3 Reasons Why The Hedonic Treadmill Will Get You Nowhere

Have you ever found yourself thinking or saying “I’ll be happy when……”? If so, it’s likely you’ve been on the Hedonic treadmill. Unlike a real treadmill, we usually don’t recognize when we are pacing on the hedonic treadmill.

What the heck is a “hedonic treadmill”?! The hedonic treadmill effect is the tendency of people to quickly return to their baseline level of happiness despite getting a small win (“I beat the traffic light before it turned red”) or a major score (“congratulations, you won the lottery!”). The good news is that it works both ways and we naturally rebound from negative events as well. The bad news is that it becomes insidious when we stride on that treadmill “to get more” and “be happy when……”.  Because even when you get what you’re after and were you want to go, you just never quite seem to arrive.

I know I’ve been on that treadmill before. How about you?

In his excellent book “The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life” Henry Cloud points out at least three reasons why  thinking “I’ll be happy when I get…….the new house, the new job, the new relationship, the bigger bank account, etc.” and other circumstantial things is a treadmill mindset that will not make you happy:

  1. External circumstances do not have the inherent power to bring us happiness- a lot of the desires and wants we think will make us happy just don’t have the staying power to fulfill. They are simply temporary “states” we find ourselves in.  The associated emotion fades once “it” is achieved or obtained or your circumstances change. Return to set point. Ironically, the very thing or achievement can then become a source of angst if we begin to worry or fear losing it.
  2. Circumstantial happiness doesn’t last– circumstances are just that: circumstantial. Not only can they change, they most definitely will. In addition, circumstances typically only account for 10% of our happiness. I could identify with his comment that whether or not he was called Henry or Dr. Cloud, his happiness had more to do with whether he was practicing the laws of happiness than with the fact he had a degree.  I had a similar experience. In fact, it was made even more poignant by the way my grandmother proudly introduced me to her friends shortly after I earned my Ph.D. She said “….he’s a doctor now, but not the kind that can really help anybody”. I knew she meant to say that I wasn’t a medical doctor. However, it was a little humbling and deflating non-the-less. Return to set point.
  3. We ignore things that can boost our levels of happiness when we chase the ones that can’t- Just like your body needs certain nutrients to make it healthy, your heart, mind, and soul need certain practices to stay healthy. There are too many to list, but some include self-regulation, confidence, novelty, relationship, intentional worship, giving, personal growth, and making steady progress in the pursuit of meaningful goals.

I think Jim Rohn said it best when quoting his mentor Earl Shoaf: “Jim, I do hope you become a millionaire one day. Not because of the money you make, but because of the person you’ll become in the process”. True happiness is more about what we are becoming and who we become than about what we get.

It’s always good to step back and reflect not only on what we are doing, but why we are doing it as well as who we are becoming in the process. As you look down, what’s telling you you’re on firm ground and not a treadmill?

Please leave a comment, sometimes the obvious is anything but and your perspective can help.

7 Benefits of Happiness You Can’t Afford To Live Without

Back to the topic of happiness here. Do you ever wonder why true happiness eludes so many people? Everyone seems to be looking for it so it seems more people would be finding it. While most in the developed world report being reasonably happy, only a minority of Americans say their “very happy”.  At the same time, the majority of Americans report being unhappy at work.  Maybe the bigger question is “what’s at stake” in the pursuit of happiness? As you’ll see if you read further, a lot more than most imagine.

Star gazing makes me happy.  I love to look at the stars, especially when it’s pitch-black. That’s when you can see small, distant dim stars that don’t show when the moon is out or with high levels of ambient light. Those stars are still a challenge to see under the best of conditions. But oddly enough, the best way to bring a dim star into focus is using a technique my dad taught me when I was a kid: focus on something else nearby instead (thanks dad, your still the greatest!).

