Happy International Day of Happiness!

Here at Happier HQ, we think every day is a great day to be happy, but today the whole world agrees—it’s the International Day of Happiness! It’s totally a real thing, and we didn’t even invent it (the United Nations General Assembly did, so, y’know, it’s legit). We have a few humble offerings for you to celebrate the day:

  • If it makes you happier to read nice things about Happier (it works for us!), check out this USA Today piece on the day, featuring none other than our very own Chief Happiness Officer, Nataly Kogan.
  • As a special, one-day, hooray-for-international-happiness celebration, we are offering our mobile Meditation Vacation course for just $9.99, today (March 20th, 2014) only! That’s half price, which seems like the least we can do on such an auspicious day.
  • Need some quick-and-easy reminders of simple ways you can be happier, whenever? We put together the handy-dandy infographic below to help. Save it to your desktop, make it your wallpaper, print it out and staple it to your dog (just kidding on that last one; please use tape)—whatever works for you, we’re happy to lend a happiness boost, today and every day.

(Click to enlarge.)25Ways_All_info_01

Rewriting Tolstoy

It’s that time of year again — the time of year when most people are living the famous line from Leo Tolstoy’s novel,  Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Starting with Thanksgiving and barreling straight through Christmas and into New Year’s, people everywhere — young and old, single and married, happy and sad — are making plans to spend time with their families. Some will drive to the next town over for a quick visit; others will travel across the country or halfway around the world — filling highways and train stations and airports as they make their way home to reconnect: to share meals and gifts and time with families they don’t often see.

For some people, the holidays are filled with uncomplicated joy and happiness — gift-giving and cookie-baking and matching-footed-pajamas! For others, the holidays are filled with stress and angst and sadness. For them, the holidays don’t look or feel anything like that Norman Rockwell painting.  For them, the holidays are emotionally complicated and difficult to manage.

So this year, if you’re one of those people — like most people are —  instead of spending the holidays counting all  the ways in which your unhappy family is unhappy in its own way — instead of rolling your eyes at every bad sweater and every drunk uncle and every semi-hurtful-remark; instead of counting, on the fingers and toes of both hands and feet (and the hands and feet of everyone in the room), every grievance and complaint — however justified! — instead of falling down the usual rabbit hole of holiday misery and depression, why not try something different:

Use what you’ve learned all these months using Happier and find the small positive moments in your holiday visit.

For some of you, this will be easy — so easy, it might threaten to ruin your holiday because you’ll be so busy focusing on all your happy moments your family will complain that you’re not paying enough attention to them! But for others, you’ll have to dig deep to find those moments. You’ll have to look past all the old wounds and try to find beauty and love and peace in other things:  a safe flight home; the perfect crust of an apple pie; a Butterball turkey perfectly cooked, even though the stupid thermometer-thingy was broken and didn’t pop up.

Instead of suffering in silence about the big things, try expressing gratitude aloud for the little things: Thank your mother for making your favorite green bean casserole (even if it’s really not your favorite but she just thinks it is); thank your father for a warm fire well-lit; thank your spouse or your partner for making the trip home with you and for enduring your family’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies with grace and patience. If you do, you’ll be able to rewrite Tolstoy:

All happy families are boring; each unhappy family is interesting in its own way and can be made happier by focusing on really really really small positive moments during holiday visits….

(And for a laugh, here’s an Xtranormal Video I made last year about Thanksgiving: “Hello 1-800-Butterball? My Turkey Is Fine, But My Family Is Killing Me!”)

I’m a crazed, busy startup CEO. Here are 5 habits that keep me sane and make me happier.

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Just because I run a company called Happier doesn’t mean I’m naturally, without any effort, happy. Not at all. Running an early-stage startup and juggling that with being a mom, wife, daughter, grand-daughter, friend and well, a woman who also wants to have more than a second of time to herself, is freaking hard. I stress a lot, I have totally off days when I just want to go hide under the covers, and there are many days when I am not sure how to get it all done.

