Happiness Exercise: Pile of Good Things

pileWhen to use: When you want to bring a little more joy to your day, and aren’t sure where to start.

Supplies: A pen, paper, other pens in different colors, or highlighters.

Instructions:

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write down everything that comes to mind when you ask yourself “what makes me happy?”. This can be either a list or more free-form mind map, just keep writing until the time is up. Now is not the time to edit or erase – your goal is to keep your pen moving for the full five minutes.
  • Once the time is up, use pens in different colors – or highlighters – to circle things you can do weekly, monthly or those which require more planning. Look at your typical week, and see which of the things that make you happy can be scheduled. Like all those women’s magazines say, making an appointment with yourself can be powerful. Honor your happiness commitment!
  • Bonus: Identify five things that can be done in under 10 minutes. Keep that list handy (maybe add it as a note in your smartphone?), and the next time you have small amounts of found time, such as waiting for an appointment, take action on what makes you happy.

 

Why it works:

  • Knowing what makes you happy before it happens helps increase your awareness. Hot coffee in a real mug makes me happier coffee in a paper takeaway cup, and now I notice all the times I enjoy my coffee from a  real mug. I may not drink more coffee, yet I notice my coffee-joy each day.
  • Anticipation of something makes up a significant portion of enjoyment related to that experience. Consider vacations: part of the benefit of a vacation is looking forward to it (as well as the memories it provides).
  • Happiness is a choice: identification and prioritization of what makes us happy means we are choosing happiness more often.

 

Pro-tip: Experiences and connections make us happier than material goods in the long-term. In reviewing your list, keep an eye out for a balance between those things that may skew more towards instant gratification and those which build sustained happiness.

A word of caution: You are in control of your feelings. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, No one can “make” you feel anything without your consent. Your pile of happy things will grow faster if they are not dependent on someone else to do something – focus on what you can control.

15 Minutes Happier: Your Best Friend is Write

Happiness Exercise #3: Best Friend Correspondence

When to use: When you’re stressed, you’re working through something difficult or being harsh with yourself.
Supplies: a journal or paper, your favorite pen or pencil
Instructions:
· Carve out 15 minutes that will be interruption-free
· Write a honest-to-goodness old-fashioned letter, as if your best friend was in your shoes, dealing with your stress
· Start with a greeting: “Hey, sweetie!” and “Hello, friend” work for me
· Close your letter: “Hugs”, “Love”, “Call me”
· Take a few minutes to re-read what you wrote, underlining or circling the kind words, encouragement and compassion you’ve likely given your best friend and may have been withholding from yourself

Why it works:
· Self-talk is powerful! What we tell ourselves and what we tell those we love are often very different messages. We are harsh and unkind to ourselves in ways we would never be to our friends.

· Your thoughts shape your experiences. If you’re telling yourself you’re failing, rather than learning, or showing grit, or trying something new, your experience is framed as failure. How you talk to yourself is the cornerstone for shaping how you experience life.

· Writing on paper rather than typing your letter strengthens the connection between what your mind is saying and what your mind is hearing.

Pro-tip: If there are words of compassion or encouragement that came through in your letter that you really need to hear, write those words out several times separately as an approach to more positive affirmations and self-talk.

About 15 minutes happier exercises
Why 15 minutes? Because anyone can find at least 15 minutes in the day for themselves.
Why be happier? Well, why not? To make a business case for this investment of your time, several studies have shown happiness drives success, not the other way around. If we want to succeed in building fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, a good place to start is to make sure we’re doing things to make ourselves happy. Each exercise is designed to be done anywhere and at any time. I like to actually leave my desk for a lunch break a few times a week – not too much to ask! Find 15 minutes in your schedule, and let’s get started. Let me know how your 15 minutes went in the comments – or if you have an idea for a future happiness exercise.

A Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

When was the last time you received a hand-written thank you note? A love letter? A holiday card that wasn’t a printed family newsletter? What about the last time you wrote a postcard from vacation? Or tucked a note into a family member’s lunch box?

Something experiential happens when we write with pen and paper that gets lost in our digital world. Your thoughts slow down when your hand, the ink and your brain need to get in sync. You are more deliberate and engaged in your writing, and less likely to become distracted. You are directing an activity with your own thoughts; bringing new ideas and information into existence. There is something tangible and tactile in writing longhand that just isn’t the same in the repetition of typing

I’ve always been a fan of journal and taking notes longhand. I collect blank notebooks, hoard stationary and keep a paper calendar. I write out goals and dreams in lists, plan vacation packing lists and activities with a clipboard and blank paper. Carving out the time to sit down, to think and engage with what you want to say elevates an activity from a task to something of importance.

How does this make a difference at work? Imagine a one line thank you email to a team compared to a handwritten note acknowledging your unique contributions to a specific piece of work. They might take about the same time, but have exponentially different impacts.

Not sure the lost art of cursive really matters? Try this simple exercise: think of a word you’d like others to use as a way to describe you. Compassionate. Adaptable. Strong. Badass. Now write it down, with a pen or pencil, on paper.

· I am compassionate.
· I am adaptable.
· I am strong.
· I am a badass.

