Happiness Exercises: Take Action To Improve Your Well-Being

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As I reach the end of the 10-week free Yale Happiness Course, I definitely recommend this course if you are ready to commit time and effort into making yourself feel better mentally. One of the key points is the G.I. Joe fallacy, which is the false notion that knowing about a mental bias is enough to overcome it. Knowing isn’t enough! Taking repeated action is required to achieve lasting change.

As such, much of the course is based on “rewirements”, but I think of them as “happiness exercises” because they only work temporarily for me. When I do them, I feel better immediately and for a little while afterward, but the effect wears off. This is similar to my experience with diets, in that diets don’t work.

Once you go back to your original eating habits, you’ll go back to your original weight. Therefore, any changes you make should be something you can maintain for the rest of your life.

Can you really change your life to include these habits? Well, here are the happiness exercises, along with a short description from the Yale course. Try each one for a week and discover which ones work best for your personal situation. I found the prompts to commit acts of kindness and initiate social connections were the most helpful, and a really do hope to keep them up forever. (I’ve already been working on the sleep and exercise bits for a while.)

Savoring

Savoring is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it. Often we fail to stay in the moment and really enjoy what we’re experiencing. Savoring intensifies and lengthens the positive emotions that come with doing something you love. For the next seven days, you will practice the art of savoring by picking one experience to truly savor each day. It could be a nice shower, a delicious meal, a great walk outside, or any experience that you really enjoy. When you take part in this savored experience, be sure to practice some common techniques that enhance savoring. These techniques include: sharing the experience with another person, thinking about how lucky you are to enjoy such an amazing moment, keeping a souvenir or photo of that activity, and making sure you stay in the present moment the entire time.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a positive emotional state in which one recognizes and appreciates what one has received in life. Research shows that taking time to experience gratitude can make you happier and even healthier. For the next seven days, you will take 5-10 minutes each night to write down five things for which you are grateful. They can be little things or big things. But you really have to focus on them and actually write them down.

Random Acts of Kindness

Research shows that happy people are motivated to do kind things for others. Over the next seven days, you will perform seven acts of kindness beyond what you normally do. You can do one extra act of kindness per day, or you can do a few acts of kindness in a single day. These do not have to be over-the-top or time-intensive acts, but they should be something that really helps or impacts another person. For example, help your colleague with something, give a few dollars or some time to a cause you believe in, say something kind to a stranger, write a thank you note, give blood, and so on.

Social Connection

Our social connections matter. Research shows that happy people spend more time with others and have a richer set of social connections than unhappy people. Studies even show that the simple act of talking to a stranger on the street can boost our mood more than we expect. Over the next seven days, you will try to focus on making one new social connection per day. It can be a small 5-minute act like sparking a conversation with someone on public transportation, asking a coworker about his/her day, or even chatting to the barista at a coffee shop. But you should also seek out more meaningful social connections, too. At least once this week, take a whole hour to connect with someone you care about— a friend who’s far away or a family member you haven’t talked to in a while. The key is that you must take the time needed to genuinely connect with another person.

Exercise

Research suggests that ~30 minutes a day of exercise can boost your mood in addition to making your body healthier. For the next week, you will spend each day getting your body moving with at least 30 minutes of exercise. Set aside a location and time (write it in your calendar!). Then hit the treadmill at the gym, do an online yoga class, or throw on some headphones and dance around your room to cheesy pop songs. This isn’t supposed to be a marathon-level of activity; it’s just to get your body moving a bit more than usual.

Sleep

One of the reasons we’re so unhappy in our modern lives is that we’re consistently sleep deprived. Research shows that sleep can improve your mood more than we often expect. For the next week, you must get at least seven hours of sleep for at least four nights of the next week. I know, I know. You’re super busy this week. There are deadlines to meet, friends to see, errands to run, etc. But sleep is going to make you feel better— both physically and mentally. So pick four nights this week, note them in your calendar, and get ready to get some much needed sleep. Also be sure to practice good sleep hygiene too— no devices before bed and try to avoid caffeine and alcohol on the days you’re getting your sleep on.

