How to Be Happier, According to a Happiness Expert

July 26, 2017

Shawn Achor is one of the leading experts on happiness. He found that gratitude is tied directly to happiness.

If you are looking for the world’s leading expert on happiness, Shawn Achor is probably your man.

Achor, a Harvard graduate, has spent the majority of his adult career researching happiness. He’s done a TED Talk and written several books about happiness, with Oprah Winfrey conducting two interviews with Achor on the subject.

Recently, he sat down with Arianna Huffington as part of her LinkedIn Learning series, Thrive. In his discussion with Huffington, Achor outlined five daily activities that’ll make anyone, anywhere happier.

And none of them take more than 15 minutes a day to complete.

So want a happier life? Well, according to Achor, these five things will make that so:

1. Write a gratitude journal.

More gratitude leads to increased happiness, Achor said. So, there’s no better way to start your day than writing down three new things you are grateful for.

“Those very simple actions caused my brain to stop thinking about being depressed and negative, and caused me to start looking for the things that cause me to feel grateful and find meaning in my life,” Achor said. “And what I now know based upon research is your brain cannot feel grateful and depressed at the exact same time.”

2. Exercise for at least 15 minutes a day.

Obviously, if you want to exercise more, go for it. But Achor found that just 15 minutes of mindful cardio is the equivalent of taking an antidepressant.

“That simple act of movement causes the brain to record a victory, which cascades to the next task, to the next task,” Achor said. “So what happens is you start believing your behavior matters again.”

3. Meditate.

There are countless studies that show the benefits of mediation, which is why meditation has been around for centuries and is practiced by billions of people across the globe. But, Achor emphasizes it doesn’t have to be a big deal – he spends two minutes a day to “just take my hands off my keyboard and do nothing; just quiet everything for just two minutes, and just watch my breath go in and out.”

“That’s it, I went from multi-tasking to single-tasking, and then right back again,” he said. “But that simple action caused my brain to have that moment of quiet, that noise canceling moment. When you have that, your brain actually gets resources back to scan the world for why I could feel happy in that present moment.”

4. Find one moment of meaning each day.

Once a day, Achor suggest going out into the world and looking for a moment of wonder. Maybe that means settling upon a rainbow or a sunset or an impressive building and wondering what that means to you.

“You're actually quieting the part of your brain that's constantly looking for threats,” Achor said. “And the front part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, that's the part of the brain that not only looks for these moments of wonder and processes them, but the amazing part is that's the creative center as well. The part of your brain that sees different connections between different aspects in your life, that part is turned on to its highest possible level when we take the time to look for those moments of wonder.”

5. Praise one person a day for 21 days.

Finally, Achor suggests writing an email or text message to a different person each day for 21 days thanking them for something. Maybe it’s a note to your spouse for being a great parent or to a teacher for inspiring you to go into a certain field or to a friend for being there, whatever.

“The real reason for that is that when people write these positive emails, when you share with that other person why they're meaningful, what happens is you actually receive so much,” Achor said. “Because not only do you realize you have these people that are meaningful in your life, but you've just meaningfully activated them. And what happens is if I ask you, or anybody who's doing this course, after doing this for three days in a row, or 21 days in a row, if we ask them about their social connection, the breadth, the depth, the meaning in their social relationships, their score is off the chart.”

Tying it all together

You see a few themes emerge in these five activities. Mostly, they revolve around gratitude, and more specifically gratitude for the connections you’ve formed.

“We found that social connection is as predictive of how long you will end up living as obesity, high blood pressure and smoking,” Achor said. “Which is phenomenal because we fight so hard against the negative, and we forget to tell people how powerful a two-minute positive email each day could be.”

In other words, the stronger bonds you form with the people in your life will not only make you be happier. It’ll make you healthier as well.

*Image by Ed Schipul, Flickr

Arianna Huffington taught six courses on LinkedIn Learning covering everything from meditation to time management to overcoming challenges. You can watch them all here.