How do you measure happiness?  It’s a fascinating question and one that blends psychology, neuroscience, economics, and other interdisciplinary measures.  Happiness research has also been finding favor among business types in the last few years as people attempt to determine exactly what makes us happy and if there is some fixed measurement to rank an individual’s happiness.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert recently published an articled entitled “The Science Behind the Smile.”  In it he argues that our assumptions about things that make us happy or unhappy, and the causal factors behind these things, are largely misunderstood or simply incorrect.  One might assume, for example, that purchasing a new home or taking that dream vacation will make us very happy.  And by contrast, that losing a job or a relationship will have equally damning effects on our attitude.  Mr. Gilbert’s research and conclusions, however, reveal the fleeting and rather superficial nature of both emotional conditions.

Turns out, happiness (and unhappiness) are temporary states that need to be reinforced or avoided accordingly.  For example, a twoweek trip to Bora Bora may make you radically happy.  But this happiness will not sustain itself.  It will last, best case scenario, for about three months.  Just long enough for the water cooler conversations to subside and the digital photos to be archived in your Flickr or Instagram account.  The same is true for other happy events: the start of a new romance, purchasing a home, professional achievement.  You’ll get about a three month improvement in your overall happiness.  The same time frame holds true for negative events.  You lose a job.  A relationship falls apart.  A big project is scratched.  You’ll be unhappy for about three months.  And then it subsides.

So what sustains Happiness?  That really is the question.  How do we keep it going?  The answer cannot be financial, as most of us would go broke trying to buy and buy and buy the next new shiny toy.  Ironically, Gilbert’s findings illustrate that consumerism is actually a double-edged sword.  In as much as it’s gratifying most of us realize that it’s not sustainable and, in worst cases, it can cause a depression all its own.  The answer cannot be simply interpersonal.  If that were the case we’d most likely be in the habit of building, destroying, and building new relationships three or four times a year.  So that’s a no-go.  The answer, turns out, is much simpler than that.

Doing ‘Good.’  That’s the secret to sustaining happiness.  ‘Good’ in this sense is obviously an abstract noun.  And although ‘Good’ is different for each of us, we all know what it means.  As the Greeks wrote:  ‘And what is good, Phaedrus,/And what is not good–/Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”  ‘Good.’  Immutable and right.  Gilbert concludes that doing Good on a consistent basis: our best efforts, helping others, unrequited generosity, reciprocity, and health are the only ways to consistently reinforce happiness on a Life level.  These actions not only create habits but reinforce an understanding that we are capable of best efforts for ourselves and for the people in our lives.

“Doing” is a verb, and should be treated as such.  “Thinking” good thoughts is important.  “Feeling” good is a by-product.  “Believing” in good is a matter of hope and faith.  But “Doing” Good means there is action.  And action is tangible.  Proof that we can positively impact ourselves and others.  It is a manifestation of our best qualities.  This manifestation, this “doing” represents our finest selves (imperfect as they may be) and is the first step towards generating and sustaining Happiness.

So without oversimplifying anything, Do Some Good.  Do Something That Matters.  I think you know what I mean.  To the best within you.

The Happiness Re-Wire

What is happiness?  You know when you’re happy–it’s a very circumstantial emotion.  You also know what makes you happy.  For some people it’s a trip to the mall.  For others it’s an unexpected call from a friend.  But what about the ‘why.’  Why are we happy when we’re happy?  It’s a question that Harvard scholar Shawn Achor spent nearly 10 years researching. His work examined brain chemistry, psychology, sociological factors, and personal habits that impact happiness.  And here’s what Shawn and his team concluded:  You can rewire your brain for happiness.

Imagine what this means.  You can re-wire your brain so that you’re fundamentally more happy.  A happier you. Every day.  Although I will surely advise you to do your own research on Mr. Achor I can cut to the chase for the sake of the blog: certain activities that are conducted over the course of 21 days will re-wire the ‘happiness’ function in your brain by causing greater dopamine production/release.  In other words, 21 days of ‘happy’ behaviors create a chemical reward system that wants to be reinforced.  I’m 4 days in to this program and I’m excited to see the results.  The very very worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have done some good along the way.  Here’s how the program breaks out: You have to complete the following 5 activities for 21 days:

1) 3 ‘thank you’s’ to people in your life, circles, work, etc.  This has been fascinating.  I’ve now sent 12 ‘thank you’s’ to people and have a 100% return on “Awwww, thank you!’ in return.  It’s amazing.

2) 1 journal entry of something that is good in your life.  Here’s my note for the day: “Mink oil reminds of my dad, and how he used to rub it in to my baseball gloves, ski gloves, and everything that was leather–always.”

3) Meditate.  This is challenging for some.  Meditation is about being quiet.  Breathing.  Focused unfocus.  It’s a beautifully relaxing exercise.  Turn off the phone, turn off the computer, find a quiet place and say a few “Om.”

4) Exercise.  Not much to say about this.  It helps you relax and releases all sorts of stress

5) Random or Not Random Act of Kindness.  I love this.  Do something unexpected for either a person you know or a person you don’t.  So far I’ve filled up a gas tank, put $15 bucks worth of food in a food bank, bought a back pack for a student, and bought some groceries for a person in need.  It doesn’t have to be a big expenditure but it feels great helping others in need.  It’s just rewarding.

According to Mr. Achor the result of doing these 5 things for 21 days is a dopamine increase in your body and a general re-wire in terms of how happy you are.  Just imagine.

And here’s added benefit: Mr. Achor’s research states that happier people are 31% more productive than folks that are either ‘normal’ or ‘depressed.’  So in the process of helping others you’ll help yourself!

Give it a go–be happy.  You deserve it.  .

The Thank You Note

I’m in the media business.  Let’s just get that on the table.  I’m not an ad man’ per se.  It’s something my company does.  I’d like to think that what I do has meaning beyond demographics, impressions, creatives, campaigns.  Advertising has changed, or at least, is slowly changing.  We’ve seen ‘the social media revolution’ roll in with its own irrepressible energy.  We’ve seen newspapers become digitized.  QR  codes that are richly engaging.  Website people throw around words like “sticky” these days.  It’s all very chic.  But what happened to just nice, person-to-person, friend-to-friend relationships?

There’s always going to be a better mousetrap.  And people in business love to go through “shiny new toy” syndrome–romancing and fondling that nifty task management software or that next “killer app.”  Yet there was a time, not that long ago, when what mattered more than anything were simpler ideals: gratitude, appreciation, reciprocity, being “good people.” That worked.  It might have worked too well.  Because like most things that prove themselves successful they’re quickly set aside–taken for granted as always having been there, always working, a trusted friend–and now let’s give it a rest.  We can supplant these angels of our character for faster and fancier medium.  Yet we cannot lose sight of their transcendent ability to connect us on a meaningful level.  And that’s what matters.

The Thank You Note is about connections, attitudes, habits, ways of thinking and living that are first and foremost designed to highlight our best characteristics.  In life and in business, these are the qualities that bring us together.  These are the qualities that last.

Cheers, Matt