Happiness, like gazing at a dim star in the night sky, seems to disappear when you focus on it.  On the other hand, when you pursue positive experiences and activities that give you engagement and meaning happiness can come into into view . Victor Frankle’s comments are helpful here for putting happiness in context:  happiness is something that ensues not something that you pursue. In other words, the explicit pursuit of happiness will leave you empty handed but when you pursue the right things, happiness comes home to roost.

Just as happiness is a by-product of what we do and who were are becoming, so are the benefits it brings…..and there are many:

  1. Better Health– for both minor and major illnesses, as well as for now and in the future …..even0394 BenefitsHappy II independent of other things that negatively impact health like smoking, inactivity, alcohol consumption and age. In fact, the Director of Public Health at Dumfries and Galloway NHS says happiness might be as powerful a predictor for health as smoking, diet and physical activity….if not more so! He also reiterates the fact that happiness is not a destination but something that ensues. Yes, our level of happiness is also something we can do something about. Two of the most powerful, evidence based activities for long-term happiness, according to Shawn Achor, are exercise and meditation (even if just focusing on your breathing for 2 minutes!).
  2. Less depression. This makes sense since depression and happiness are polar opposites.  Prescribing activities known to boost happiness should be the intervention of choice in many cases, not mind-numbing drugs, which is current practice.
  3. Longer Life– The classic “nun” study is truly amazing. A large percentage of nuns who were happier (expressed more positive emotions) lived longer by age 80 than their less cheerful peers. They also had less disease and lower mortality rates (didn’t die as often when they were sick). What’s even more telling is that they also seemed to have a natural immunity against Alhzheimer’s disease.  Furthermore, those that did have anatomical findings of it on autopsy didn’t exhibit the symptoms!
  4. More success–   In their scholarly paper “Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect (2005)”, Lyubomirsky, King & Diener discovered that success across all life domains is preceded by emotional flourishing, not the other way around.
  5. Improved work productivity– Up to 12% in one study.
  6. Better performance (great TED talk, btw)- If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, their brain experiences what has been called a “happiness advantage”. That simply means your brain at performs significantly better when in a positive rather than a negative, neutral or stressed state. Your intelligence, creativity and energy levels all rise.  People are 37% better at sales and doctors 19% faster as well as more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when they perform with the “happiness advantage”.
  7. Greater earnings– A one point increase in life satisfaction at age 22 has been associated with almost $2,000 higher earnings per annum at age 29. In general, a happier kid becomes a wealthier kid. HOWEVER…it’s not about the money. Numerous studies show the opposite isn’t true; greater wealth doesn’t lead to great happiness.

Clearly, being a happy person brings along with it more life impacting and life altering benefits than you can imagine. If you want to read more, the article “Why does happiness matter?” is excellent and has a TON of great links.

Another side benefit of happiness is that it is contagious. In a large study conducted over a 20 year period, Fowler and Christakis convince demonstrated that happiness is similar to an emotional contagion in that it can be transferred directly from one individual to another. As it turns out, our own level of happiness is influenced by the happiness of those with whom we are connected.

What benefits of being happy you most in need of right now? Perhaps a better question is what positive experiences and activities that give you engagement and meaning do you need to pursue so that happiness can ensue?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

What Is The “Best Flavor” of Life Happiness?

Are all “flavors” of happiness created equal?  I don’t think so, and chances are you won’t either after reading this.

When I’m coaching a client, he or she will invariably use a general term like “success” or “better” or “good” when describing what they want. When I ask them what they mean with they use a term like “better”, it never ceases to amaze me how my idea of what it means is different from theirs!

So it is with Happiness. When you dig deeper and look closer, you begin to see certain categories or “flavors” of happiness emerge that can be defined. Martin Seligman has done an excellent job of identifying what I see as “4 Flavors” of life happiness:

  1. The “Pleasant Life”-  wrapped up in the successful pursuit of the positive feelings, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions.
  2. The “Good Life”- not about maximizing positive emotion, but recognizes both positive and negative emotions in order to fully develop and flourish. In addition, there is a focus on successfully using signature strengths to obtain abundant and authentic gratification.
  3. The “Meaningful Life”- encompasses the Good Life, but has an additional facet and very important distinction: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than yourself. I would also add that it goes beyond the temporal and includes something related to the eternal.
  4. The “Full Life”-  which is to to live all three.

