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Guest post: reach your goals and increase your happiness

Guest post by Andrea Taylor, LifeCoachHub

Tips to Reach Your Goals and Increase Your Happiness

Happiness depends on many things. Some factors you can’t control. But you can pick your goals. With the right ones you can influence your happiness. Wrosch and Scheier reported in Quality of Life Research that our choices create 40 percent of our happiness. The researchers added that goals boost your happiness because they give your life meaning and a sense accomplishment.

Simply pursuing a goal can make you happier. Time magazine reported in 2013 that among people working toward a goal 35 percent said the pursuit itself made them happier.

For the greatest effect you have to set realistic goals. As humans, we have incredible imaginations. We can envision great things for ourselves. But when our goals are too grandiose, we get frustrated. Long term gain is hard to get when you confront short term realities.

I'm saying Yes to Happiness Goals in the Happiness Goals Countdown

For example, your goal to organize the house excited you until the clutter overwhelmed your motivation. The solution is to plan small short term goals that lead to the big reward. A promise to organize one closet or cabinet a week is easier to keep. By meeting small goals you will eventually achieve something big.

And for people wanting to get in shape, tell yourself to do the exercise for 10 minutes this week, then 15 minutes the next, and build from there. Your rising health and fitness will reward you and motivate you to reach higher goals.

Although long term goals are challenging, it’s still good to dream big. Just remember to plan manageable steps along the way. Then you’ll gain happiness and motivation more often. This will keep you going.

With the right strategy your goals can give you more success and happiness. Need some inspiration? Check out the Happiness Goals Countdown from Life Coach Hub. We were inspired to start this cause because research has shown that people are pretty bad at predicting what will make them happier. So we might set goals and New Years resolutions with the noble intention of a happier, more fulfilling life, but even when we reach them, our ultimate goal falls short.

The Happiness Goals Countdown seeks to provide a much-needed salve to this perennial problem. We present research about the relationship between goals and happiness, and discuss the types of goals that lead to longer term fulfillment as well as those that not only don’t fill up our happiness banks, but actually make withdrawals from it!

To make it even more concrete, we’re publishing a series of articles about goals that research has shown do have lasting impacts on goals. For instance, happiness goal #1 is about making it a resolution this year to set aside 10 minutes of each day to daydream. Sound strange? Well it turns out that the joyful aspiration and hoping we do when daydreaming is strongly linked to happiness. And that’s not the only reason it’s a happy goal. Check out the countdown and get some more inspiration of how to add happiness to your list this year!

Image via LifeCoachHub.com

Image via LifeCoachHub.com

 

Mojitos, Lego and Beyond: Work and Motivation

Is there more to work than a means to pay for your mojitos?

Post-modern times require us to have complex skills in order to do our jobs well. This also influences how we feel about work in general: it is not just about making a living but also a way of self-realisation and a potential source to bring flow, meaning and happiness to our lives. TED speakers Dan Ariely and Dan Pink share their thoughts with us on the question: what motivates us to work?

Work and motivation

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a behavioural psychologist who is on his way to becoming a TED star. His talks on irrationality, loss aversion and dishonesty have been watched by millions. Two years ago, in 2012, he was a TEDxAmsterdam guest in De Stadsschouwburg.

This time, he chose a different topic: work and motivation. Ariely discards the simple theory that most people only work in order to spend their money on mojitos while sitting on a beach. Beyond mojitos, what motivates people to care about their jobs? According to Ariely, meaning and creation are the main motivators.

Meaning

Ariely tells us the story of one of his former students who used to work for an investment bank. For weeks and weeks he worked on a presentation for an important business deal. He worked overtime, did the research and put together a slick powerpoint presentation. He delivered a stellar job and received the well-earned appreciation by his boss he was looking for. Then, things changed: he learnt that the deal was off and that the presentation wouldn’t be used after all. This news was such a disappointment to him that it took away all of his motivation to work (even though his work was beyond his boss’s expectations). As a researcher, Ariely’s job is to translate similar anecdotes and theories into experiments. In this case, he came up with an experiment to test the effect of demotivation on performance. Being a Lego lover, he thought Lego robots would bring him closer to the answer.