Meditate

Meditation is a practice of intentionally turning your attention away from distracting thoughts toward a single point of reference (e.g., the breath, bodily sensations, compassion, a specific thought, etc.). Research shows that meditation can have a number of positive benefits, including more positive moods, increased concentration, and more feelings of social connection. For the next week, you will spend each (at least) 10 minutes per day meditating. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed while you’re meditating. If you are new to meditation, you can try one of three guided meditations available on SoundCloud. And remember— meditation isn’t about the meditation itself; it’s about building a skill that we can use later. Lots of people find it hard at first, but stick with it and see if it allows you to feel a bit calmer over the course of the week.

For all of these exercises, you should find a way to track them – physical notebook, Notes smartphone app, daily planner, or the unpolished-but-free ReWi app (iOS, Android). By keeping track, you make it much more likely that you’ll maintain a streak and eventually make it a life-changing habit like eating healthier foods or regular exercise.

Also see:

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Are You Unknowingly a Time Billionaire?

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The 2021 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting is streaming live on Yahoo Finance this weekend, and I am reminded of a lesser known quote from Warren Buffett about what is truly valuable. I believe he has said this elsewhere, but I found it repeated in a 2020 commencement speech (YouTube link) at the University of Nebraska:

There is nobody I would rather be than a young person graduating from the University of Nebraska today. […] I would say this to the current year’s class: ‘I would love to trade places with any of them.’ They feel they’re going out into an uncertain world and all of that, but there’s never been a better time.

During a Tim Ferriss podcast, investor Graham Duncan discussed the concept of a “time billionaire” and how it is hard to understand the magnitude difference between a billion and a million.

Graham Duncan: I was listening to a guy introduced a speaker a while ago. And he was saying people don’t really understand the difference between billionaires and millionaires. He said a million seconds is like 11 days. A billion seconds is 31 years.

This means a 20-year old is technically a time multi-billionaire. If you’re in your 40s or even early 50s, the odds are likely that you still have a billion seconds left as well. Have you considered how valuable that is? One of the richest people in the world would gladly trade places with you. I’m betting that nearly anyone with a billion dollars would trade it for a billion more seconds.

This Pomp Letter article and Wealest article both expand upon this idea of appreciating the value of time, including how young people should use this time to their advantage. Don’t take for granted the ability to throw yourself at something nonstop. I think short periods of crazy 100-hours-a-week focus is underrated. Take your shot. If you fail, so what?

If you fail, you have nothing, which is the same position you’re in right now.

You have no mortgage to pay, no family to support, and nothing to lose.

This makes you powerful. Your upside is many times greater than your downside.

Also mentioned is the Life in Weeks calendar from WaitButWhy.

Time is a limited resource, and just like with money, you have to spend it wisely and consciously. Don’t waste it without intention. Look at how many hours we spend on consuming media, via Visual Capitalist.

Bottom line. We can look up to certain wealthy people for knowledge and wisdom, but there are other important resources beyond money. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it is still so easily forgotten in this busy, competitive, stressful world. Many of us are extraordinarily wealthy in time, wealthy in love and relationships, and/or wealthy with a healthy mind and body. Someone out there would pay billions of dollars for what you have. I must remind myself to appreciate my wealth in all forms, and use it intentionally. I worry about running of out money, but also running out of time.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Free Character Traits Test: Identify Your Signature Personality Strengths

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I’m now in Week 5 of the free Yale Happiness Course, which focuses on finding things that truly make you happy, as opposed to the 5 Surprising Things That Don’t Make You As Happy As You Think.

For example, instead of equating a “good job” with high income, you should redefine a good job as one that allows you to express many of your “signature personality strengths”. When regularly using their specific signature strengths in daily life, people reported higher levels or happiness and lower levels of depressive symptoms. In another study, being able to use your strengths at work resulted in higher productivity and job satisfaction.

In the early 2000s, something groundbreaking occurred in the social sciences: Scientists discovered a common language of 24 character strengths make up what’s best about our personality. Everyone possesses all 24 character strengths in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile. Each character strength falls under one of these six broad virtue categories, which are universal across cultures and nations.

