At some point, almost everyone gets asked: what would make you happy?
For me, it’s a world where people who leave online comments on news stories have to pass a basic IQ test before posting. Pipe dream, I know.
For most people, our answer to that question is usually some lofty “life goal” that we need to achieve before we can be happy.
- Get married and start a family
- Finish my degree
- Make $X per year
The problem with that approach is that we’re waiting for events — and often, other people — to give us permission to be happy.
There’s been a lot of research on the psychology of happiness, and one of the most powerful conclusions is this: while some cultures and groups of people tend be naturally happier, happiness can be created.
And generally, it’s not by achieving big life milestones (though we do tend to grow happier as we get older).
The research points to a great — for us — finding: happiness is something you can build through practice. There are things you can do each day that will make you happier.
Today, I’m sharing three little “hacks” you can practice each day in just a few minutes (or less) to be happier and less stressed while you work.
1) Smile (seriously)
Can forcing a smile actually make you happier and less stressed?
Research suggests that the answer is yes. In one study published in Psychological Science, researchers used chopsticks to manipulate people’s mouths (please do not do this at the sushi bar) into neutral expressions and smiles. Other participants were simply told to smile.
The scientists then hit the participants with a variety of activities designed to increase stress, which they were told to do while holding their facial expressions steady.
Here’s what happened: the subjects who smiled dealt with the stressful activities much better, with lower heart rates and lower self-reported stress levels across the board. Even the participants with forced smiles felt better than those who didn’t smile atll.
Another interesting note here: the absolute best results were recorded in those participants who forced a Duchenne smile (basically, a full-face smile that wrinkles your cheeks and eyes, instead of just a mouth smile).
Do this now: Try to mimic George’s smile. Seriously, try it. Smile so wide your cheeks hurt.
2) Make progress
How often do you feel like you’re spending your day just ticking items off of your to-do list?
Like you’re spinning your wheels, one project after another?
When you spend each day doing the same things over and over, it’s easy to fall into a rut.
Fortunately, there’s data to suggest that there’s a pretty easy fix: setting goals.
But not just any goals; they have to be personally meaningful.
Researchers found that people who make small (that’s an important keyword) steps towards a personally meaningful goal show far higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction on an hourly basis (that means you’ll see results fast).
So even if your work is stressing you out, you can become happier by adding a meaningful goal to your life and making just a small amount of time each day to work towards it.
The goal can be anything, as long as you make it important to you. Some examples:
- Lose ten pounds.
- Increase your typing speed by 20%.
- Meditate for 10 days straight
- Learn how to play X song on Y instrument
- Read one book per month
Do this now: Set a small goal. Each day, take a small step toward your goal. Once you achieve it, set a new goal. Repeat.
3) Do a small act of kindness
You’ll never see me feeding you inspirational fluff about kindness and rainbows.
BUT that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to be kind to others. And if you needed a better reason to do nice things than simply not being a terrible person, science has you covered.
Research shows that there are many simple activities that reliably make people happier. My favorite is doing acts of kindness. The generous acts don’t have to be random and they don’t have to be a certain kind (e.g, anonymous or social or big, etc.). We have found that almost any types of acts of kindness boost happiness.
Here’s another kicker: a Stanford study actually found that smaller acts of kindness create more happiness than big ones.
It may sound crazy, but it certainly makes our job easier when it comes to hacking happiness.
A few examples of small acts of kindness that I can personally attest to being happiness-inducing:
- Mail a handwritten thank-you note (to ANYONE: your client, your mentor, your friend, your barber…anyone.)
- Buy coffee for the person behind you in line. (Just don’t stick around and try to work.)
- Send someone a pizza on reddit’s Random Acts of Pizza
- Email someone who deserves a compliment
- Loan money to an entrepreneur in need on Kiva.org
Do this now: Take 5 minutes and do a small act of kindness for someone.
The three hacks above are more than just ways to become happier; each one has benefits beyond the immediate result of elevating our mood and lowering our stress.
Studies have shown that smiles are contagious, so smiling can actually make the people around us happier.
Setting goals and achieving them helps us grow personally and professionally, accomplishing things we otherwise wouldn’t have.
And acts of kindness have obvious benefits for the recipients.
Give these a try, and you’ll feel better in minutes. And next time you catch yourself clenching your teeth in the middle of tough day…you’ll have three quick, easy solutions to turn to.
(Tip of the hat to my friends at Buffer, whose great post on 10 happiness hacks inspired me to share three more here.)