Ariely paid two groups of research subjects to build bionicles – a type of Lego robot. The standard condition comprised of presenting the robots built by the first group. But in the ‘Sisyphic condition’, the robots were destroyed in the presence of the subjects just after they finished building them. The result: any motivation to build the robots was crushed. Even those who stated they loved Lego, actually built very few of them.

The IKEA effect

It is not surprising that meaning and purpose are an important part of our motivation at work. Creating something that is yours is another source of motivation. Or in Ariely’s words: the IKEA effect. If you spend a number of hours assembling your own IKEA furniture, it’s very likely that you will be more attached to it: labour leads to appreciation. Children are another example. You may experience other people’s children as horrible creatures. But when they’re yours, you have already invested so much time and energy that they have become valuable to you. Ariely informs us that this effect has also been studied in experiments involving origami figures made by the subjects themselves.

Dan Pink

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

Career analyst Dan Pink has formulated his own answer to the question of motivation. He argues that in the current business climate, staff management is no longer suitable for the 21st century employee. Our jobs today require a specific set of skills. We do not live in a time anymore where a task is simply being executed as ordered. As the content of our jobs has changed over time, our management has to change, too.

Engagement can be reached with the help of three factors, says Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We have the urge to be the director of our own lives, both in our private lives as well as in our jobs. We want to become increasingly better at what we do and we yearn to be part of something more meaningful, something larger than ourselves.

Thus, Dan Pink argues, our working cultures should be redesigned. We should build more (software) companies like Atlassian, where people have ‘Fedex days’, giving them 24 hour to solve a problem posed by themselves. Or, we should learn from radical reformers like Google, where engineers can spend 20% of their working time on projects they believe are important. Or we can work via the ‘ROWE’ (Results Only Work Environment) eliminating fixed working hours and meetings.

Challenge is what drives motivation. And companies can do so much more to create that challenge.

This article was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam, as part of my series ‘TED & Happiness’. In this series, I explore some of the about fifty talks on happiness in TED’s library.

With great thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.

Felicità!

“At school, they teach you about the capital of the Netherlands, but they don’t teach you how happiness works.”

That’s one of my key messages when I spoke at Radio Alma last month. You can find the show (in Italian) online on the website of Radio Alma.

And if you want the full picture, I already wrote about the interview the week before and after my chat with hosts Rossella, Tiziana and Leandro.

Buon divertimento!

E per felicità ulteriore:

Csikszentmihalyi, for a flow of happiness

This post was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam. TED’s library contains about fifty talks on happiness. In a new monthly series under the title TED & Happiness, I’ll be sharing the insights of TED speakers about happiness.

When are we happy? TED speaker Csikszentmihalyi has a surprising answer. According to his research, maybe we do better to find pleasure in difficulties activities, even hard work, than those activities that seem relaxing in themselves.

Of all the TED and TEDx talks on happiness, my favourite is the one by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow. His talk is not spectacular. Do not expect flying robots, emotive music or a call for revolution here. But behind his old-fashioned slides (a no fear for using a graph), Csikszentmihalyi shows his passion for passions. In his talk, the psychologist explores where our moments of happiness lie. His examples show that we experiences happiness when we are fully absorbed by an activity that challenges all our skills.

Mountain climbing

According to Csikszentmihalyi, the challenges we face and the skills we can use are the key to flow. Think of a mountain climber that is using all his forces to get around a challenging rock in a difficult climb. He is high on a mountain, fully concentrated and using all his energy to get grip. This is clearly not a relaxing or pleasing activity. The climber does not enjoy the cold wind or the difficulty of the situation he is facing.

Yet, when the climb is going well, it’s likely that he’ll experience flow. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow, or ‘optimal experience’, as an intense moment of concentration where you are fully focused on your present activity. Your self-consciousness disappears. Sense of time becomes distorted. Your hands and feet automatically find their path over the cold rocks. And when you make it to the top, there is a great sense of achievement. All these experiences are so gratifying that you want to climb the rock even if it’s difficult, dangerous, or without a real purpose.

