My face hurt and I was speechless. I looked up; sweat dripping off the end of my nose, and felt my breaths rasping in with short pulls. The granite pillars that materialized in front of me as I crested the hill had a dusting of pink tinted snow from the autumn sunset. I stopped pedaling and let my toes grind into the muddy trail. I dove into the moment, floating in the beauty of everything around me, this was a familiar mountain biker's high. After a couple of minutes, I realized my cheeks were sore from smiling.
I had two thoughts: “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I wish everyone could feel like this.”
My mission is to help people find their adventurer within – that means letting go of fear and living a passionate, balanced and adventurous life. During that journey I’ve learned you can take steps to be happy and fulfilled, which is exactly what the latest neuroscience proves!
Letting go of fear and committing yourself to consciously strive for happiness will have an effect not just on yourself, but your family, your co-workers and the entire World. You can literally change the planet if you are happy (some power you've got there). Conversely, you can drag yourself down if you wallow in self-pity and allow yourself to become a person who “life happens to.” The happiest people create every moment in their life – life happens by them, not to them.
Here are the five ingredients to become the happiest person you can be and lead a passionate, balanced, life:
Be thankful for every moment. When you are the author of your life, you take 100% accountability for creating each minute of every day. And because you are given the opportunity to create your world, you should take the time to be thankful for it. This doesn’t require a complicated meditation or mindfulness practice; it only requires awareness of the micro moments. When you sail through three green lights in a row on the way to a meeting, tell yourself how lucky you are not to be stuck waiting. When you sleep a full 7 or 8 hours wake up thanking God or Buddah or whoever you believe in (even if it’s yourself) for helping you be rested. Appreciate the micro moments of friendliness that you experience every day when someone smiles at you. Like the Monty Python song advises “always look on the bright side of life.”
Richard Branson said by far exercise has the biggest impact on his productivity, but did you know it’s the key to something even bigger? Besides kicking ass at work, exercise makes you happy.
Just 20 minutes four times a week can make you a much happier person and science proves it. Every time you exercise your body thinks it is fleeing; the parts of your brain responsible for survival kick in as if you were scared. Your brain in survival mode mixes a Fear Cocktail and floods it through your body.
I’ve told people for years that they should scare themselves once a month. There are a number of reasons to experience what I call the Three F’s – Flight, Fight, or Freeze response. Each “F” releases a combination of endorphins and hormones to super-charge and protect your body, a Fear Cocktail. This Cocktail can have an amazing positive impact on your life.
If you look at a brain scan of a person sweating her way through a good workout and a person shooting up heroin you’ll see the sections of the brain are active in the same areas. Exercise can create the flight response that in the absence of a real threat, will light up the same sections of the brain as heroin. Did you ever think your Pilates class could be as powerful as shooting up an addictive narcotic?
Do unto others
No matter what your religious convictions, a belief in Karma, or the Golden Rule or infinite love, has been proven by science to make us more empathetic to other people and in turn make us happier. Amazingly studies show that seeing someone give money to charity makes most people as happy as if they got the money themselves. That's the power of compassion. Believing that compliments, encouragement, nice gestures are all infinite – you can never run out of them - helps you keep the positive words coming.
How may hugs and kisses can you give in a year? In Europe every time you see someone you haven’t seen in a while, or every time you meet someone new you give them two kisses, or three, wouldn’t we all have a lot more “Joie de vie” if we did this in the US?
When you give love, compliments, encouragement you also help your body and mind let go of anger, vindictiveness and hate. Releasing negative thoughts opens up more room for the positive ones and helps you learn a universal truth that took me 30 years to figure out: The world is a very friendly place.
For me, realizing that everything didn’t require a fight was a tough mindset to change. Years ago I was guilty of having what my grandmother used to refer to as “Irish Alzheimer”; I’d forget everything but a grudge. However, once I started consciously releasing negative feelings and anger I noticed I was a lot more relaxed and even slept better. (Sleeping better is a great benefit of being happy and in the moment, unless you find yourself nodding off in an important meeting, that might not make your boss too happy). Chemically-speaking when you pass along feelings of love and happiness your pituitary gland excretes more of the “hug hormone” called oxytocin creating feelings of joy. Conversely, negative feelings and thoughts create cortisol, which has been proven to shorten your life span and increase unhappiness.
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence (thanks to big data and real-time subjective reporting with mobile apps) that shows being outside especially in green space makes adults happier and kids healthier. In 2013 the first big study to prove the value on well being by getting outside was published showing that people who were outside doing an activity at least four times a week were 200% more likely to be happy than those who exercised in doors the difference is even bigger compared to people who worked in an office all day – now you know why Dilbert never seems happy.
Have a Purpose
Why do you do what you do for 40, 50 or 60 hours a week? Is it to pay the bills and make money? Our marking-driven society wants you to believe that having the latest iPhone, or wearing the coolest jeans will make you happy. It won't, nor will higher status from a big title. A study from UCLA and UNC shows that having a purpose has a benefit on your happiness that pleasure seeking can't come close to matching and that is a healthier genome.
If you don’t have passion in your career or balance in your life you’ll never be consistently happy and your body won't produce the anti-inflamatory and immune building response in the genome that compassion and a sense of purpose catalyzes. If you’re excited to go to work and you think you are making a difference and growing personally then every day can be blissful. Your feelings of value (and happiness) are especially strong when you see the impact of your purpose. Helping a rookie hire learn leadership skills, or marketing strategy; teaching students about constellations; writing code that will be used by thousands of people all are worthy tasks with a purpose. Trying to manipulate someone into buying an extended warranty on something that never breaks so you can get a commission isn’t.
Ask yourself “Why” every time you make a career decision and try to get to the truth behind your motivation. Align your motivation, passion, and vocation, and your work will matter. I work with many multi-millionaire CEOs who are realizing late in their life that it’s more important to be significant than successful. They only wish they knew this when they were younger.
The keys to happiness opens doors
Start practicing these five methods right now if you want to be healthy and happy, because only you can control your own happiness, no one else has the power to make you happy or sad unless you give that power to them. These five steps can make you the happiest you you can be! If you have an open mind, and open heart it opens doors.
(Please help make other people happy and share this blog with your social media network!)
Patrick Sweeney is one of the Top Keynote Speaker of 2017 as rated by Young President's Organization, and Google Talks in the EU. He only works with a handful of companies each year to make sure the events are engaging and customized, not a cookie-cutter speech for every event.