Do you brush your teeth twice a day? If you’re like the majority of Americans, you do.
As much as we would like to pick up our toothbrushes just once a week and have perfect, sparkling white teeth, we know that's not how it works. In order to maintain great oral hygiene, persistence is involved. The same is the case with excelling in almost any aspect of life: fitness, health, public speaking, wealth, academics, etc.
Success in any area of life doesn't just happen overnight. It is the result of a lifestyle; a lifestyle that involves performing a simple set of daily tasks (like brushing and flossing teeth) which, compounded over time, will lead to one's ultimate success.
One area that is often overlooked, however, is happiness.
If success in almost every aspect of life is a result of simple actions repeated daily, shouldn't happiness be too? And if so, what are the actions that will lead to happiness? Why don't we work on improving our happiness levels like we work on maintaining our teeth?
Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage and world-renowned positive psychologist, has been studying these specific questions for over a decade. And luckily, he has answers for us.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could form simple habits that focused on giving us a healthier and happier mind? In just two minutes (the time it takes to brush our teeth) we can perform one of five tasks that have been scientifically proven to improve mental health and happiness over time.
This one is as simple as brushing your teeth; sit down with yourself and write or say out loud three new and specific things that you are thankful for in the last day. Practicing gratitude has been proven in countless studies to improve mental, physical, and psychological health almost immediately.
An incredible tool that I use to help me with my gratitude routine is the five-minute journal. This little book has changed my life. I notice a significant uptick in how I feel and even in how lucky I seem to get throughout the day when I write in my journal.
The goal in practicing gratitude is to get the mind to focus on more of the positive aspects in life, instead of on the negatives, even when times get tough. Focusing on the positives has tremendous benefits and can even make you luckier in life because your brain will be wired to look for and take advantage of opportunities it would normally miss.
Gratitude is the perfect way to re-frame your mind and start directing your attention to the positive experiences and opportunities in life.
2. The Doubler
The doubler is another little trick you can play on your mind to immediately get you into a better mood. Here's how it works:
Once per day, especially when feeling down, focus on one extremely positive experience from your past and write down as many details as you can remember from it. The details should range from the environment of the experience, to emotions you felt during it, to the clothes you were wearing at the time.
The brain has trouble distinguishing between the things it imagines and the things it actually experiences. If we simply bring ourselves back to a positive experience in our imagination, our brains will react in almost the same way as if we were actually there, bringing a sense of joy and happiness throughout our body and mind.
3. Fifteen Minutes of Cardio
Practicing fifteen minutes of cardio per day has been scientifically proven to be as effective as taking a daily anti-depressant. This one is well-known and I won't linger on it for too long because you are probably already aware of the endless benefits of daily exercise. It puts you in a better mindset, releases endorphins, and promotes clearer thinking.
Although exercise is often used as a method of improving our physique, it is also one of the most effective ways we can improve our mental health. The cardio can come in many forms but I suggest doing something outdoors where you can reap all of the additional benefits from simply being in nature.
"You are training the body to build physical endurance in order to flow through the form without stopping. But more important, you are training the mind through continuous practice to stay focused for the duration and not break concentration."
- Beryl Bender Birch
A few minutes of daily mindfulness meditation is the second most effective way of increasing baselines happiness levels. It teaches you to slow down in life and act more intentionally. How much of our life passes us by completely unnoticed?
"Mind is the king of the sense. One who has conquered his mind, senses, passions, thought and reason is a king among men." - Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Meditation has given me a new life. It has taught me to focus on one task at a time and to be more conscious of every action I take.
Like all of the above action steps, meditation is only effective if practiced every day. It doesn't matter if it's only for two minutes; the key is to be consistent.
There is a plethora of research out there on the benefits of meditation, which I'll let you explore on your own. We've even written a few posts on the topic: How Meditation Makes you Smarter, 6 Reasons Meditation Builds Muscle, and A Beginner's Guide to Meditation.
I promise that if you practice for just a few minutes everyday, it will become easier for you to notice the pleasure you can gain from partaking in even the most basic daily activities.
"Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could ever see before." - Steve Jobs on Meditation
5. Send a Positive Email, Text, or Letter
According to Shawn Achor, the number one most effective way to increase your baseline happiness level is to send a positive message to somebody once per day. If you only want to choose one of these five actions to practice, do this one!
Before doing anything else in the morning, send one positive email, text or letter to anybody who has had an impact in your life. It could be a thank you note to a middle school teacher, coach, psychologist, professor, co-worker, or even the friend you randomly made at a music festival. Do this for twenty-one straight days.
The messages do not have to be super fluffy and personal. They can be as simple as: "Thank you for your endless patience with me yesterday during the math lecture."
Even better than sending an electronic 'thank you' is sending a hand-written letter or a torn out article from a magazine. Anything that lets the recipient know that you were thinking of them will do. Not only will sending this positive message make you feel better about yourself, it will open the doors to opportunities you would never have dreamed of. When was the last time you got a note in the mail from an old passerby in your life? Something as simple as a two sentence note can change the trajectory of your life.
There you have it.
If you want to start living a happier and healthier life, try doing just one of the five things listed above every day. If you can, turn all five into daily habits; it may be easier than you think. If you brush your teeth for two minutes a day in order to have a healthier mouth, why not focus on keeping the most important part of your body healthy...? Your mind.