The flow of music, sex… and work!

Thus it is moments of flow, or optimal experience, where happiness lies. The pretext is that if we want to be happy, it is not about being relaxed, but bored, for instance when we are watching TV. Instead, flow-inducing activities are those that require us to be active and to use our skills. Flow can be achieved by sports, by creative activities like music or writing, by sex… and even by work!

The interesting thing is that flow is something different for everybody. Even if I can’t climb mountains or compose music, I can experience it in another way. For me writing is such an area. Sometimes writing my blog articles is a pain. At times, I don’t know exactly what I want to say about the topic I choose. I might be anxious that my ideas aren’t original. But when I get in a good flow, my hands fly over the keyboard. Sentences appear magically on the screen, as if they wrote themselves. And I have the gratifying feeling of having created something that didn’t exist before.

The model of flow - and all other emotions experienced at various combinations of challenge and skill. Image: Wikipedia.

The model of flow – and all other emotions experienced at various combinations of challenge and skill. Image: Wikipedia.

Challenge your skills

The lesson from Csikszentmihalyi is simple. Be active. Work on your passion. Keep discovering and developing your talents. Challenge your skills. That is how you create the conditions that foster your flow.

Gross European Happiness: A Challenge for EU Policymakers in 2014

At the end of January, the place to be for the political chic was the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Politicians, economist and business leaders met to discuss myriad fundamental challenges to our future, from internet governance to global poverty.  The WEF also saw the presentation of a report on “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply.

Behind this boring title, the International Resource Panel (IRP), a UN think tank, hid a compelling argument: The demand for food and fuel puts an enormous pressure on our ecosystem. On current trends, between 320 and 849 million hectares of natural land worldwide (the latter number nearly being the size of Brazil) will be converted into cropland in the next 35 years. Such an expansion would harm soil productivity, forest cover and biodiversity. That would be a disaster, thus it is imperative to break the link between resource consumption and economic development.

Measuring progress

The conclusions are no surprise to ‘beyond GDP’ campaigners, whom have for years pointed out the limitations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculations. GDP measures the total economic value of all goods and services produced within one country in one year. Though a valuable indicator for economic wealth, GDP has its setbacks. It ignores environmental and social costs – such as land degradation, pollution and social tension.

A rich country is not always one that makes people happy or increases their well-being. Yet, GDP growth has become a proxy for progress. Most government policies are based on the idea that growth is necessary. Policymakers seldom ask themselves how their policies impact well-being or happiness at large.

The beyond GDP movement believes governments should use alternative indicators to steer their policies. Gross National Happiness (GNH), developed in the 1970s in the Himalaya kingdom of Bhutan, is the most famous alternative. GNH aims to measure the well-being of Bhutan’s citizens, and is the core element shaping public policy. The index measures 124 variables concerning people’s economic situation, education, health, psychological well-being, time use, and community life. In the last decades, GNH has inspired countries and global organizations worldwide, including the UN, the OECD, France and the UK.

Moving forwards

Despite this the EU has done little to shift its focus to human well-being.  Since the onslaught of the economic crisis, policies have focused primarily on restoring economic growth. While growth clearly helps in avoiding hardship, the EU can learn a lot from the likes of Bhutan. Five years ago, the EUCommission adopted a policy paper, “GDP and beyond. Measuring progress in a changing world.” But it hasn’t acted on this since.

This must change. The EP elections in 2014 offer a great opportunity to reset the system. Following these elections, and the appointment of a new Commission I propose these two institutions follow Bhutan’s approach and take Gross European Happiness (GEH), not GDP, as their guiding principle for economic and social development.

Gross European Happiness

What does GEH mean? In principle, it’s only a change in accounting systems. Our current accounting system is GDP, and we use it to measure economic growth. What you measure defines your frame of reference. Had we measured our well-being as closely as we’re now doing with GDP, Europe would be a different place. Therefore, the first step of the new Commission President should be to create a European version of Bhutan’s GNH Index. A GEH index, based on European values and aiming to track the development over time of Europeans’ objective well-being, must be created to measure progress in a more meaningful way.

