I’ve often wondered what the distinction between happiness and success really is. I recall a few years back I was interviewed for Cosmo magazine on this very topic. The insight for me, and what I’ve grown to appreciate is that happiness is an INside job – success is what we do in our ‘outer’ world.
Over the years, my own quest for happiness and fulfilment lead me to where I am today – living a joy-filled life where I get to be of service to transform the lives of others and their worlds, for the better, from the INside out. It is the most wonderful feeling getting up every day truly loving my life and who I am BEing in the world. I want this for you too.
So what are the keys to unlocking your happiness and success, without killing or losing yourself in the process?
In her book The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, Stanford University psychologist Emma Seppala, explains that being successful and being happy are not mutually exclusive.
She goes on to say “we have this misconception that in order to be successful, we have to postpone or sacrifice our happiness now”. In her extensive research she identified six things that are key to being happy and successful, and I concur (with a bonus key from me). The keys are:
1. Live in the moment
In today’s working world, we’re encouraged to work nonstop in order to stay on top of everything. We’re also constantly checking things off our to-do lists. But research suggests that when we’re focused on the present, we’re much more productive and more charismatic.
The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the experience of being intensely focused on something while enjoying what you’re doing as the “flow” state. His research suggests that whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a mathematician, you are at your best when you’re in flow.
You’ve heard the saying: go with the flow. I say: if there’s no flow, it’s no go!
2. Be resilient (my middle name)
When we’re constantly working ourselves to the bone and feeling stressed, it activates our sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” response. Studies show that while short-term stress can be good for you, long-term stress is deleterious for your health. I know this lesson having faced cancer three times!!
But if we can train ourselves to be more resilient to the setbacks in our lives, we’re more likely to bounce forward from them. a 2004 study suggests that resilient people were able to recover faster (as measured by their heart rate and blood pressure) when they used positive emotions to respond to a stressful experience. I have lots of resources for building resilience capability – it was the topic for my Masters’ thesis. Take a look here.
3. Keep calm (and carry on)
When you’re constantly in overdrive, it can lead to burnout. But if we take time to be calm, it can help us manage our energy. Calm leads to clarity of mind which leads to better cognition.
In 2014, Seppala and her colleagues conducted a small study of 21 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Half of them were assigned to do breathing meditation, and the other half received no intervention. The group that did the meditation reported lower PTSD symptoms and anxiety post one month and even a year later. This is significant.
Meditation and mindful breathing exercises have become an absolutely critical part of my own life. You too can learn to do this powerfully and easily with my Simple Meditation For Busy People audiobook and CD.
4. Do more BEing
In Western society, we have this ingrained notion that we need to constantly be doing something, or we’re not being productive. However, research suggests that we are most creative when we’re not at our peak alertness.
In one 2011 study, researchers gave 428 students questionnaires to determine whether they were a morning person or an evening person, and then gave them logic problems in either the morning or late afternoon. Surprisingly, they found that morning people scored highest in the late afternoon, whereas evening people scored highest in the morning.
The findings suggest that we’re at our mental best for creative thinking when we’re not especially alert or focused. So if we want to be more innovative, we need to give ourselves more time off.
Even in our leisure time, we tend to go full throttle (well, at least I do). When I’ve asked my Australian/New Zealand clients to define happiness they often use words like excitement, adventure, and thrill. Whereas clients in East Asian countries will use words like peacefulness, serenity, and calm.
We need to build downtime into our workday by alternating high-intensity activities like preparing for a presentation or attending a board meeting with low-intensity tasks like organising our physical environments – our desk or files. And when possible, it’s a good idea to “unplug” from work completely. In my house, we have a practice of ‘technology-free Sundays’. It can be a challenge, particularly with teenagers who live on always-on devices, but it is worth it!
5. Be good to yourself
We tend to assume that because we’re good at some things and not so great at others, we should stick to our strengths. But apparently that’s a fallacy.
Research suggests that a fear of failure can lead you to choke up, make you more likely to give up, lead to poor decisions such as cheating on tests or making questionable investments. It may also make it harder to pursue the career you want.
Instead we must learn to be kind to ourselves – to remember that everyone makes mistakes; to simply observe our negative thoughts without ‘absorbing’ them.