Hopefully, you felt a confidence boost that comes from your brain telling your hand to write those sentences. Now imagine writing down your goals and dreams. There’s a commitment that comes from writing something in ink, a promise to yourself to take action, to think about how to go get what you want. The pen is mightier than the sword, and thinking about what you’re communicating – and how you do it – can have impacts lasting much longer than today’s typical group text messages.

15 minutes happier: Rainbow Photo Safari

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Happiness Exercise #2: Rainbow Photo Safari

When to use: When you’re stuck in a routine that feels like a grind or need new perspective.

Supplies: the outdoors, a camera, comfortable shoes

Instructions: On a 15 minute walk, challenge yourself to snap pictures of:

  • Something in each color of the ROY B. GIV rainbow (beginner)
  • Things you see in order of the rainbow: find something red before looking for something orange, and so on (intermediate)
  • Seven things in each color category over 15 minute walks each day of the week: red on Monday, orange on Tuesday, etc. (expert)

Why it works:

  • Taking pictures instead of only noticing the colors around you encourages the mind to shift perceptive
  • Being outside in the fresh air engages all your senses, helping increase the likelihood you’ll focus on being in the moment
  • Looking for specific colors increases the changes you’ll notice something new about your environment – even if it’s your neighborhood you’ve walked daily. Who knew your neighbor has a purple front door?

Pro-tip: Something that is pink may look red when lined up in order with the other colors of the rainbow, and something almost white can look yellow when between orange and blue. Give yourself leeway to be creative in what “counts” in your rainbow.

 

About 15 minutes happier exercises
Why 15 minutes? Because anyone can find at least 15 minutes in the day for themselves.
Why be happier? Well, why not? To make a business case for this investment of your time, several studies have shown happiness drives success, not the other way around. If we want to succeed in building fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, a good place to start is to make sure we’re doing things to make ourselves happy. Each exercise is designed to be done anywhere and at any time. I like to actually leave my desk for a lunch break a few times a week – not too much to ask! Find 15 minutes in your schedule, and let’s get started. Let me know how your 15 minutes went in the comments – or if you have an idea for a future happiness exercise.

 

Purpose vs. a Paycheck

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
“Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Make passion your paycheck.”

I’m all for inspirational quotes – but these three platitudes get me especially fired up. Because really, how many of us are in a financial position to only do work that calls out to our souls? To make passion your paycheck means it’s likely someone else is putting the food on the table – and we all have to eat. Looking at work separate from the rest of your life is a reductive perspective. I prefer to think of an entire life as a system; a mutually supportive ecosystem where what we do to create financial stability isn’t all we are.
Your purpose may not be your job at all.

How to know how close your job is to your purpose? I use The Lottery Question as my go-to question to get a reading on how someone is feeling about their work and purpose. It’s simple: What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow? 

There are three primary answers:

  1. Stay! I’d invest my winnings wisely, maybe go on a big trip, but at the end of the day I’d keep going in to work.
  2. Sashay! I’d be out that door so fast that hopefully I’d remember to take my family pictures off my desk.
  3. Delay! I’d give two weeks notice, wrap up my current work and transition things to the rest of my team before heading on to Disney World.

Stay! I am inspired by my friends who would keep working – but it’s a short list and frankly, not that common. If you fall into this category, share your story – how’d you get to do the work you love and earn the necessary money to support yourself? Ask yourself why you would stay and if those elements could change. If they did change, what would you do?

Sashay! If you’d you’d sashay out the door, calling out “Later, suckers!”, do you know why you’re in the job you’re in right now? It can be a lot easier to face Monday morning not going to your dream job if you know that it’s making travel, health care benefits, or living in a certain part of the country possible. And if you don’t like what you’re doing, do you know why? Is it the commute, a boss that micromanages, a boring project? If you can pin-point why you’re doing the work you’re doing and why you don’t enjoy it, you will start to see solutions for making smaller changes will have a positive impact without overhauling your career. Advocating for a new project assignment, negotiating a flex schedule to avoid the commute, learning how to manage your boss… now there are actions you can take to improve a less-than-ideal situation without giving up the reasons for why you need this specific job.

Delay! If you know what you’d do with your time after getting back from that amazing vacation following your two weeks’ notice, do more of whatever that is now. The issue I take with the saccharine “love your job, never work” advice is that it comes from a position of privilege implying we all have the choice to not worry about financial concerns. It would be fantastic if we all had work that we wouldn’t leave for lottery winnings – yet it’s aspirational. “Delay” is the sweet spot – work that doesn’t make Sunday nights miserable yet leaves room for our passions and purpose outside of the workplace.

In a past life, I worked in attorney recruitment at a DC-based law firm. One employee I spoke to a only handful of times taught me key lessons on how to think about what our “real work” can be. She is now a well-known author who ran the legal library after stepping out of a litigation career to focus on her writing. She had a solid, corporate 9-to-5 job with good benefits fueling her purpose, rather than being the purpose itself. To be fair, she is a full-time writer now.

Spend time on your purpose and your paycheck: both are critical, not mutually exclusive and certainly not necessary to fully integrate in order to be happier. If you want to keep reading about this topic, here are 5 Reasons to Ignore the Advice To Do What You Love.