EU policies will get a reboot with new MEPs and Commissioners in office later this year. It’s time to convince them of the benefits of GEH. Robert F. Kennedy once said that GDP measures everything in life, except that what makes it worthwhile. EU policymakers should take his words to heart. GEH is the answer.

This article was first published at the blog of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP).

hAPPiness: Twitter and iPhone to measure happiness

This guest post has been written by Sanne van der Beek. An earlier Dutch version of this article was published at the blog of Stadsleven, a monthly talk show about city life in Amsterdam. 

How do you measure something as subjective and diffuse as happiness? And: is it possible to determine what is the happiest place on the world? New technologies like Twitter and iPhone apps come the rescue. The Hedonometer for instance analyses the happiness levels from words in English tweets. In order to do so, the researchers have scored the 10,000 most used words from Google Books, articles in the New York Times, song lyrics and twitter messages on their happiness level. It won’t be a surprise that ‘laughter’ scores a lot higher than ‘killed’ or ‘bored’. Even words that are less closely linked to emotion have been ranked. ‘Rainbow’ takes home 8.06 out of 9; alcohol doesn’t get more than 5.2.

Source: Hedonometer.org

Source: Hedonometer.org

Hedonometer’s analysis of the US. Hawaii is the happiest state, Lousiana the least happy one.

Every day, Hedonomoter analyses the presence of these words in 50 million tweets from around the globe. Together, these tweets form a daily ‘happiness average‘. In this way, you can measure the happiest day of the year, or the average level of happiness per state.

Mappiness: the largest global happiness study through iPhone

Mappiness is a free iPhone app conducting the largest research on the influence of environment and community on human well-being ever. Since 2010, the app has been downloaded by almost 60,000 people. How does Mappiness work? At irregular intervals, the app asks you about your state of being. The app also wants to know  exactly where you are, and in whose company. The choice amongst forty options takes about twenty seconds, and must be made within one hour to be classified in the results. Initial results from the London School of Economics on the basis of over 3 million data points demonstrated that people are somewhat happier in nature, forests or at the coast than in urban environments.

Would you like to read more?

Sanne’s entire dossier (in Dutch) ahead of Stadsleven’s talk show on The Happy City can be found here.

I contributed an article on the lessons from Bhutan for the Happy City (English translation on my blog). After the event, I wrote a post about the conclusions of the panel: compactness, connections, trust and design are the winning factors for happy cities!

The Happy City: lessons from Bhutan

I wrote this article for Stadsleven (“City Life”), an Amsterdam-based talk show about urban issues. The next session on 27 January will be dedicated to the Happy City, and the editor of Stadsleven asked me to explain what our cities can learn from Gross National Happiness (GNH) in Bhutan. The original Dutch version can be found here.

Bhutan-Happiness-is-a-Place-logo-2011-small

What is the objective of the state? Philosophers and leaders have been reflecting about this question for thousands of years. Most states focus their policies on economic development. The assumption is that when a country becomes richer, its citizens will be better off. But is that the case? Research shows that the Western world is a lot richer than fifty years ago. At the same time, we are hardly any happier than in the 1950s.

For Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, these conclusions do not come as a surprise. Already in 1972, Bhutan based its policy on Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH takes a broader approach than economic interests, and also helps the state to consider the influence of factors like health, mental well-being and community life. Bhutan’s king observed that these factors largely influence the happiness and quality of life of the Bhutanese, and thus put them as the central objective of public policy. The video explains how it works:

Bhutan’s core philosophy thus is different, and we hardly realise how revolutionary that is. The economy and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are central topics in the public debate in the Netherlands. We’re confronted with growth forecasts on a daily basis. Many people in the Netherlands will know that the target for the budget deficit is 3%. But will they have an idea about national happiness level? Probably not. And consider that the Social and Cultural Planning Agency (SCP) recently concluded that quality of life decreased between 2010 and 2012, for the first time in thirty years!

