The 20 Million Dollar Question
Remember the kids rhyme and song, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands….” Well, it seems we don’t know it all that well because we’re obsessed as a society with trying to figure it out. While we love to quip that happiness is a choice, it seems we spend far too much time trying to prove it’s much more complex.
Enormous attention has been paid to the notion of happiness just to figure out what causes it or squelches it–from a seventy-five year $20 million longitudinal study by Harvard to a course taught at Berkeley on The Science of Happiness. And yet, does happiness really need that level of detailed analysis to be understood? Even these elaborate studies tell us a simple truth, that happiness is a choice.
Let’s face it, you know when you’re happy, just as well as you know when you’re not. And we also know intuitively how foundational happiness is to our well being, our creativity, healthy relationships, healthy businesses, optimism and life outlook.
But wait, you’re likely thinking, “There are many times when I’ve been under enormous stress and have experienced bouts of intense creativity, success, innovation, or the euphoria of an ‘aha’ moment.” Indeed, but these are temporary states that are unlikely to be sustainable without an underlying sense of well being and optimism. i.e. happiness.
My point is that while you can experience spurts of productivity, and even joy, your happiness baseline is critical in being able to perform at your peak level over time. So, you really need to stop every so often and take a reading on exactly where it is and, if needed, make some changes. Heck, you’d do the same for your heart rate or blood pressure or any number of other vital metrics that gauge your health, why not happiness?
It’s This Simple..Really!
So, what if you could instantly determine not only your own happiness baseline but that of others with one simple question? In fact I’ll make it ridiculously easy and provide a visual that can be answered without any word, just a quick check mark. Silly, right? How could that be possible; if it was that easy there wouldn’t be dozens of studies about happiness, right?
While, I’m sure the many studies on happiness add wonderful meaning to the conversation, and as with all studies of human behavior, it’s nice to have reams of research to convince us that something is worthy of decades of analysis. But when you come down to it, is it really that complicated?
So, here’s what I’d like to suggest you do.
Picture in your mind’s eye a computer progress bar, the kind that pops up when you’re downloading a large file. Now imagine that the progress bar indicates how much of your future has yet to be loaded. For example, if you think back to when you were an invincible teenager you’d likely have answered 10% because your entire life still lay in front of you.
What I’ve come to find out is that people who are truly optimistic and genuinely happy see the progress bar as being perpetually at less than 50%. Those who are struggling with happiness always see it at more than 50%.
It reminds me of the old joke about the 80 year old who just got married and is looking to buy a house in a town with great schools. Oblivious optimism? Indeed, and yet there is a person whose progress bar is clearly at less than 50%.
So, where would you put your progress bar? If it’s at more than 50% stop and consider the behaviors, thoughts, actions, and people that you are allowing into your life, because these are the factors that are determining your happiness and your view of the future.
So, by the way, what did the Harvard study determine? Happiness comes from choosing to be happy. Yup, that’s it! You don’t need to spend 20 million dollars and 75 years to figure that out, all you need to do is choose it.
Go ahead, clap your hands!
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.