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How to Be 25% Happier in Five Minutes a Day

How to Be 25% Happier in Five Minutes a Day


    Remember when you got a raise and bought a new car, and you’ve been happy ever since?

    Neither do I.

    It doesn’t work that way, does it? We buy things, we achieve goals, we indulge ourselves—but none of it gives us lasting happiness.

    So, what does work? According to scientific research, the answer is gratitude.

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    Unhappiness often boils down to fear in one form or another: fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough.1 For example, you might be miserable at work because you’re afraid you can’t do your job, and you’re afraid you’ll be fired. You might hate doing the bills because you’re afraid you don’t have enough money. If somebody cuts you off in traffic and you get angry they put you in danger, that’s also fear.

    But gratitude counteracts fear. If you can train yourself to be in a state of gratitude most of the time, you can reduce your fear and open yourself up to happiness.

    It’s not mystical, and it’s not difficult. Each night before you go to bed, make a list of five things you’re grateful for.

    It may seem foreign or awkward at first, but anybody can think of five things. You could be grateful for your family, a sunny day, a great meal, your health, your best friend, or a special moment. Even if things are going badly, you could be grateful for ways they aren’t worse.

    There’s no need to edit or judge. Whether the things on your list are as profound as a parent’s love for a child, or as frivolous as my love for milkshakes, the important thing is to come up with at least five things you’re grateful for.

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    It doesn’t take long to have an effect. In one study, participants were 25% happier after doing this for only two weeks.2

    Why it Works

    By making a gratitude list every day, you retrain your brain to notice the positive. We encounter so much information every minute of our lives, our brains have to filter out most of it.

    Just imagine if we noticed every tick of the clock or every footstep—we’d never get anything done. But when you learn a new word, suddenly you see that word everywhere. That’s because it’s been reclassified as something important, so instead of leaving it in the background, your brain starts pointing it out to you.

    You can take advantage of that effect. By making the daily gratitude list, you put your brain on the lookout for things to be grateful for. Before long, you start noticing them everywhere.

    More and more, you notice positive experiences as they happen, and you feel grateful in real time. Later, you get  to enjoy the same experiences again as you remember them and put them on the list.

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    Positive Effects

    One study found that after 21 days, participants who made daily gratitude lists were not just more optimistic and satisfied with their lives overall, they slept better and experienced less pain.3

    In another study, participants were asked to make daily lists for only a week. Not only did they exhibit more happiness and less depression by the end of the week, they were still feeling the effects six months later. This was especially true for the people who kept making the lists, even though they were only supposed to do it for a week.4

    I used this simple technique to help pull myself out of depression, and I use it now to keep feeling good. I hope it will work as well for you as it has for me.

    Silly or serious, what’s one thing you’re grateful for right now?

    1. What Happy People Know by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth. Rodale, 2003, p. 24.

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    2,3. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life” by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389.

    4. “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions.” Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson. American Psychologist, Vol. 60, No. 5 (July–August 2005), 410–421.

    (Photo credit: Happy Jump via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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