I believe another important element integral to the “Full Life” is having clear-cut goals that give us a sense of purpose and direction. As Carolyn Miller points out in her book Creating Your Best Life, the beauty of making meaningful progress in goals related to key areas of our life is that it often has a “spillover effect and raises our satisfaction in other important areas.

We can choose to live day to day and feel good by exercising good happiness practices and activities that truly gratify vs simply pursuing small pleasures. We can also use our talents to pursue meaningful goals and accomplishments. However, without a higher purpose and meaning we won’t experience the taste of living our lives at the highest level.

In our age of mass marketing and media overload, we’ve been spoon-fed a diet leaving most of  us with a taste for only the “Pleasant Life”. Think about it- what flavor of happiness do you find yourself in pursuit of most of the time? The next shoe to drop (so to speak) is “What do you need to do to refine your taste?”  Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your flavor(s) or ones you want to try!

Who Are The Trail Guides On The Road To Happiness?

Perhaps just as important as mile-markers on the journey to happiness is a guide. As it turns out, we have a lot more guides available to us than we think….the elderly.  It’s interesting to me that as much as our culture seems to worship youth and stereotypes the elderly as lonely and less happy, the body of evidence says otherwise:  Older people tend to be happier as a group.  Why?

It appears these folks have some important things to tell us about how to be happy.  Listed below are 5 things a larger group (~1,500) of older people (aged 70 – 100+) had to share about life lessons that they would like to pass on to those coming behind them. These are from Eric Barker’s post with some additional tweaks and commentary:

  1. Don’t stay in a job you don’t like.
  2. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. Selecting a profession based only on the potential for financial gain is perhaps the biggest career mistake you’ll ever make, while a sense of purpose and passion for one’s work almost assures satisfaction.
  3. Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy, stick with it. Those who know the most say persistence is the key to finding a job you love.
  4. Make the most of a bad job. If your job situation is starting to hint at or actually makes a giant sucking sound, why waste the experience?  Many at the top of their field now wouldn’t have gotten there without the growth gained while in the fertile soil of a a bad job…..some time really fertile soil.
  5. Emotional intelligence trumps all others. A high level of interpersonal skills is the real currency of success, especially in today’s knowledge economy; technical competence is simply the ante to get in the game.  Even those with the highest technical skills are likely to fail if they lack emotional intelligence.

Everyone needs autonomy. Career satisfaction is often dependent on how much autonomy you have on the job, especially in creative, heuristic type work.  Look for opportunities that give you the freedom to make decisions and move in directions that interest you, without too much control from the top.

In addition, what these elders didn’t say was deafening: If you encounter any of the four mile-markers below, you likely heading in the opposite direction from your happiness destination. When you begin to experience these, find an exit or make a U-turn, FAST:

  • Trying to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.
  • Thinking it’s important to be as or more wealthy than the people around you.
  • Striving to have more than others.
  • Choosing work based on your desired future earning power.

Interesting…all the factors above relate in some way to Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, which are key elements that give us our Drive or internal motivation.  The other thing to take note of is that unlike mile-markers related to time, these all deal with things that are within our control.

If you’re interested, you can find a lot more sage advice from the same group of elders I mentioned above in Karl Pillemer’s  book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” If you don’t have time for the book, Eric Barker’s excellent post  not only condenses that main point of the book (ie. those listed above), but gives some additional direct commentary.

Finally, if you not only want to know more but really experience the most from the happiest among us, simply go ask an older person you know and respect. The beauty that is not only what it will do for you, but the gift your interest will give them as well.

Who are some of the notable happiness trail-guides you’ve had in the past? Just as importantly, who is one you need to engage with now?

What Are The Mile-markers On The Road To Happiness?

