea of trying to combine all of them into a kind of cheat’s guide to happiness. Below is the end result with some links for further reading. If you do follow one of these suggestions, or all of them, tell us how it works for you. We’d all love to know.

Give up on chasing more money.
This one was suggested by Daniel Gilbert. Increased money does not buy more happiness, beyond a level needed for survival. His book is called Stumbling On Happiness. Learn to live with what you earn right now, and adjust your spending if needed. If you’re over working yourself and neglecting other parts of your life for more money then stop!

Learn to trust and ask for the experiences of others.
We’re bad at predicting what will make us happy. But if we seek out someone who is currently living what we are thinking of living, this can guide us. Say, if you think a relationship will fix you, talk to people in relationships. If you think it’s living overseas or buying a house, talk to someone who has just gone through a house purchase or a move. You will probably find these people don’t think they are a million times happier than you. The science and experiments conducted around this are also outlined in Stumbling On Happiness.

Mediation has proved to increase the activity in an area of your brain called the insula, according to Dr Richard J Davidson. The insula is considered the area of “mind-body connection”.

An article in the New York Times claims:
“The insula ‘lights up’ in brain scans when people crave drugs, feel pain, anticipate pain, empathise with others, listen to jokes, see disgust on someone’s face, are shunned in a social settings, listen to music, decide not to buy an item, see someone cheat and decide to punish them, and determine degrees of preference while eating chocolate. Damage to the insula can lead to apathy, loss of libido and an inability to tell fresh food from rotten.”

Even as little as a two-week training course, or half an hour a day can help activate this area. Monks who mediate for eons have great insulas apparently. And that’s about as hippy and spiritual as I’ll get with this list. I promise.

Practice Gratitude.
One exercise is to think of someone in your life who has influenced you in a positive way, who is still alive to day. Ring them and tell them you are coming to visit but don’t tell them why. Then write 300 words on how this person has helped you and when you visit them, read it to them. This will probably lead to both parties crying, which is quite normal according to Dr Martin Seligman. Follow-ups show that for anyone who has done this there is a sustained increase in happiness, a decrease in depression and a more positive attitude toward past events – even many months after the visit.

On a daily basis, writing down five things you are grateful for also has a similar effect. I actually use a gratitude web site that emails me every day and asks me to record my five things.

You can also do a bunch of quizzes and readings at Dr Seligman’s University Centre.

Even two hours a week is enough to show improved levels of contentment and several of the speakers drilled in the importance of giving and it’s relationship to happiness.

Learn to use a bit of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).
CBT teaches you to recognise that even though you can’t control the world around you, you can choose how you respond to it and feel about it, and thus how you can choose your own consequences. It is a therapy used to help alleviate depression and change problem eating and behavioural patterns.

Here’s an example of the ABC technique:
A (Action): My friend didn’t ring me like they said they would.
B (Belief): Nobody cares for me. I must be unlovable.
C (Consequence): Depression, anxiety.

CBT would challenge you to pick a different belief. Like, oh, my friend must have been really busy. That allows for a different consequence, like perhaps picking up the phone yourself. There is a free online course called MoodGym run by the Australian National University to help you use CBT.

Visit friends.
A good social network can help with curing depression and even lower the risk of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, according to Sophie Scott in her book Live A Longer Life.

Chocolate and red wine.
Two squares of dark, cocoa rich chocolate a day is all you need, and a glass of wine. The chemicals involved can make you feel happier and healthier, also according to Sophie Scott. Like you needed another reason.

Don’t bottle up emotions.
Stress can reduce the ability to fight infection, bottled emotions can cause stress. Some psychologists think that we also damage our self-esteem when we deny our feelings. Learn to release your feelings in a positive way. Use a journal, bitch to a friend, cry alone to music – whatever.

Studies show those that who spent 20 minutes a day venting on paper were much happier than those that didn’t. We’ve even got a venting forum thread here on Same Same. Knock yourself out.

Other articles in the happiness series:
Happy Happy Joy Joy!
Come On, Get Happy!
Goodwill Hunting.

Comments arrow left
Christian Taylor

Christian Taylor said on the 11th Jun, 2008

what an awesome article jody. you've really inspired me this week! i have been to butterbeehappy and thought it was a great idea. [although i thought they were meant to email you everyday to ask you for five things? they haven't emailed me yet...] anyway, i entered my five things and found it quite hard to think of five actually. i told a friend about it later and he said something quite profound - "gratitude is easy! they don't have to be big things! even the smallest things are huge. be grateful you can walk. be grateful you are loved. be grateful you live in a western democracy!" it was hard to argue with that. i think we all forget to be grateful for the little things.

also, you've inspired me to take up meditation. who wants to join me? who knows a good place to go? i thought maybe once a week would be a good way to start.

talking to others about their experiences is also a great thing. i have always thought that moving o/s would create more happiness in my life, but it would probably do the opposite... at least in the short term.

and the money thing - well i have always known that. money isn't a motivator for me. it's not real. and you can't take it with you. so yes, it compliments happiness, but it doesn't bring you much else... unless it comes effortlessly.


morgan said on the 11th Jun, 2008

I'm sure they must have been really busy, Christian, or they've some kind of technical difficulty...

This is a great article, Jody, and it's all really true in my own experience. I had a few years of counselling after a, um, couple of major traumas several years back, and a lot of these points came up, both directly and indirectly. Practising it is a little different, though.


dreadcircus said on the 11th Jun, 2008

Fantastic article Jodie. You have really covered some great points here and quite a few I'm going to adopt over the coming months. Thankyou for taking the time to write something really inspiring.. I love the venting on paper I vent on my pc notepad every night before bed and have been doing so for the past 2 months. It's proven to be awesome to get rid of the crap.

Tim D

Tim D said on the 11th Jun, 2008

Loves loves loves loves loves it.


natejd87 said on the 11th Jun, 2008

Doesn't it give you the warm and fuzzy's??? Loved it though Jody.. Very nice!


SPD68 said on the 11th Jun, 2008

these things are fascinating. I recommend everyone have a look at which is amazing & shows how ecan all change our lives by changing our thinking. Scientifically proven!


DavidL said on the 11th Jun, 2008

That was a great article Jody! Definitely THE thing that made me smile today :)

You might want to check that your "Remind me to post" setting is set to "every day".


mccorkellg said on the 11th Jun, 2008

We can all do with reminders of reasons to be cheerful. The fact that you've taken time to spread the good news is more than one good reason - thanks Jody.


Kelty said on the 14th Jun, 2008

A great article Jody - I'm enjoying this series..

I'd be interested to know if you (or anyone else) finds it easy to put these sorts of things into practice? Trust, gratitude and managing emotions are not that straight forward and can be a challenge for some... I think CBTworks well if you are self aware enough of your own issues AND prepared to do something about it..

I guess my point is - focussing on one's true self is often very hard to do. Once you have dealt with your inner demons - either love, accept/manage or take steps to change - only then can true happiness for yourself have the chance to blossom.... flow on effect to others... ying & yang etc.....

Your articles make me question my own level of happiness in a positive way and what I am doing to achieve my version of happiness....


tristcodisco said on the 16th Jun, 2008

Jody, you should start a group up, seriously. I always find focussing on breathing really grounding wherever I am, and I always say "wherever you go, there you are". This insula business is fascinating, I imagine there are people who claim to see insula's light up like some people claim to see auras around us. There must be a Mind, Body, Spirit festival coming up sometime soon?


LadyLover62 said on the 13th Oct, 2008

Ty Jodie, I have suffered depression for years and although I take daily medication I still have a negative thought process at times, hopefully the moodgym will assist in my self help process.