How can you identify your signature personality strengths? The VIA Institute on Character offers a free Character Strengths Profile that takes about 10 minutes and will list your strengths from highest to lowest based on your self-assessment answers. Here are the six broad “core virtues” and the 24 character traits that they measure:

  • Wisdom: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
  • Courage: bravery, persistence, honesty, zest
  • Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  • Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
  • Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

Everyone likes a nice graphic, so here’s one that adds a short explanation (source .zip file):

Character strengths are the core personality traits that define your unique identity and make you feel authentic, alive and engaged in life. Your free Character Strengths Profile below lists your strengths from highest to lowest based on the positive qualities that are strongest in you! Research shows learning about your strengths and how to express them can make you happier, less stressed, more productive at work and better connected to others. Interested in exploring the best parts of yourself? Check out our personalized, in-depth Total 24 or Top 5 Reports and use your strengths to build your best life.

Out of my top 5 character strengths, two were from Temperance, two were from Wisdom, and one was from Courage. The self-assessment does require you to be honest about your weaknesses, even if it may not feel great to admit them. I didn’t pay for a premium report, but I printed out the results and hopefully can incorporate them better in my daily life.

This activity reminds me of the #1 Thing People Regret The Most On Their Deathbeds:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Happiness Illusions: 5 Surprising Things That Don’t Make You As Happy As You Think

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I’ve managed to reach Week 3 of the free Yale Happiness Course (it was 50/50 that I’d quit by now), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. I like to think that I’ve read most of these “happiness” tips, but there were several new bits that were new to me. The “rewirement” activities have also been helpful in improving my mood, albeit only temporarily for now. It’s almost like putting on “happiness” sunscreen, where the protection lasts for a few hours but tends to fade away. (Must reapply regularly via gratitude journal!)

As if in direct response to my curiosity regarding their Happiness Test Questions, this week addressed most of the missing question topics (I didn’t look ahead, promise!). Here are just a few selected examples from the course slideshow and video materials.

Money. If you ask someone making $40k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $60k a year. But if you ask someone making $60k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $100k a year. Ask someone making $100k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $250k a year.

This chart includes a few different ways to approximate “happiness”: having a positive affect, not being blue, and not being stressed. The charts all show that the overall trend is that higher income does make a difference at lower levels, but the effect mostly wears off as you get to higher incomes above roughly $75k in todays dollars.

Although this new study shows happiness increasing past $75k/year, the overall curve still behaves similarly – as your income grows the incremental increase in happiness from more become smaller and smaller.

Physical Beauty. A study showed that people who entered a weight-loss program and lost weight actually ended up more depressed than those that didn’t lose weight. In fact, every group tended to feel worse after finishing the program, possibly because they all had to focus on how unsatisfied they were with their weight.

Marriage. A study found that there was a temporary bump in happiness in the couple of years before getting married through a couple of years after getting married, but after that you pretty much return to your previous level of happiness. Marriage by itself doesn’t seem to keep you happy forever.

Awesome Stuff. If only my problems could be solved by clicking on “Add to Cart”.

Life Happens, or “Luck”. You find yourself permanently disabled from a car accident. You win the lottery. The book The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky looks at the research and makes the case that only 10% of your overall happiness is dictated by your life circumstances.

People do tend to have a “happiness thermostat”, but it is not everything:

Our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Bottom line. These things most likely will make you happier to some extent or at least temporarily, they just aren’t the final answer. Got a higher-paying job? Great, but you’ll probably want even better one very soon. If all you want is money, you’ll never have enough money. If all you want is physical beauty, you’ll never feel beautiful enough. If you think stuff will make you happy, you’ll never have enough stuff. How can we get to “enough”?

Another observation is that money/beauty/stuff/couplehood is easily displayed on social media, which pushes us even further way from “enough”. Someone on your feed will always appear to have more money, be more beautiful, own cooler stuff, or be in the perfect relationship. The truly important things are harder to show off. Being absorbed in your daily activities and being able to spend time on the things you find important. Loving others and feeling loved back. Feeling yourself to be valuable. Feeling grateful for what you already have. Feeling supported by your relationships.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.