Happy in Less Than A Minute

Cover of "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Cha...

Cover via Amazon

“I am a busy person.” ~ Sophie

Thank Sophie. She is the reason that Richard Wiseman decided to come up with some alternative ways to achieve happiness without spending  forty years in therapy, six months in an experiential study, or half a million dollars at a spa. Sophie asked Wiseman what he thought of the “self-help happiness industry”. She had just purchased a book on the subject and was curious about his take on the subject. Apparently in response, he sunk his teeth deftly but deeply into the topic and provided her with some of the complex academic works on happiness he was familiar with.

Sophie stopped him in his tracks, told him she was a “busy person” and asked him if he could come up with “some effective advice that didn’t take quite so much time to implement”.  He asked her how long. She said: “About a minute.” So he rose to the challenge and produced the book, “59 Seconds – Think A Little, Change A Lot.”

This little book is a gem of down-sized knowledge. It includes all kinds of tests and some myth busters,  with a little genuine state-of-the-art scientific knowledge to boot. Wiseman is undeniably smart. After all he is Britain’s only Professor of  the Public Understanding of Psychology, and has an international reputation for doing research in unusual areas.

If you are a “busy person” like Sophie, you can skip to the last chapter of his book, aptly named “Conclusions” where Wiseman provides 10 ways that have been scientifically studied and verified to bring happiness to your life. He says he is quite sure that he could “on a good day….describe all ten in just under a minute”. I have chosen five for your immediate consumption, and if you are curious, you can pick his book up and find out what the other five are. And if you are not too busy, you might read the whole 296 pages of his tiny tome.

Without further ado, the teaser tips are:

1. Develop the Gratitude Attitude. Nothing new here, but it bears repetition. He says you should list three things that you are grateful for each day, and by the end of the month you will be “more optimistic about the future”.

2. Be a giver. Apparently even the smallest acts of kindness produce a fast-acting and significant boost in happiness. (something like an antacid).

3. Hang a mirror in your kitchen. People who do this have a 32% reduction in their consumption of unhealthy food. (I will not be doing this.)

4. Buy a potted plant—it reduces stress and induces good moods, which promotes creativity. (Unless, of course, you are like me and forget to water it, and it dies, which then produces a sense of both guilt and failure.)

5. Touch people slightly on the upper arm. It makes people more likely to agree to a request because the touch is unconsciously perceived as a sign of high status. (I might be selective in just whom I would choose to practice this on.)

A really easy way to be happy is to behave like a happy person. And if you need some help, Wiseman recommends that you clench a pencil between your teeth, which forces the lower part of your face into a smile. He believes people who force their faces into a smile feel happier.

My suggestion?  Do this pencil trick in public, thereby not only making yourself smile, but others too—because you will look funny.

Happiness mind-map

Extreme Optimism: An Extreme Sport

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pess...

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pessimist would pick half empty, while the optimist would choose half full. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Extreme optimists do not have their safefuards up and are unrealistic.” ~ Tali Sharot, author of  The Optimism Bias

The notion that holding low expectations will protect us from disappointments is known as defensive pessimism.  So saysTali Sharot, author of “The Optimism Bias”. She seems to know whereof she speaks as she has her doctorate in psychology and neuroscience. Smart girl.  But she has dashed one of my illusions quite abruptly with her statement. I always thought that if you did not expect much, then when you happened on a good thing, you appreciated it more. Apparently not.

Sharot says that having low expectations does not diminish the pain of failure and does not protect us against negative emotions when unwanted outcomes occur. So, I am giving up being a defensive pessimist. In the past I have called myself an optimistic pessimist, or a pessimistic optimist thinking I had everything covered. I hoped for the best, but was not surprised when it did not happen; at the same time I had doubts about the best happening, but hoped anyway. This can be very confusing—hence, my life (and quite possibly yours too.)

Sharot says that optimists are people who hold positive expectations of the future and expect to do well in life with all the accoutrements of that life: good relationships, a productive job, good health, and that illusive thing called happiness. (Illusive as everyone is happy in a different way, contrary to some schools of thought.) In other words, optimists have hope—but a hope that embraces their goals in such a way that they stay committed to them—which Sharot says makes reaching them “more likely to become a reality.”

Echoes of the Optimism Bias

Echoes of the Optimism Bias (Photo credit: jurvetson)

Her findings that pessimists die younger than optimists, and are more likely to “perish prematurely as a result of accidental or violent events, such as car crashes drowning, work accidents and homicide” have convinced me to give up my ‘glass half empty but hoping it will be full’ attitude. From here on in, my cup runneth over – full or not, I am going to hold a positive expectation that it will be full. BUT….there is always a but isn’t there (oh sorry, I am being defensively pessimistic again), Sharot believes we have to guard against being an extreme optimist.

Extreme optimists do not have their safeguards up and are unrealistic. They think they are going to live longer than others (hey, I call myself middle-aged—yet if I lived the same number of years I have currently under my belt, I would be giving Methuselah a run for his money); they do not sign prenuptial agreements (me neither);  they do not get frequent medical screenings (stupid, I know, but me again); and think they can complete a project in record time without considering the stuff that can get in the way of meeting their deadline (I used to do my weekly column the morning of my deadline day, which sometimes made it hard to complete when I got sick. Now I at least try to do it a few days ahead of time, hence—old dog: new trick).

So, I guess, in a way I am an extreme optimist as I always think, no matter how bad things are, that they are going to get better. Mind you, sometimes getting through some of the stuff we have to get through can be a bit of an empty glass situation at times—but hey, I still contend you cannot appreciate the good stuff without having the bad stuff to compare it to. But then again, there is no doctorate in psychology or neuroscience in my background—so what do I know?

Sharot’s finding are quite clinical. Life is not clinical—it has its ups and downs, and some sideways. My father-in-law had a favourite saying that I am just now beginning to understand: “It is a long road with no turning.” Sometimes it is a long road with no turning and we have to take the bumps as they are served up.

In the meantime, I am not going to label myself as it is all just a bit too bewildering, baffling and befuddling (as opposed to bewitched, bothered and bewildered). In this column I started out as a defensive pessimist, ran the gamut from pessimistic optimist to optimistic pessimist, then found traces of extreme optimism (which in some corners is called stupidity) in my personality. Methinks, I doth protest too much.