After Bhutan, the UK, the OECD and the European Commission, to name some, GNH could also inspire the Netherlands (and Amsterdam). Of course there is no way that our political leaders should tell you and me how to be happy. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is right in saying that the state is not a happiness machine. But the government does have the responsibility for our quality of life. But how, and what does make us happy?

gross-national-happiness2

The British new economics foundation has researched five ways to well-being. These are factors that affect the happiness and well-being of an individual: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give. Cities can integrate some elements in their urban planning and design. Public spaces can be designed to facilitate that people meet each other (connect) or are invited to do sports (be active). Through education and community activities, city councils can promote skills and values that help us to appreciate the moment (take notice), be curious (keep learning) and share with others (give).

The lessons of Bhutan deserve to be followed. Isn’t there a more noble cause than a happy city?

The manufacture of happiness

This article was written by Jasper Bergink and Maroussia Klep and was first published in the fifth issue of Ionic Magazine (www.ionicmagazine.co.uk), a wonderful magazine that aims to bridge the gap between two seemingly distant disciplines: art and science. The artwork is by Maroussia Klep.

IONIC painting Maroussia

The manufacture of happiness

Have you ever desired to be in the place of this happy family on the cover of magazines, or to live the same passionate love story as that couple on a TV show? Our society – probably more than any other before – makes you feel the urge to “be happy”. At the same time, the trick of consumerism is to make happiness a never ending and unattainable quest.

How would you react if we told you that you actually have the capacity to manufacture your own happiness?

As Abraham Lincoln reportedly put it some 150 years ago, “people are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Since then, behavioural researchers have worked hard to put scientific terms on this observation. Dan Gilbert, a professor in psychology at Harvard University, distinguishes two terms to describe this phenomenon: natural and synthetic happiness. The first refers to happiness as we usually tend to picture it: the deep feeling of joy you experience when you finally get the job you wanted or date the person you are in love with. Synthetic happiness however is a feeling of happiness that you can unconsciously create, even when you do not get what you wanted. Remarkably, Gilbert claims that synthesised happiness makes you feel as good and is as long-lasting as the natural ‘version’.

Adaptation

This is all very appealing but it opens a new question: how can one attain or ‘manufacture’ this alternative state of happiness? As a matter of fact, it does not require any special trick. It lies actually at the heart of human nature and relies on the amazing capacity of every person to adapt to his environment. This holds both for changes in the physical world around us as in psychological terms. A famous study by Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman compared the happiness levels of three groups: lottery winners, paraplegics (as a result of an accident), and people who hadn’t won a lottery nor were disabled. Common sense would make one inclined to think that the lottery winners would have a higher level of happiness than the disabled. On the short term, this must be true. Brickman and his team realised however that this initial effect had completely gone within a year. As time passed, participants adapted to their new situation, with no measurable difference in their respective happiness levels one year after the win of the lottery or the accident.

Human nature is of course more complex. One of the main obstacles in today’s society, which hampers our ability to manufacture happiness through adaptation, is the abundance of choice to which one is confronted. Excessive freedom, and the availability of multiple alternatives, can act as a paralysing factor. The study of Barry Schwartz is enlightening in this regard to understand the ‘paradox of choice’. During his observations, participants in a supermarket were offered the opportunity to taste and purchase six jams. In another setup, the number of jams was 24. Unexpectedly, Schwartz realised that when the number of jams increased, the level of interest and of purchase decreased rather than increased.

Limit your options

From these observations it can be concluded that too much freedom can actually be detrimental to one’s level of happiness. When faced with a limited number of options, a person can more easily adapt to his or her limits and make the most out of what is available. In other words, it makes ‘synthesizing’ easier. This observation is certainly not an argument to set ambitions aside and be complacent. On the contrary, it is by identifying your own ambitions and striving to attain your personal objectives that you will attain the highest levels of satisfaction. There is no point in considering fifteen different careers that are not fit to you. This will only make you unhappy. Instead, the lesson learned here is to focus on what you want and to restrict your panel of possibilities to what could give you most satisfaction – then, whatever the result, synthetic happiness will do the rest!