Everyone’s looking for the recipe for happiness — just scroll through Amazon’s self-help books section and you’ll see page after page of variations on books teaching you how to be your happier self. Self-improvement is, in fact, a $10 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone, and that doesn’t dip during the recession.
This weekend, that quest comes to Miami with the first-ever World Happiness Summit.
The summit is going to have more than 50 speakers — featuring everyone from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a peace negotiator and six-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee to Mo Gawdat, the Chief Business Officer of Google X — from March 16 to 19.
Attendees will be introduced to tools or “practices of happiness,” among other things.
For them to work, “you have to use those tools or do those actions daily, like you brush your teeth and take your vitamins,” explained Suzanne Jewell, the chief mindfulness officer of the World Happiness Summit.
Jewell and Karen Guggenheim, the co-founder of the World Happiness Summit, gave us a little preview of the summit with eight ways to build happiness in your daily life.
“Some of these things seem ambiguous but I challenge someone to do this list for 21 days and see how you feel,” Guggenheim said. (21 is the magic number because humans work well in threes, and three weeks is how long it takes to create a habit.)
Before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for.
This is about the power of gratitude. If you actually create a journal and write down things you’re grateful for, you will shift the amount of tension you might be carrying around.
It helps get your brain off what you didn’t do or what emails you need to send and calms you down so you can reset for the next day. If three is too much, try starting by describing one event.
Spend three minutes a day on mindfulness.
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, non-judgmentally. Here’s an example: Becoming aware of your breath. Spend three minutes thinking “I am breathing in and I know that I am breathing in. I am breathing out and I know that I am breathing out.”
Mindfulness can increase your neuroplasticity, which is the flexibility or ability to make new neural pathways and take in new information. It also increases your cortical folds, which are the wrinkles you see on an image of the brain. These help your brain become more resilient and handle stress better.
Focus on one thing at a time
Humans can’t multitask. Research proves it. And new information can’t come into a stressed brain.
Guggenheim shared a personal story for this tip: She lost her husband of 21 years just before starting an MBA program at Georgetown. She threw herself completely into the program, almost as a coping mechanism.
“I had to focus on this class and it was a fantastic relief of my emotional state. If I didn’t pay attention, I was going to fail — I was paying attention on purpose,” she said.
That focus helped her get past the grief and helped her excel in her course.
The previous tip follows this one. Be present in the current experience. The past causes depression and the future causes anxiety.
Try something new
Learning something new makes your neurons fire in new ways, creating new neural pathways, and again increasing neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows your brain to be more malleable and helps your brain deal with things like disease and lack of memory. It’s like exercise.
So do something new. That could be sudoku, knitting, or even marathon running — this is what they call a happiness practice. Find your own happiness practice. There are 7.1 billion people in the world that can have 7.1 billion different practices.
Set an intention
When you’re going to bed, tell yourself tomorrow is going to be great. Sure, the traffic isn’t going to go away, but if you set an intention for your brain, you either make a mountain out of a molehill or molehill out of a mountain. The point is that you’re choosing — you’re fully in control of how you perceive reality.
This is really good for your nervous system. It relaxes muscles in your face and sends a signal to your brain that all is well.
Acknowledging someone for something they did
Happiness is contagious. Acknowledging someone increases your happiness and also increases the other person’s happiness.