Having a map when you’re headed out on a trip or journey is usually the best way to ensure you’ll get where you want to go…..Ok, GPS is better but that’s just a high-tech map.  What if you’re on a journey for which a definitive map or GPS coordinates don’t exist?  That used to be pretty common not too long ago. For roads less travelled or even those frequently trafficked back in the day, “mile-markers” were what people followed to know their location and what to expect. What’s a mile marker!?

A mile-stone, now known as a mile-marker was originally constructed to provide reference points along a road and were used extensively for road travel back in the day. If you look closely, you can still see some of these today as they are relatively recent by historical standards. Every time I drive through Landa Park in New Braunfels, TX  I pass by the old historic Fredricksburg mile-marker, which is still standing.

Mile-markers are still useful for some journeys. They’re used exclusively along the Appalachian trail in order to get you where you want to go….even all the way to the top!  When you hit a certain mile-marker, you know the direction your headed and have a pretty good idea of what the surroundings are like. The journey to Happiness is similar: it’s an unconventional path with a lot of side-trails, easy to get lost, and there are a lot of healthy and unhealthy entrances and exits along the way. For those and many other reasons, having some mile markers is useful on that journey as well. And it’s a journey in life that everyone is on, even the those who decide to throw in the towel at some point.

Because the journey is different for everyone, a one-size-fits-all-map won’t do, even if such a thing existed. However, knowing what a few of the mile markers are can give you some idea if your heading in the right direction, what the happiness “environment” is like, and what you can likely expect.

List below are findings from various studies that can serve as happiness mile markers.  Recognizing these can help you know what to be aware of and the probability of what you may experience:

  • The trajectory of happiness is a U-shaped curve.
  • Women & men go from happiness highs in their 20’s
  • Unhappiness increases as one loses faith in the ability to achieve life goals (without an ability to adjust)
  • Happiness hits depressing lows in one’s 40’s and then rises again, for both men and women
  • Women hit a happiness low at 44 and men a few years later
  • Men are now happier than women later in life
  • Men and women both begin to feel happier as they get older

As you can see, there are some fairly predictable life mile-markers that appear for nearly all of us in our journey.  Being aware of these, recognizing them and preparing for them is a great way to maximize the control you exercise over your own happiness.

I wish I would have known about these when I entered my early to mid 40’s.  I don’t think being aware would have prevented the small bit of funk I experienced back then, but I do think it would have lessened my unpleasant surprise, consternation and helped me to be deal with it better. And no, I intentionally didn’t refer to this set of markers as pointing to the proverbial mid-life crisis….in fact, being aware of them may help you avoid or minimize the effects of one.

The good news is that now you are aware. If you’re young enough, you know what mile-markers are coming up and can prepare. If you older, hopefully you can look back and reminisce with satisfaction…..and if not perhaps at least enjoy an “aha” moment and share with someone who needs to hear.  Regardless, its reassuring to know that both men and women begin to feel happier as they get older.

What are some happiness mile-markers you’ve experienced? What are some you think may be missing from the list?

I’d love to know your answers to the questions above so please, leave a comment and share the wealth.

3 Part Secret Formula For Happiness!

What is happiness and how is it defined?  Not an easy question. I think we can say what it’s not exclusively limited to specifically, just pleasure or satisfactionPBS.org’s post on the topic states that “Happiness has been said to be thought of as the “good life”, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasures.”  As you can see, this definition includes several concepts and terms.

Anytime I see other defined terms being used to try and define a term, it makes things less clear to me.  To confuse matters further, some happiness experts say true happiness includes acknowledging, embracing and processing our sad times and sorrow in a healthy way….I agree.  Is there a better way to get a handle on what our own Constitution gives us the explicit right to pursue? Yes!

While there are other definitions, I tend to favor the concept of happiness given by Marti Seligman, the father of positive psychology (and self-described grump).  He describes happiness as having 3 parts: pleasure, engagement and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. While all are important, Seligman says that engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life. I agree, and this definition fits nicely with Victor Frankle’s comment that happiness cannot be pursued, but rather must ensue….a comment and concept this article in the Atlantic Monthly does a nice job of pointing out.