My Possibility Mindset program can really help with this. Adopting a growth or possibility mindset enables you to release the grip on fixed or limited thinking and patterns of behaviour that no longer serve the amazing person you are today.
6. Be compassionate towards others
Finally, we often assume that we should be looking out for ourselves first and foremost. Research suggests that we’re better off nurturing supportive relationships with others. This is really important for building reserves of resilience too. As you’ve likely experienced, when you have good relationships with your boss, colleagues, or employees, you’re more likely to inspire loyalty, which in turn makes everyone more productive.
The good news here is that we can actually train ourselves to be compassionate. In one research trial, people who underwent a nine-session compassion training program at Stanford had lower stress, were more empathetic, were more likely to help others, and were more resilient to the suffering of others.
Seppala suggests that ‘if you have supportive relationships with others, you too end up doing well in the long run.’
7. Be grateful
For me, I find the more grateful I am, the more ‘enough’ my world becomes – I’m enough, my life is enough, what I’m doing is enough, what I have is enough. It’s a great feeling to take stock and focus attention on who we are, how we are improving, how we have grown, what we have learned, and what we are contributing to the world, rather than looking in the mirror for who is not there….yet!
In completing my research last year, I discovered evidence that supports the notion that the more grateful we are, the more content we feel. Ahhhhh – how good is that! Take a break from the constant desire to keep going, doing, giving and stop a while to tune IN: to truly note, appreciate and give thanks for the many blessings of your life right now.
Sometimes we can get locked into patterns of habit that no longer serve us – like that automatic ‘yes’ that falls out of your mouth when a request is made, or the compulsion to want to ensure the happiness of others before considering your own needs and values. It’s important to re-member who you are, what you stand for and what’s most important to you, and to align your thoughts, words and deeds accordingly. A happier you means a happier we.
My world today is a reflection of the more conscious choices I am making. These choices deliver consequences for which I take full responsibility. You and you alone are responsible for your happiness, and your unhappiness. Discern your choices wisely.
There are many resources and a very powerful on-demand webinar series available on my website for you to explore when you’re ready to take charge and create the happy and successful life you desire. Use promo code FOCUS2016 and save $150!
I celebrate you and who you are becoming. I wish you all the joy, love, flow and success life has to offer.
Personal Message from me:
As an important member of my Tribe – I want to let you know…
Next week I set off to embark on a 5 week overseas sabbatical. I will spend a few days in the UK with my dear friend Sir John Whitmore, followed by a 21 day spiritual journey through ancient sacred temples of Egypt with Egyptologist Amber St Clare. On the last leg of my trip I will co-facilitate a workshop on Connection and Intimacy in the USA prior to sitting in the forrest in Lake Superior for a week to allow myself to synthesise and integrate the wisdom and experiences gained over this time before I head back ‘home’.
You see, a key part of this sabbatical is to re-member who I am and to deeply connect with aspects of myself which seek even fuller expression in the world. This will be a dedicated time for me to focus entirely on myself and to discover deeper truths which await my presence and attunement. I’ve never taken time out like this for myself before. I’ve never travelled by myself before, and I’ve never been away from my children for an extended time like this before. This is s a real big brave decision for me, and I’m doing it for me (and ultimately for you too).
For some reason Egypt has held a very special place in my heart since I was a little girl. I have felt a very strong ‘pull’ to return and reconnect with forces I cannot begin to explain in words. Trust me, I will in due course. I will journal while away. I will be completely offline – no computer, phone or Internet. If you’d like to continue to receive a little burst of inspiration from me, please like/follow my Josie Thomson (business page) Facebook page where you can continue to enjoy a daily meme which will be shared and scheduled daily. My Facebook account and emails will not be monitored. This is a brave and bold move to truly take this time to give myself the kind of focus I so willingly and lovingly give and grace to others with my whole heart. I do hope you will support me and perhaps even join me in taking time out for yourself too.
I look forward to sharing my insights with you upon my safe return. I have a sense that there are big changes coming – good ones -and I can’t wait for you to join me, and to share them with you. In the mean time, if you’d like to see what I love speaking about, here’s my latest show reel for your enjoyment.