But I am lucky: I’ve spent the last few years living and breathing research on happiness and I get to be part of the amazing Happier community every day. I have learned a LOT about being more positive and optimistic, managing my stress, and yes, being happier, and I want to share some of my favorite happiness habits with you. (I don’t think you need to be a crazed start-up CEO to find these useful but if you are, I think you will.)

  1. Write down at least 3 things every day that I am grateful for. OK, I don’t write them down, I capture my happy moments in our Happier app, but it’s the same idea. Mountains of research shows that practicing gratitude has incredible benefits for our overall well-being — from helping us be more positive, joyful and optimistic, to feeling less stress and anxiety. And you do have to actually practice it by writing down what you’re grateful for; just thinking it is not enough. I have two types of days: On some I share my happy moments throughout the day; on others, I share them at night, in “bulk”, before I go to bed. Both work, just depends on how much running around I am doing.
  2. IMG_3128Go for an early morning walk. I get up at 6am every day and go for a 3+ mile walk. I do it in the sun, rain, freezing wind, and even snow (I think I skipped a few huge snow storm days, but that’s it). There are days when I think I’m half-asleep when I start walking but my body just goes. For me this is like my daily meditation. I listen to music — not news — I move, I breathe. I travel a lot and try to get a walk in on business trips as well, although this is more challenging. Having this one daily ritual that doesn’t shift due to schedules, that’s just there, always, is incredibly helpful. It anchors my day and gets me started on the right foot. (Plus getting your heart pumping and getting fresh air have been shown to lead to less stress and more positive thinking.)
  3. Get one thing done before I check my email. This is a hard one but makes a huge difference. I try to get something done on my to-do list before I open my email — which also means no mindless email checking in the car or while getting stuff done with my family in the morning. Research says being productive makes us happier and I can absolutely attest that days when I stick to doing this are better and less crazy stressed.
  4. IMG_3129Have small fun family traditions to anchor the week. I work a lot. My husband works a lot. Our awesome nine year-old kiddo has a lot of activities. So our week is pretty nuts. I realized a while back that having rituals — even really small ones — that we can all look forward to, helps a ton. For example, on Friday nights we do sushi and a movie together. On Tuesdays I get home for dinner with our daughter and it’s quesadilla night. Every morning I put a small note with a sticker into her lunchbox — it’s 30 seconds during which I smile and think about her day and 30 seconds when she opens her lunchbox and smiles. Our family traditions aren’t complicated, but they are huge for keeping us all saner and happier.
  5. Always have one thing on the calendar I’m looking forward to.  I try to schedule a lunch or dinner with a friend, catch up with my parents, or have a plan for something fun with my husband and kiddo at least once a week. Having it there is a great pick-me-up if I’m having a rough day and it’s just fun to look forward to. (Which science says is actually a thing — looking forward to good experiences makes us happier. When you plan a vacation, for example, the anticipation and the planning make you as happy – or sometimes happier – than going on it.)

I’d love to hear about your favorite happiness habits, small or big. Someone called me an expert on happiness the other day and it bugged me — I don’t think anyone actually is. Being happier is a way of life, and like with everything else, I’m always learning, just like you:)

How fancy wine glasses can make you happier

Can I confess something? This week kicked my butt. Actually, it kicked the collective butt of our entire family. Among other things, our long-time sitter (who was with us for more than 5 years and is beloved by 9 year-old kiddo) got sick, my grandmother ended up in the hospital and I caught the death-cold-or-something going around. A week of juggling lack of babysitters (thank you grandparents!), interviewing new sitters (thank you amazing husband who was like a rock doing background research and finding them), hospital calls (thank you doctors!) while doing all the other usual crazy-busy stuff we do left me feeling like a deflated balloon by Sunday night.

Never mind, I am not a fan of analogies. By Sunday night I felt like crap. Physically and emotionally.

It was time for dinner and at first I started to dread it. UGH, more stuff to do. While thinking about what to make for my crew I was putting away the new wine glasses I got for us this weekend. (OK, secondary confession: They are inspired by the wine glasses Olivia Pope has in the absolutely addictive show Scandal. Yes, I bought wine glasses because I liked them on a TV show.) And that gave me an idea:

I was going to make us a fun “fancy” Sunday night dinner.

photo 2Dining room instead of kitchen table.

