The Secret to Happiness

“The single biggest threat to our own well-being tends to be ourselves.”

Do you experience a strong sense of well-being every day? Such contentment depends on more than just financial security, physical health or some other beneficial attribute. If you work to improve in one or two areas, but ignore the others, you will not be happy. Yet people commonly take a short-sighted approach. They buy books or purchase videos with the specific goals of getting rich, becoming thin, finding love, gaining respect or building relationships. Faithfully following the rules these guides lay out for them, they make concerted efforts to improve their lives in discrete areas. Then they give up, because having an exclusive focus on one or two of life’s aspects interferes with its other important elements. People are not just money accumulators or health builders or romance finders; they are all these things, and more. Money alone will not increase your sense of well-being; studies show that an annual increase of $10,000 in salary produced only a 2% increase in happiness.

Most folks opt for immediate happiness (eat those potato chips, buy that new TV) instead of long-range well-being (get thin and fi t, save for retirement). You escape this quick-fix thinking by developing “short-term incentives” that serve your “long-term objectives.” For example, contemplating the future dangers of obesity may not make you forego vanilla ice cream right now. However, if you know how poorly your “high-fat hangover” will make you feel for the rest of the day, perhaps you will find the fortitude to resist.

Similarly, you may decide to exercise this morning because you know that even 20 minutes of physical activity can make you feel good for the next 12 hours. Such smart thinking, known as “a positive default” position, can motivate you to do the right thing when temptation strikes. You can then orient your day-to-day activities to line up with your long-range well-being goals. Of course, this will require hard work, discipline and personal accountability. But the result – a vibrant, happy life – is certainly worth it.

Think Holistically

Having the money you need is great, and so is being fit, spending your time at something you love, having an active social life and being involved with your community. To attain those goals, start making smarter decisions in the here and now. The choices you make today – the foods you eat, the exercise you get, the friendships you develop, the community work you perform, and so on – will help or harm your well-being now and in the future. Create positive defaults in your life. The best way to establish complete wellbeing is to make sure that your “short-term self” supports your “long-term self.”

“We learn to remember and make connections more effectively when we are asleep than we do when we are awake.”

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