As a Christ follower who grew up in church and still active in a community of faith, I’ve often heard that happiness is a cheap imitation of the joy we are to experience in our faith. Happiness is spoken of as something being fleeting and temporary. That description is pretty much on target if happiness is  viewed as being synonymous with short-term pleasure and little else.  While somethings don’t change, words can and do. And the way happiness as it is discussed today by people who study the topic is sure starting to sound a lot like what I always heard being described as Joy.

So what does happiness look like? I like the analogy the PBS.org post makes between study and measurement of happiness and optometry: you know you’ve hit the target when you hear either “yes, I see much better now” or “yes, I’m happy”.  Both are based almost entirely on reports of subject experience.

Believe it not, using Seligman’s definition and the daily experience of positive emotions, researchers have derived the following happiness formula:  C + S + V= Happiness:039 HappinessFormula

  • C= Conditions (10%)
  • S= set-point (genetic predisposition) (50%)
  • V= voluntary actions (40%)

Arthur Brookes of the NY Times did an excellent piece on the background and science of the happiness “formula” if your interested in knowing more.

Essentially, we have a significant amount of direct control in the happiness we experience in life. Some even go further and say that 50 – 80% of our daily contentment is under our control and that we have more power than previously thought to override our genetically inherited set point….someone please send Oscar the Grouch the memo (or refer him to Brookes article)!

Frankly, when I first start hearing all the fuss and hubbub about happiness a couple of years ago I though it was just another pop-psychology fad. In addition, I was also little put off by it and prejudiced against it because of my limited definition of happiness. However, when you consider the more contemporary and richer definition of happiness and all that contributes to it, the game changes and makes it something to be excited about.  Furthermore, it informs us that much of our happiness is directly within our control, regardless of circumstance OR genetic predisposition. It also means action is required on our part in order to get more of it. Whether you lean more toward a Swiss citizen or Oscar the Grouch, everyone is capable of moving the needle on their happiness.

How does the “happiness formula” impact your understanding of happiness?  Is it possible that you actually have a lot more control over being a happier person that you thought? On a scale of 0 – 10, how happy are you? I’d love to hear any comments you have so please leave one.

More on Happiness and how to get more of it coming soon.

3 Imposters To Happiness: How to Recognize Them and Why It Matters To You

What really makes someone happy?  What makes you happy?  In fact, what is happiness in the first place?

The questions above started rolling around in my mind after my most recent post on “How To Know Your Powerful WHY….” and while on our family vacation.  After all, when you’re on vacation  your supposed to be happy, right?

Although happiness is a good thing, it can be confused with words for other positive experiences we seek, like:

  • Pleasure– A feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment (the implication is that it is brief).
  • Satisfaction– The fulfillment or gratification of a desire, need or an appetite (all of which return relatively soon).
  • Fulfillment– The achievement or satisfaction of something desired, promised or predicted (there is a discreteness and completeness implied).

I find two things worth noting in these definitions: 1. Each definition includes one of the other words in the list; 2. Time and sense of accomplishment is a differentiator, both in how long it takes to achieve each one and how long each is experienced. It makes sense to me when I read it here and think about it; not so much in the moment.

Although each of the three experiences listed above can contribute to the happiness we experience, they aren’t happiness.  When we misjudge in this area, it can lead to unrealistic expectations about happiness in general and our own personal happiness in particular. That also happens when happiness is pursued as an end in and of itself instead of a by-product of other sources.

Ok, “so what?” Good question.  The actions we take in pursuing each of these other experiences are typically different, as are the outcomes….and ultimately the destiny they produce. Interestingly and paradoxically, when these are mistaken for “happiness”  and pursued as such, the end of the journey often leads to the exact opposite outcome: a whole lot of unhappiness.

