Last month I wrote a blog in which I said that life is about having two things: meaning and happiness. And unsurprisingly you asked me some very pertinent questions such as what is happiness? Why is it important? Are happy people more successful than unhappy people and is happiness a trait you can learn?
Really good questions, so I set out to find the answers.
And some of the answers quite surprised me.
I turned to the work of Professor Richard Wiseman who is best known for his work on luck. The author of The Luck Factor, Professsor Wiseman studied whether luck is something random and why some people consider themselves to be lucky and others unlucky.
In a famous experiment he asked a group of people to count the number of photographs in a newspaper….as he explains:
“I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.
For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.”
His work on happiness is even more interesting. In it he asks: ‘So why is it important to be happy?’
Well by definition you will feel better but there is more to it than that. Research at the University of California has shown that happy people are more successful, more altruistic, that happiness improves your ability to resolve conflict and strengthens the immune system.
Yes being happy can mean you’ll live a longer healthier life.
Which of course begs the question: can you learn how to be happier? Does having more money or material goods make you happier? Is positive thinking good for you? Should you take up a new hobby, spend more time with your family, talk through your problems or immerse yourself in you work?
Interestingly none of these things will make you happier in the long term (although they might give you a short term boost) and some will actually reduce your happiness.
But research has shown that there are three things you can do to become and stay happier – defined as a boost in psychological and physical well-being, a reduction in health problems and an increase in self-esteem. And as we already found out happiness doesn’t flow from success, it actually causes it.
The three things are: keep a journal in which you write about your feelings and things for which you are grateful, carry out acts of kindness towards others and express gratitude by developing a ‘gratitude attitude’. All things which you can easily do.
You can find the reasons behind these discoveries in Professor Wiseman’s book ’59 Seconds – Think a little, Change a lot.’
And so happiness, and therefore becoming more successful, is something you can learn to do and become better at.
I’ll leave the last word to John Lennon who said: “When I was 5 years old, my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment.”