Happiness is a walk in nature where I can marvel at the simplicity of the trees, flowers and the sky. Happiness is resting my head on the grass under the sun and hearing my thoughts on life.
Happiness is in the fresh pages of a brand-new book that fascinates me. A story in which I can immerse myself—experiences to be inspired by or informed about. I take out post-it notes and eagerly underline and highlight the new information with my pen.
In “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey take on the question of how to obtain happiness and create a life you find meaningful. Drawing from their experiences and science-backed research, the book presents wisdom and facts about achieving happiness. It’s an insightful and helpful read, perfect for starting the new year and incorporating more joy into various aspects of life.
Below are five of my favourite tips from the book that would benefit you to apply to create the life of your dreams and get happier.
#1: Use Your Bad Emotions for Good
“Negative emotions help us to learn valuable lessons so we don’t make mistakes again and again. That’s the case made by the late psychotherapist Emmy Gut, who showed in her research that negative feelings can be a helpful response to problems in the environment, leading us to pay appropriate attention and come up with solutions”
– Arthur C. Brooks
Embracing our negative emotions and feelings is beneficial, as these challenging experiences can lead to positive outcomes.
Arthur explains that creatives often produce their best work in a gloomy or low state. This is because sadness stimulates the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps focus on complex problems, such as writing a book or solving life challenges. Arthur suggests that we can transform pain into purpose, using unhappiness as a tool to create and achieve something extraordinary.
During the pandemic, I found myself grappling with fears and anxieties about COVID-19, questioning if life would ever return to normal and how long the lockdowns would last. Instead of dwelling on these worries, I chose to redirect my focus towards my creativity. I revisited old blog posts I had written on self-esteem, faith, and wellness and used them as a foundation to create a short E-Guide on building confidence and pursuing passions.
How do you use your bad emotions for good?
#2: Be the Adult in Charge through Metacognition
“The process of managing the weather is called metacognition. Metacognition (which technically means thinking about thinking) is the act of experiencing your emotions consciously, separating them from your behaviour and refusing to be controlled by them. Metacognition begins with understanding what emotions are and how they work,”
– Arthur C. Brooks.
Metacognition helps us become more aware of our good and bad feelings and understand how they affect our reactions to what’s happening around us. Arthur suggests taking note of these emotions through writing or journaling to observe and better understand them.
“Journalling is scientifically proven to help us manage our emotions because it forces you to translate inchoate feelings into specific thoughts, An action that requires your prefrontal cortex. This creates emotional knowledge and regulation. In one study, college students who were assigned structured self-reflective journalling were better able to understand and regulate their feelings about school.”
Writing and journaling teach us to choose our reactions based on our desired outcomes rather than letting negative emotions dictate our responses. Arthur emphasises that we always have the choice to either reshape the world around us or alter our reaction to it.
When you are met with a difficult situation in life, consider how your response and reaction would affect it.
#3: Spend Your Time Laughing A Lot More
“Researchers have found that a particularly humourless ideology is fundamentalism in one’s belief. I am right, and you are evil. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the current ideological climate in the United States (and many other countries) is also humourless or that political extremist are so ready to use their offence at humour as a weapon. To be happier and make others happier, no matter what your politics, don’t participate in the war on jokes, said”
– Arthur C. Brooks
Enjoy finding humour in life; it makes things more manageable and enjoyable. Arthur suggests a few simple ways to do this: first, try not to take things too seriously and lighten up a bit. You don’t have to be the one making jokes – just enjoying them is enough, especially for someone like me who loves watching comedies but isn’t the best at telling jokes. Lastly, staying positive is key.
Humour is essential for happiness. It’s linked to feeling good about yourself, being optimistic, satisfied with life, and less stressed or anxious. Personally, I’ve always looked to comedy shows like “Friends,” “30 Rock,” and “The Office” to lift my mood.
What are the things that make you laugh out loud?
#4: Make Time for Useless Relationships
“The surest way to improve your inner world is to focus on the outer world because happiness inside comes from looking outside. I’m not saying that happiness depends on external circumstances; we’ve already seen that waiting for someone or something else to make you happy is a losing game. My point is that our lives are spent in connection to other people, to our work, to nature and the divine and the more that we improve those connections, the better off we are,”
– Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah shares that shifting our focus from ourselves to others and the world significantly enhances our lives. She treasures her relationships, like with Stedman, her life partner of thirty years, whom she views as a visionary planner. Her best friend, Gayle King, is the extroverted cheerleader in her life. These relationships are special to Oprah because they complement each other well, demonstrating how our interactions can positively shape our lives.
On the other hand, Arthur talks about the importance of family and friends. He emphasises open communication, honesty, and the willingness to address conflicts within the family, along with practising forgiveness and patience.
In friendships, he differentiates between ‘deal friends’, who are part of ‘expedient friendships’ based on mutual benefits, and ‘real friends’. According to Arthur, real friends are those with whom you share a love for something outside yourselves, like a hobby or a belief, and these friendships aren’t dependent on work, money, or ambition. They are valuable for their essence, not for what they can provide.
Arthur also says that we have to look for “uselessness” in friendships. Those friends are those that “require showing up in places that are unrelated to your worldly ambitions. Whether it is a house of worship, a bowling league, or a charitable cause unrelated to your work, these are the places where you meet people who might be capable of sharing your love but without advancing your career. When you meet someone you like, don’t overthink it, invite them over,” he said.
How many friends do you have that are useless to you? Those are the keepers.
#5: Do Work that is Love Made Visible
“The third pillar for building a happier life is meaningful work. Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are positively related and casual: liking your job causes you to be happier all around. Engaging in work with your whole heart is one of the best ways to enjoy your days, get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and see meaning in your efforts.” Work, at its best, is “love made visible,” in the elegant words of the Lebanese Poet Kahlil Gibran,”
– Arthur Brooks.
Arthur highlights the significance of work in our lives and its impact on happiness. He suggests that while pay and benefits are crucial, they are extrinsic rewards. To truly find happiness in work, we need intrinsic rewards. He identifies earned success, the feeling of being effective at your job, as one such reward. Enhancing skills and job performance can lead to job satisfaction.
Another intrinsic reward is the sense of serving others and feeling that your job contributes positively to the world. This isn’t limited to charity or non-profit work; it can be found in any job, especially those where the employer’s values align with yours.
Arthur also warns against work addiction. He notes that workaholism is often a response to emotional distress and is linked to psychiatric issues like anxiety and depression. Harvard Professor Ashley Whillans suggests a ‘time audit’ to balance work and other activities, tracking how each activity makes you feel. This can reveal how much time is spent working versus enjoying life.
Finally, Arthur emphasises that while your job is part of your identity, it isn’t the sum total of who you are. Creating a separation between work and personal life is essential. He recommends vacations where work is not a focus and forming friendships outside of professional circles to maintain a balanced sense of self.
Reading this book made it very clear how to get happier.
To get happier, take a holistic look at how you handle your emotions. Ask yourself: Do your emotions often take the driver’s seat, or do you skillfully manage them to suit your surroundings?
Being proactive is vital in enhancing your happiness. Actively seek out activities and experiences that uplift your mood and bring joy. Carve out time for things that draw smiles and laughter.
Relationships also play a significant role in your well-being. Surround yourself with people who genuinely enrich your life, those with whom you share interests and who add positivity to your days.
Your work life is another crucial aspect. Reflect on the rewards your job provides – are they contributing to your overall happiness?
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to building a happier life. It’s about examining various aspects of your life and identifying what changes will lead to greater personal satisfaction and joy.
Also, you can take a happiness course for free by Arthur C. Brooks. It is called Managing Happiness.