“Cocktails” (juice and lemon) in fancy wine glasses instead of just water in regular water glasses we use.

Candles.

Cloth napkins and nice silverware we usually use for company.

A geometric tower made from sweet potato fries instead of just piling them on the plate.

A little music.

I baked a quick salmon steak and threw together a quick cucumber and corn salad to go with sweet potato fries tower and the entire fancy dinner, from start to finish, including setting the table, took me about 20 minutes. When I called my guys over to the dining room table, their surprised smiles were all I needed to start turning this rough week around :)

photo 3

3 simple things you can to do make work travel happier

I travel a LOT. Two weeks in a row without travel is rare and more often than not, there is a suitcase ready to be packed once a week. Some of the travel is fun, some of it is less than fun, and all of it is tiring to some degree, especially when changing time zones or delayed flights are involved. One of the most difficult part of traveling for work is not being with my family. Not only do I miss them, but because my husband and I both work, when once of us travels this means a lot of stressful juggling of pick-ups, drop-offs, breakfast, lunch and dinner making, and more.

I’m coming off a particularly travel-packed few weeks and it really wore me down. So the other day I came up with a list of things that help me make work travel less stressful and well, happier. I’m going to focus on making them a priority and thought I would also share them with you:

  • Plan at least one fun thing to do while away. Most of my work trips are packed with meetings or speaking engagements, but I know I feel a thousand times better when I squeeze in a tiny bit of time for myself. It could be a yoga class or meeting up with a friend who lives in the city where I’m traveling to or even making time to grab breakfast at my favorite spot and actually enjoying it without rushing. Even if it’s just one of these fun plans per trip, it all goes much better, and that probably has to do with the fact that just anticipating this great experience makes me happier. (Research backs me up on this.)
  • Spend money to reduce hassle. (Disclaimer: What I am about to suggest took me a LONG time to actually do. Once I did it, my travel became a lot less stressful.) Money doesn’t buy happiness but a little bit of money can reduce a lot of hassle. For example, one of the best investments I’ve made is to have a second set of all my makeup and skin-care items in my suitcase, ready to go. I save time packing my stuff from home and avoid the hassle of inevitably forgetting something I need. I get cold on flights and trains so I treated myself to a really soft long shawl to keep me warm. Investing in a good piece of luggage that fits what you need for most of your trips and is easy to carry / wheel around is another smart move, as I’ve learned myself. Think about your travel and the small moments of annoyance; can a little bit of money help you avoid them?
  • Come up with a fumianotesn family tradition for when you travel (or come back). Every day I leave a note in my daughter’s lunchbox and when I travel, I write them ahead of time so we don’t skip a day. We also have this journal in which she and I pass notes to each other and while it’s not specific to when I travel, we do use it more after I come back (she usually has it ready and waiting for me, with her latest writing in it). The other day I came back from a grueling 5-day trip and the first thing we did was to go have a fun brunch as a family — before I unpacked or looked at my loooong to-do list at home. It was great and I think it’s a new post-business trip family tradition from now on.

Please share any of your favorite tips and tricks for making work travel happier in the comments – I’d love to hear them.

3 things I learned about how to be happier

Stop chasing the BIG HAPPY

When my family fled Russia in 1989, I had a rough time. After a few months in refugee camps in Austria and Italy, we finally made our way here and then spent a year living in the projects, on welfare, in Ypsilanti (outside Detroit). When I finally got on my feet I decided that to make up for the hardship I was going to chase the American dream, which for me meant being HAPPY. And the way I thought you got there was by achieving a LOT and making a lot of money. So for the next 20 years I did just that – a series of impressive jobs, starting companies, publishing books, getting the fancy stroller and the fancy car, you name it. By the time I was in my early 30s, I really appreciated my life and had learned a lot but I was not happy. Mostly, I was really exhausted.

