Step 8: Hack your Happiness
By: Dave Asprey
July 22, 2012
Almost all of us share the core desire to be healthier and happier, but it’s not always obvious how to make it happen.
Researchers used to think we had a fixed happiness “set-point,” which explained why most people who experienced a major loss would eventually return to the level of happiness they were at 6 mos to 5 years years prior to the event. They are coming to find that the set-point may be more movable.
But more recent research indicates that the habits we cultivate may influence as much as 40% of our ability to feel happy.
We’ve covered a lot in this series, and it won’t be complete without discussing a higher purpose behind personal upgrades. It’s easy to get buried in a never ending battle trying to find the perfect combination of supplements, brain upgrades, sleep hacks, stress management techniques, and dietary tweaks. If you’re doing this because you feel inadequate, you’re missing the point. The reason for all of this is so you can live your life more than you already do. This is a good thing if you’ve done your “software” level hacking because you’ll live more of a life full of happiness. Without a clear purpose, you run the risk of living more of a life filled with inadequacies, shame, and fear.
Upgrading yourself is about more than diet, supplements, stress, movement, intelligence, sleep, and toxins. These things are good, and so much more meaningful if you are also happy. The process of learning how to upgrade yourself will also help lay the groundwork for cultivating the attitude and habits that will make you happier in the long run. Happiness is a skill too.
Sleeping two hours a night and eating 4500 calories a day is cool, but why do it?
The answer depends on what you want out of life.
For me, it’s so I can spend more time doing things I love, which is primarily being a father and husband and serving the community I choose – the readers of my blog. I also have a lot of fun with all the biohacking stuff on a personal level. I biohack so I have the capacity to maximally enjoy the pursuit of my personal and professional happiness. I can help more people when I’m at my maximum potential.
Because of the work I have done on myself, I’m able to be in a positive feedback loop and maintain my energy and focus at my choice, and not the happenstance of my circumstances.
Here are some points to consider when hacking your happiness:
1. Being A Loner Is Bad For Your Health
Lots of studies show how important social connections are for your personal well being and health. Lack of social support is one of the best predictors of all cause mortality. Men with the lowest amount of social interaction have the highest risk of coronary heart disease. People with the lowest amount of social connection have the highest death rate of almost every disease. Spending time with friends and family is more important than most people realize. And by the way, Facebook friends don’t count. Studies show that despite the rise of social media, people are more isolated than ever.
2. Spend Time With Your Family or Loved Ones
When you’re a busy entrepreneur with a million things to do and a thousand places to be – it’s easy to accidentally neglect your family and close friends. Scheduling time to connect with those you care about, just like you would a business meeting, can be immensely helpful in making sure you maintain and strengthen the connections you already have. That you are willing to schedule it also sends a signal to your loved ones that they matter. They matter enough for you to want to make plans with them, instead of leaving it to happenstance.
Leave the laptop, cell phone, and stressed out attitude at work, and enjoy your time with those you love. Don’t let anything come between you and your family. Humans are social creatures. We can survive without connections, but we can’t thrive. I’ll be writing more about the importance of socialization soon.
3. Manage Stress
If you are overstressed, it is difficult to notice what is going well for you, much less to be happy about it. So go back to Step 3: Six Ways to Hack Your Nervous System to Consciously Manage Stress and if you haven’t already, start managing your stress!
4. Spend Time In Nature Or Get Hardy Houseplants
We evolved in a natural, often plant filled environment. While plants aren’t necessary for an environment to be considered natural, there are many studies that indicate that either being in nature, or being around living plants is good for your mental health and sense of well-being. Even kids benefit from taking a walk in a green park.
One theory is that many cities and indoor areas without natural landscape may be putting subtle strains on our brains. The idea is based on theories from Evolutionary Psychology. Our brains developed in different environments than we live in today. An environmental mismatch may increase or decrease the strain of living depending on how it impacts us.
When an environmental mismatch reduces the strain of living (like a lock on a door increasing sense of safety), human happiness seems likely to increase. When the environmental mismatch increases strain, even in subtle non-obvious ways like lack of plants, human happiness is likely to decrease. Some of these mismatches that have a negative impact on happiness represent a disconnection between how we live and what our genes are adapted to. They are a possible source of unhappiness.
So go out and hack your happiness with some plants!
5. Have Fun
What do you enjoy?
Lying on the couch with a good book?
It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it. There is nothing superior about going into outer space over reading to your kids. It’s all about how much you enjoy yourself.
At the beginning of each week, think of one or more things you are looking forward to. If nothing comes to mind, think about what you enjoy or who you like to spend your time with, and make a plan to do it.
6. Hack Your Survival Instinct
Our brains are wired to give more weight to the negative. Ultimately it is what kept us alive for so long, greater motivation from fear- -and as neuropsychologist Rick Hansen put it:
“If you miss out on a carrot today, you’ll have a chance at more carrots tomorrow. But if you fail to avoid a stick today – WHAP! – no more carrots forever. Compared to carrots, sticks usually have more urgency and impact.”
So how do we work around this system, that more heavily weights negative experiences?
You can be more mindful of the fear mongers around you and consciously re-assign the importance of their yapping. For example, you don’t need to hear that news story 30 times, once is enough, then change the channel. Another way would be to understand the advantages of focusing on the negative for survival, make sure you are safe and then choose to focus on the positive. And you can take that one step further- in addition to focusing on the positive, cultivate positive experiences.
It sounds simple, but it’s not an easy hack at all, because it requires constant vigilance of your own emotional landscape. There is no iPhone app for that (yet).
7. Seek the Positive
There are several habits, that when practiced regularly, can actually raise your sense of happiness and well being. They are:
- Practice Gratitude – several times a week, think or write about what you are grateful for, and really let yourself feel it. Start small if you have to; you can even write in the comments what you are grateful for.
- Find the positive potential of a negative event – like learning something or becoming stronger; don’t force yourself to do this if you aren’t ready to, just notice if it is possible to find a positive- I actually make it a habit to find the positive in the most negative thing the media reports on.
- Seek positive experiences – figure out what you enjoy doing, and set up at least one thing a week you are looking forward to, that is stress free.
8. Find A Purpose
What do you want to accomplish in life?
Are you satisfied with your current job? Do you feel accomplished with what you’ve achieved at the end of the day? If not, it’s time for some serious changes.
Enjoy your work, we spend a majority of time there. Even if your job isn’t enjoyable as it is, look for what you do like about it, and focus on that. The parts you don’t enjoy you can use as an opportunity to practice intentionally directing your attention, and even strengthen your nervous system by using the emWave2 during your less favorite tasks, if you aren’t enjoying what you are doing at least your are doing something good for you. If you aren’t happy with what you’re doing, it’s not too late to change course. Big changes are hard, but it’s worth avoiding the regret you might feel in 10 years for not making a change.
Biohacking is cool because it allows you to do more than you “should” be able to. Being lean, healthy, and sleeping less enables you to do more. What you do is your decision. I encourage you to hack every part of your life, with your happiness and well being in mind. What are your favorite happiness hacks? What makes you happy?
If you’ve enjoyed this series, please share it with one of your friends. Missed one in the series? All articles are linked in the Series Introduction.