It Doesn't Take Long to Shift Thought Patterns Toward Happiness

April 30th, 2019

It Doesn't Take Long to Shift Thought Patterns Toward Happiness

Happiness researcher Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential, contends that making small changes in our daily routines can transform our thought patterns, yielding greater life satisfaction and meaning. It only takes 21 days—three weeks of daily practice—for a new activity to become habit, Achor shares in an interview on the 10% Happier podcast. He identifies five evidence-based daily activities that can quickly increase gratitude, meaning, and pleasure in our everyday lives. Can you incorporate one of these practices into your daily routine? Today is a great day to start!

  1. Look for three new things you are grateful for and why. You can do this at the dinner table, in a classroom or workplace, in the shower, or while you brush your teeth. Gratitude lights up our brains with a sense of joy and connection. To get the greatest benefit, Achor recommends you write the three new things down.

  2. Scan your day for a meaningful memory. Journal about it for two minutes and bullet point three details from the memory. Similar to the exercise in gratitude, this activity helps solidify the meaning attached to the memory and increases our sense of connection to the people or places in the memory. It helps us to tell the story of the memory—why it is important and what it is we want to hold onto. “Your brain has recorded all these separate things that have occurred within your life,” says Achor, “but when you go back and journal about it… you’re wrapping it up in a package with a beginning and with an end, and you’ve just wrapped it as a meaningful experience.”

  3. Get your heart-rate up for 15 minutes. A small amount of mindful exercise can have noticeable results, and this helps increase our self-knowledge that changing our habits can improve our mood. For this reason, Achor calls exercise the “gateway drug” to behavior change.

  4. Breath mindfully for two minutes. When Achor’s research team had a group of developers at Google practice noticing their breath rise and fall for two minutes a day, they found that the employees’ levels of accuracy improved, levels of happiness rose, and stress levels dropped. To get started, you may wish to set a timer for two minutes, or count to about twelve deep breaths.

  5. Begin each day by spending two minutes writing a positive email praising or thanking one new person for something significant or meaningful. “If you do it for three days in a row, you get addicted to this,” Achor says. Thinking about a person to thank or praise increases your sense of gratitude, you feel good about yourself for sending the email, and you feel empowered by transforming the mundane task of managing emails into an opportunity to help someone else feel good. What’s more, when Achor’s study participants did this for 21 days, their levels of social connection—the breadth, depth, and meaning of their social relationships—rose to the top 10% worldwide. Social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness, and even has health benefits that increase lifespan.

Do you think you can incorporate one of these practices into your daily routine? We believe in you! If you'd like to get support from a counselor on making changes like these, visit our Get Started page to request an appointment.

Jill Hokanson