My father is a scientist so I turned to science on happiness and had a “holy crap” moment: I was doing it all wrong. While chasing some unachievable state of the BIG HAPPY I had ignored so many of the small happy moments that were part of my everyday – the sound of my daughter’s footsteps as I put my key in the door and she ran to meet me, grabbing our favorite Spanish Latte with my husband on a morning walk, hearing a friend tell me I made her smile. I became a lot happier when I started focusing on these small moments, elevating them out of the routine, pausing to actually be grateful for having them in my life. (No wonder research shows that people who write down a few things they are grateful for every day report feeling more optimistic and less stressed.)

Create experiences out of the routine

I juggle running a start-up with bIMG_7778eing a mom to a very active 9 year-old, so I get what it’s like to be really busy. Forget busy, what I mean is totally overwhelmed. But one of the most important things I’ve realized is that taking a few extra minutes to make an experience out of something that is otherwise just part of the routine is one of the best way to feel – and help my family feel – happier.

The other day it was a horrible rainy cold Monday morning, we were late to get up and get going, and I read a really frustrating email as soon as I picked up my phone. My first instinct was to just take out cereal for everyone for breakfast so we could get through this terrible morning faster. But instead, I decided to make crazy looking pancakes, with turkey bacon for hair and whip cream for beards. My husband and kiddo laughed as soon as they saw them, I felt awesome for helping them laugh and everyone’s morning became, well, happier.

Find your happier must-dos and stick to them with your life

Every morning I wake up and go for a 3-mile walk. In the sun, rain, snow, wind, doesn’t matter. I am a total zombie for the first 10 minutes of it but by the time I get back home I am awake and have more energy for my day. It’s my way to disconnect (I listen to music and don’t check my email) and have some me time.

When I have a rough day ahead of me I try to start it off by eating something awesome. There is a bakery nearby that has the most amazing yogurt parfait. I will take time to drive there, get it, and sit and eat it while reading a magazine (not business) or a few pages from my favorite book. Another place across town has my favorite oatmeal. I will fight traffic to get there because I know I will have a happier day afterwards.

Having these small routines that I know help me feel more positive is huge. It helps to to know that I can look forward to something that I know I enjoy — and if you look at the science, a lot of research shows that anticipating a good experience is a great happiness boost.

How to be happier: Try different and new things

I often refer to myself as an “experience optimizer”. It’s a fancy term for saying that I try to make the most out of every experience, including really mundane ones, like where we should go for lunch with my team or my family or what type of card my kiddo should make for our dads on Father’s Day. I like to try new things, to experience something I’ve not experienced before. And yes, if you’re thinking that this can be both fun and incredibly annoying for people who are with me, you’re absolutely right. (Just this weekend my husband and I spent a half hour talking about where we should grab sandwiches to for lunch while I tried to optimize for taste, trying something new, and being able to eat outside but not where we usually eat.)

I do this instinctively but I also realize that trying new things, seeing new things, tasting new things, meeting new people and learning new skills makes my life more awesome.

IMG_8890The other day I was having a “Monday” on a Sunday. And the weather was awful to boot so it was a double whammy. There was a new exhibit at the ICA here in Boston, so we decided to go. It was an installation of art by someone I’d never heard of before: Barry McGee. I absolutely LOVED it but more than that, it was new and fresh and nothing like what I’ve seen before. By the time we left the exhibit my case of the Mondays on a Sunday was gone.

Turns out, there’s research supporting the idea that trying new things makes you happier:

Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University looked at 30,000 event memories and over 500 diaries, ranging from durations of 3 months to 4 years, and says that people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.

Give it a shot. Try a new food you’ve not had before. Go bowling or trampoline jumping or see a movie that’s usually not something you’d be into. Find a new author to read or a new recipe to try. Take a different route to work or on your run. A life less boring is also, as it turns out, a life a little (or a lot!) happier.

Yes, money can make you happier, says Mike Norton

MikeNortonLike me, you’ve probably read about research showing that money doesn’t make us happy (above a certain baseline). In fact, household income in the US has gone up for the last 30 years while life satisfaction has decreased.

