The Key To Happiness Is Hypotheses

Does anyone else feel like, the more "modern" our society gets, the more elusive the concept of health + happiness become? Isn't that strange? Our Facebook feed, televisions, books and magazines are already overloading us with information that's practically "GUARANTEED" to make us healthier, happier, more beautiful, skinnier, stronger, more adventurous, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc...

Yet every year more books, magazines, workout fads and meal plans come pouring out from the depths of social media and beyond. "Read this," they say, "and your life will forever change!" 

And if people are creating more content about happiness (if I remember this correctly from economics class) it means there's a demand in the market. Which means that people are still looking for advice, which means they still aren't happy. What gives?

We have all the recipes, yoga videos, tips and tricks at our fingertips.  Why are we all still craving this need to find a magic pill providing everlasting joy? 

To be honest, I don't have an answer for that. I think the conversation about "what is happiness anyway?" includes a lot more than I can possibly unpack in a blog post such as this.  So we'll stick to shallower waters for now, but call me if you'd ever want to dive in over a cup of coffee.  What I do know is that looking for the "Almighty Answer To Happiness" is part of what gets us in trouble in the first place. Happiness is not a noun, its a verb.

Before I dive into this post, I'll acknowledge the potential irony of what I'm about to share . But perhaps, one way to change the way we think about all of the self-help, books, articles, videos, yadda yadda, is to not shun them into a corner, but rather view them as hypotheses, like in a science experiment. You try some things, and pay attention to what happens around you. 

Less: "This is going to change my life forever (and this time it's really going to work!)"

More: "I wonder how I would feel if I tried this thing..."

Below you'll find some personal hypotheses I have explored and found have worked for me. Give them a try for yourself and see what happens, I'd love to hear about your observations! 

I wonder what would happen if...

You did something relaxing every day

 One thing I'm trying to talk myself into, which is a huge shift in my understanding of "the recipe for success" , is to get up in the middle of the afternoon and go for a walk, or *gasp*, take a nap - AND not feel and an ounce of guilt. That second part is always the kicker. I think this comes easier for some than others, it certainly doesn't come as easily for me. I have trained myself to work as hard as I can for as long as I can and then basically  burn out from exhaustion and become useless for a whole day or more. If I haven't spend at least 6-8 hours in front of my computer screen, I couldn't possibly have had a productive day... right? I'm slowly learning from experience that this is just total and complete insanity. Enter cliché quote: "You can't pour from an empty cup."

Rest is so critical to productivity and I'm slowly but surely collecting my own proof of this fact. Sure, I've read about it in a bunch of books and blogs and I've lost track of the number of people who have told me this - but I'm finally starting to actually grasp this for myself through paying attention to how I feel. Taking a break, of any kind, is critical to your success and your ability to do good work. It helps you perform better under stressful situations and to create more with less effort. Heading into the work week, give yourself permission to take a 15 min break. Whether it's a quick meditation post lunch or simply going for a walk around the block. Giving yourself room to relax will allow you to participate in your day with greater focus and energy. You won't know what works until you try it on for yourself. 

You focused more on your breath

A couple years ago, I started to notice this strange habit I was building. I'd be sitting at my computer, in a random hotel somewhere, clickety-clacking away, and all of the sudden my brain would suddenly be like, "OMG take a breath would you!". It was like I was just so busy working on my spreadsheets, or whatever, that I totally forgot to breathe. Yea... it was weird and I don't even know if that something that anyone else has experienced, but either way, probably not the best way to take care of myself.

Then I started doing yoga and my whole life changed... Ok, it didn't. Not overnight at least. But yoga (specifically Strala Yoga) has played a big role in showing me how powerful the breath is.   

Now, when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, breathing is the first thing I turn to. Close your eyes, big inhale through your nose, soft easy exhale out. See? I can tell you're feeling better already! 

You turned your phone and computer off

The use of mobile devices on business trips has been increasing every year, and this year will be no different. Road warriors are more reliant on their mobile devices than ever before and the industry is keen on keeping it that way. We use our smartphones and tablets to book trips, change flights, reserve a hotel room, call a cab, rent a car, pay for food, call home... this list could go on for days. All of these new mobile innovations are driven by the desire to make life easier on the go and for the most part, they are doing a very good job.

But this year, while the mobile travel experience will continue to evolve, lets remember why your company is sending you packing in the first place: to connect with human beings . On vacation? besides checking in with family to let them know you are safe, and perhaps taking an occasional picture, why not try putting your phone away and exploring the world with your 5 senses vs. a hashtag?

This isn't a resolution to stop using your smartphone forever, but instead a commitment to remember that the virtual world on our phone is not same one that we see out the window. Unlike our lives, it has an off button and its ok to use it.

You focus more on experiences

Living in a 'consumerist' culture is something we all have been doing to since, basically forever. We need to have all the things! We love things. Clothes, make-up, shoes, laptops, smoothies - all the things! 

But things don't make us happy.

This is an adage we all know. So what if, instead of spending your money and time on things, you spent them meeting people, learning new skills and being creative? You painted, went for a run, tried a new recipe, joined a volleyball club, brought a new friend to yoga, you met someone you haven't seen in a while for coffee? Just try to become more away of the effect that tying together our happiness with tangible objects has on us. 

One idea: try a "media" detox for a week. Turn off the TV, no online shopping or social media. Turn off the outside, and turn on the inside. What activities and experiences can you create that will feed your soul and preserve your energy?

You slept

Work trips, vacay trips, just travel in general typically brings to mind long hours and little sleep. When we meet with clients, bosses and direct reports it feels like we need to be on our game at all times. And while it might seem counter intuitive - more sleep is the secret to actually being on your game.

Our sleep occurs in two cycles; REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and SW (Slow Wave). REM is our most active form of sleep while SW is our most restorative form of sleep. SW preserves your memories, while REM weaves them into what our brain already knows. This is called "memory consolidation". The two cycles give you your best sleep when they are working in harmony; unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

According to a 2010 government report - 30% of all employees get less than 6 hours of sleep per night, while 70% describe their sleep as insufficient.

When we get a good night sleep, we wake up with greater focus, remember more, can solve problems and learn new things quicker and more effectively. When we have a poor nights sleep, our performance suffers, we're more likely to forget important details, it becomes more difficult for us to learn and we are slower to respond to situations.

Take the time you need to relax and sleep and don't apologize for it.  Reading this little blog post won't change the reality of the work that needs to be done and the clients you need to meet with. But a happy life is all about balance. So trust your gut, give yourself a break, and get some rest.

A few suggestions for improved sleep:

  • If sleeping in isn't and option, try going to bed 1 hour earlier than you're used to

  • Close your computer and tuck your phone away an hour before you go to bed (the blue light emitted from these devices suppresses our production of melatonin, a hormone we need to fall asleep)

  • Use the nightshift mode on iPhones, or download the f.lux app on your computer to minimize the blue light exposure when it's dark out

  • Wear earplugs and an eye-mask to block out any unwanted noise from your hotel hallway and light from the electronics in your room


Happy experimenting and I'd love to hear what you learn along the way - or even any recommedations for other "hypotheses" we can all try.