Language is how we ascribe meaning to what we experience. Having a broader…and more accurate….vocabulary helps better define what we are dealing with as well as gives richness and intensity to what we are able to experience.  Just as importantly, it also allows us us set realistic expectations and make good decisions that ultimately will get us what we really want and where we really want to go.

What words do you use to describe describe your pleasurable moments? Perhaps more importantly, will what your doing now get you what you really want….in the long-run? If not, what needs to be different?

Because happiness one of those topics that we think of as rather nebulous and fuzzy we, often aren’t clear on what we’re chasing….which is why we end up disappointed so often.  Leave a comment, I’d love to get your thoughts.

Now that I’ve talked about what happiness isn’t, it’s time to talk more about what happiness really is and how to get more of it. More to come on Happiness :).

3 Reasons for The Bareness of Busyness And 3 Ways to Overcome It

Busyness is worn as  a badge of honor these days. It’s the medal everyone now wants to win along with the award for who got the least amount of sleep. Do a quick mental check and see if you’ve fallen into that trap or know someone who’s there now. Been there done that? I know I have.

Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism, calls it the disease of non-essentialism.  Non-essentialism is the idea that if you can fit it all in then you can have it all.   In his podcast interview with Michael Hyatt, he lists the three main generational sources that have given rise to that notion. These have persisted, integrated over time and have now  culminated in this affliction that’s killing us:

  1. Industrial Revolution- The notion of factory and belief that f you can just create a system that’s fast and efficient enough, you can have…….whatever.
  2. Post World War II consumerism– Greg calls it the panem et circenses, which is Latin for bread and circuses. Perfectly understandable for the time: people were rebounding from being on the brink of a world-wide, dark abyss into a world of plenty and financial success. The problem is that the party never ended and nothing was moderated…it just got more intense.
  3. Hyper-connection– Brace yourself: this phase occurred in the last 10yrs. That’s right, around 2005. I thought I was tech-savvy having a flip-phone back then. Now many of us carry around smart devices that have exponentially more computing power than what was used to put people on the moon! We no longer just have information overload, but opinion overload as well. In addition to indiscriminately giving people permission into our lives without even realizing it, our mental space and attention get trespassed on often (think of your e-mail in-box here).

So what’s the cure?

  1. Stop and create some space- take a 1/2 a day or whatever you need to get clear on what’s important to you, who you are, who you want to become, where you’re going and where you want to end up. That’s regularly scheduled space. The other kind of space you need is impromptu “pause” space for decision making. That is, putting a pause between any stimulus that makes a demand of you and how you respond to it.  From a practical standpoint, this is where most of us get in trouble. We have a hard time saying “No” because we really don’t know what our powerful “Yes” should be.
  2. Start thinking  differently. No, you can’t have it all so be intentional about the trade-off. Don’t kid yourself; everything costs you something and involves a trade-off of some sort. Although intentionally choosing which trade-offs to make is hard, it’s easier if you’ve done a good job in step 1 above. That’s because you’ll be in a position to decide according to your priorities. Then, the powerful “why” that undergirds your priorities will not only help you say “Yes” or “No”, but it’ll help pull you along as well.
  3. Lather, rinse and repeat the above regularly. My 1 hour morning ritual first thing in the morning  and 1/2 day thinking time once month are minimums for me.

So what’s the cost (of not doing it)?

Most likely, ending up with more regrets in your life than you want.  Bonnie Ware found that in her work with the dying, their top two regrets were:

  • Living a life that others expected of them rather than living out what they felt called to do in their inner most being.
  • Spending too much time at work and not enough with family and those that mattered most. In a word: self-imposed relationship poverty. (ok, that one stings me)

So what is it you need to do right now in order to put yourself on the path to getting the life you want? 041 BarrenBusyLife IIA life, that at the end of it, will be full of satisfaction and few regrets?

You can listen to the entire podcast episode Disciplined Pursuit of Less to hear the whole thing and get more detail. I think the show tag-line is appropriate to quote here: “Your life is a gift. Do what matters”