But Mike Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, has done a lot of research to show that in fact, money CAN make you happier if you spend it the right way. I was so inspired by reading about it that I went to meet him when I was thinking about starting Happier. I can report that in addition to being really smart he is also just awesome.

Happy MoneyI recently interviewed Mike about what makes him happier and how we can spend money in ways that makes us more satisfied. He also has a new book called Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, which he co-authored with Elizabeth Dunn. It’s decidedly unboring and has inspired me to think about and change some of the ways I prioritize spending money.

So, Mike, what makes you happier?
Ideas! Nothing is more fun than meeting new people and coming up with new ideas about how “the humans” (as we social scientists call them) work. And the very best ideas are those that have the potential to give people guidance on how to inject more happiness into their lives – a topic my co-author Liz Dunn and I have been studying for a decade now.

You’ve studied money and happiness for a long time now. What’s the biggest myth people believe about how money can make them happy?
The biggest myth is also the most pervasive and hardest to shake: more is better. Research shows that after people hit a certain amount of income (some estimates say around $75,000 a year), the next few thousand bucks really doesn’t affect their day to day happiness all that much. What we suggest people should think is not “Do I have enough money to be happy?” but rather “Am I using the money I have now in the best way to wring the most happiness from every dollar?”

If I have $20 to spend, what would you suggest I do spend it on to feel happier?
This one is easy. Buy an experience for someone you care about, and, geez, since that person is going, why not tag along with them? Not only does spending our money on others make us happier than spending on ourselves, but buying experiences makes us much happier than buying stuff. And spending time with loved ones is a huge happiness booster.

What’s the last thing you purchased that made you happier?
The last thing I purchased that made me happier was actually something I didn’t purchase. I got all wrapped up in wanting to buy a new fancy flat screen TV, spent hours comparing models, and then remembered my own advice – quit buying stuff. In fact one of the best ways to use your money to get happy is simply to stop using it to buy stuff that doesn’t pay off in happiness. I can’t say I always catch myself before I click ‘Buy,” though.

 

Research shows trying to be happy makes you unhappy — and we agree!

A few days ago I opened my inbox to find a dozen emails from worried friends. They all sounded a bit like this:

Hey, just saw this article about how trying to be happy is actually making people miserable. You should read it. Worried about how this will reflect on what you guys are doing with Happier.

Here’s the article everyone was sending me: The Problem With Happiness.

It talks about several studies in which researchers showed that trying to be happy is actually making people less happy. For example:

In one study, people were asked a number of questions about how much they value happiness and how much they believe it is important to work toward being happy. People putting the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50% less frequent positive emotions, 35% less satisfaction about their life, and 75% more depressive symptoms than people that had their priorities elsewhere.

I might have surprised my worried friends when I wrote back to each of them to say that actually, I couldn’t agree with the article more. You see, we created Happier based on the idea that chasing some big nirvana state of happiness does absolutely nothing to make us happier — and sometimes, like researchers have shown, achieves the opposite.

Focusing on small happy moments in every day life and appreciating them, connecting with friends and people you care about, doing nice things for others, spending time with positive people — these are the behaviors that multiple studies have shown actually do make people happier, more positive and optimistic. At Happier, our mission is to inspire millions of people to do just that and hearing from so many of our users about how doing this makes them happier is more powerful than any research study I can imagine.

 

 

 

How to be happier: Thank someone

Try this:

Think of one person right now who has done something that you appreciate and thank them.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing or something that happened recently. A colleague bring you a coffee back? A friend text you when you needed a virtual hug? Your kids clean up their dishes without being told ten times? Your spouse or partner make you smile with a little unexpected gift?

Once you have this person in mind find a way to say thank you. If you can do it in person, awesome. But an email or a text or hey, even getting an old-fashioned paper card to send to them is great. If you want to get all fancy you could find a small gift to give to them (a cup of their favorite drink might be as fancy a gift as you need to think about).

There’s a lot of research that shows expressing gratitude helps you feel happier. But try thanking someone today and our bet is that you won’t need to read any of it :)