I learned something really important at this year’s 2018 LMA Annual Conference: Successful people are not necessarily happy. But happy people are more likely to be successful.
The takeaway? You should really care about incorporating happiness into your life. Here’s why: In addition to being more successful in their careers, happy people are more productive in their jobs, experience better health and therefore live longer lives. They are also kinder, less hostile and more productive, and the list goes on. To me this seems like the most enthusiastic PSA for happiness in the history of PSAs.
Even better, while it’s true that genetics play a big role in whether you are destined to have an Eeyore or a Tigger mindset, happiness is achievable even for those individuals for whom a positive outlook does not come that easy. So that means even Grumpy Cat and Gargamel can find more happiness in life. They just have to work a little harder for it.
This insightful information came from the #LMA18 keynote speaker, University of Amherst “Science of Happiness” professor Catherine A. Sanderson, who spoke to nearly 1,600 LMA18 attendees about why happiness is significant, what truly makes us happy and provided practical ways that each of us can incorporate happiness into our everyday professional and personal lives (more on that later).
Sanderson says that happy people are more often extroverts, have a robust network of friends and are optimists, but for many people, happiness doesn’t come as easily or naturally, and so they must make conscious choices and decisions to bring happiness into their lives. Sanderson herself told the LMA in a recent interview, “I look at happiness like metabolism: Some people eat whatever they want and never gain weight, and that’s wonderful. If you’re not one of those people, you must take extra steps to watch your diet and be mindful. I look at happiness the same way. People who don’t have that natural tendency and experience can learn strategies to make life changes. You can find happiness no matter what.”
Sanderson stressed that happiness in your personal life doesn’t only correlate with success at work — it paves the way for it. In short, we become more successful at work when we are happier at home. She cited research showing that married men are generally happier than single men, regardless of whether they are in a happy marriage (which to me is pretty interesting that many men are content just not being alone). And for women, while good marriages provide good environments for them to thrive, bad marriages do not. So all of the single people (and unhappy women in relationships) out there should take this is a sign that you should get on Bumble, sign up for Match, OKCupid, JDate, JSwipe, eHarmony and/or a matchmaker – take some proactive steps to find “the one.” And those of you who are already in a relationship should make them a priority and work on them, or cut bait for greener pastures.
Sanderson said that we can actively engage in behaviors that make us happier. Here are her top strategies to increase happiness (try them – they work!):
- Change little things in your daily life such as getting more sleep, regularly exercising, enjoying nature and meditating. All of these are mood boosters.
- Find your match personally and professionally. You must love what you do and who you are with to be truly happy and successful. Period.
- Read books you love. Books are a great escape from your everyday life. (A note from me: reading is great but please don’t read anything really depressing, self-help books that make you feel like you are the worst person in the universe or twisted, creepy horror books. Those would defeat the purpose of making you happy!)
- Be grateful. Do two things in the grateful area: 1.) Keep a gratitude journal. Regularly write down for what you are most thankful. 2.) Make a gratitude visit to someone who has made a profound impact on your life. Do this before it’s too late for them and for you.
- Smile even when you aren’t happy. Studies have shown that the act of smiling can trick your brain into happiness.
- Savor the everyday moments. Relishing the little things, such as a sunny day, when your dog finally catches the Frisbee (my dog did this just one time but it was a great moment for us), an ice cream sandwich (my personal favorite), the flowers on your desk or the way your baby smiles at you, teaches you to be more grateful and appreciative of what you have, especially when things go wrong.
- Perform random acts of kindness. Do good things for people without expecting anything in return. Give to charity. Volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to you. Buy gifts for others (like for me, for example).
- Spend money on experiences vs. things such as travel, concerts, cooking classes, a Broadway show and the like. It’s the idea of investing in experiences to which you can look forward. Sanderson described it as the idea of “anticipation,” which she said, in turn, creates happiness rather than buying material things. I think we can all relate to this – the feeling of excitement as you count down the days until a big vacation or seeing your favorite band in concert. Buying a fancy electronic gadget or handbag just doesn’t achieve the same lasting feeling of joy. Doing things you find meaningful will make you happier.
- Avoid comparisons. They just make you feel bad. This is the idea of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” First off, I guarantee you that the Joneses’ life isn’t all that great when you peel back the curtain. Be thankful for what you have and your crazy, imperfect life.
- Build and maintain close relationships. I agree with Sanderson that building and maintaining high-quality relationships is the most important thing you can do to be happy. (Unless you are a hermit. Then by all means, don’t do this.) Relationships are so important to our happiness and they can be frustrating because most of the time, the people in our lives don’t do what we want them to do when we want them to do it (how dare they!). But care about and love them anyway.
According to Sanderson, engaging in everyday activities such as the ones noted above will enable anyone to bring more happiness into their lives. I am certainly convinced of this after listening to her keynote talk and having the opportunity to interview her afterwards as part of my role as Facebook Live reporter for the LMA18 Conference (you can watch my interview with her here).
On a personal note, two years ago, I lost my mom to Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer of plasma cells. My mom had this awful cancer for nearly 15 years – one that I should mention comes with a rather grim prognosis. She responded well to treatment for many years from the best oncologists in New York City – a cocktail of groundbreaking drugs, chemotherapy, even an auto stem cell transplant – but then just when she thought she was in the clear, it came back with a vengeance. She fought with every ounce of her body for the last year and a half of her life – and I believe that a lot of her resilience was due to her positive mindset. At the very end, she told my dad, my brother and me that she was tired of fighting, and after that, her decline was rapid. I am convinced that this is in large part due to the fact that she had lost happiness and hope.
There is no doubt that the power of positive thinking is a valuable coping mechanism when you are diagnosed with cancer or any serious illness. Adopting an optimistic outlook can help to relieve stress and lower blood pressure. While being positive might not have been able to save my mom from cancer, I know that it contributed to helping her find more meaning in her life and finding more joy in each day, enabling her to more fully enjoy every moment that she was here with us.
If you know me personally, you know that I am by nature a very happy and upbeat person. It takes a lot to get me to a doom and gloom place (finding out that I have the plague would do it for sure though). In all seriousness, my mom’s death just a short time ago was the most difficult time of my life so far. I made it through in large part due to my positive outlook on life. Finding the silver lining in things, making people laugh, reminding myself that things will always get better, always having a dog (I firmly believe that puppies are the cure to pretty much everything) and surrounding myself with a strong support network has been the way for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Grief is a long-winding, complicated process. One minute you are fine and the next, you’re not because a memory came back to you or the stark reality hits that you can’t just pick up the phone to call your mom to tell her something. I always seem to be able to shake it off and move on with my day, but I appreciate that not everyone is like me and that happiness comes easier to me. Not everyone is able to bounce back as easily as I can. And that’s why I appreciate Catherine’s advice. Because if you follow her tips, even the most negative person (i.e. Debbie Downer) can incorporate small changes into their daily routine and will feel a difference.
You must remember that for most of us, happiness is a choice. Sure there are times when you experience happiness without any work. Be thankful for those moments of pure joy. They won’t come easy all the time. Life is unpredictable, and finding ways to create a happy and meaningful life for yourself both inside and outside the office is imperative. Sanderson mentioned in her talk that you should never put off living, because you never know. She also lost her mom at a young age. But it doesn’t take the death of a loved one to realize that life is short. Life can be cruel sometimes and it can be exuberant. Being positive enables us to survive the ebbs and flows. So please live great, live happier and do it right now. 🤗
[About Stefanie: Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 15 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, content marketing and corporate journalism, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. Learnmore.]