Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science says? – part 1

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Sometimes, when reading academic textbooks and articles on happiness – which is called subjective well-being SWB in research literature – I was REALLY surprised by new findings. We think, for example, that having children would make us happier and then… what do we find out? 😉

Research found that happiness IS NOT related to:

  • Physical attractiveness! Striving to look as perfect as possible and spending a lot of money on clothes, make up, and cosmetic surgery does not equal happiness – this can be quite surprising for some people.
  • Age! Some of us worry about getting old to the extent that we may think that older means unhappy! There are various findings, sometimes contradictory, about this aspect but most studies emphasise that your happiness level doesn’t depend on your age much or at all!
  • Money! When you meet your BASIC needs there is not much difference between someone who is earning a low or average wage and a filthy rich person in terms of happiness! I know it may sound unbelievable for many people. Kasser in The high price of materialism (2002, available here) proved that actually desiring and focusing on the pursuit of wealth would make you LESS HAPPY! And quite often the more we have, the more we want!
  • Gender. What’s interesting is that women have a greater tendency towards being depressed… but also towards being more joyful!

I found a picture which I think may be able to explain these findings… 😉

TYPICAL DAY IN A MAN’S LIFE:

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TYPICAL DAY IN A WOMAN’S LIFE:

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  • Educational level
  • Having children! Although some clarification is more than needed here 😉 It was found that having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!
  • Moving to a sunnier climate
  • Crime prevention
  • Housing
  • Objective health (what your doctor tells you about your health – how good your blood test results are, what you are diagnosed with, etc.)
  • Environment & genetics! Even if in your genes there is some coded predisposition towards becoming unhappy or depressed, if you grow up and live in a positive, engaging and encouraging environment you can actually become HAPPIER than someone who has genetic predispositions to be content!

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Time Management myth

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I was into time-management techniques a lot when, quite a few years ago, I came across some interesting reading which made a good point that we actually can’t manage, bend or control time in any way. Time exists there in the background of our lives, minutes are ticking and you can do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to slow it down, stop it or allow it to move in a way you’d like.

You can only manage your life, your tasks and activities, your energy levels and perhaps motivation.

Many of us think, “If I only had 2 more hours a day I could accomplish SO MUCH!” As Tony Robbins puts it well: No, you wouldn’t! We wouldn’t do more if we had more time available on a daily basis because the problem is not the amount of time. Everyone has exactly the same amount of time which is 24 hours = 1440 minutes a day. No more, no less.

Some of us come from “nowhere” with no connections, money and other resources and manage to achieve great success, and others don’t.

We often simplify and say that we lack time and that’s the problem. I tend to say it sometimes as well which annoys me a bit, but I guess it’s like a common proverb or a phase that we use now and then to express simply that we can’t manage more tasks and responsibilities than we have.

I don’t like to use the phrase ‘time management’ but if you read my posts you can see that I use tags such as ‘time management’. This is to make the posts easier to find because that’s such a popular term nowadays!

Chris Bailey outlines in his book the Productivity Project that more important is how you plan your days, taking into consideration your energy and attention levels rather than just the time you have. While setting goals and tasks for next week, make sure that you plan to do your most important and difficult tasks when you feel you have most energy and, whenever you can, limit distractions (put your phone on airplane mode and don’t check your emails too often). It’s not always as simple as it sounds, though. Life is unpredictable and there may always be some new urgent tasks to do; however, if you have a flexible approach then you will be doing well.

Just make sure that you try to protect this special time like a lion. If people ask you to have a chat with them on the phone, or invite you for a meal, or try to ‘steal’ this precious time of yours in any other way you need to be firm and learn how to say NO to all these tempting and great offers and invitations. Use your time wisely, on meaningful and significant tasks and activities that matter to you a lot and that help you achieve your goals.

Personal Growth project update. Week 4.

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People who are interested in productivity know how valuable it is to plan and review goals but… they also have a tendency to overdo it and spend too much time on this… time which of course could be used for work that matters and actually moves things along, and leads to some progress!

Planning is crucial and only recently I’ve realised how powerful is to have a clear action plan and revise it regularly but by planning we don’t really tick any of our tasks off, by doing to-do lists we don’t really do any of these things that we should be doing. It’s easy to overdo the prep and planning bit then so we need to always keep checking that it’s balanced and ideally schedule some time for it, e.g. an hour at weekends and 10 minutes every morning.

How much time do you spend on planning your goals, tasks, activities?

It’s been another superbusy week:

  • I worked full time (I have to train a new person who will cover my maternity leave and work days seem more exhausting and intensive than ever before);
  • I reached a major milestone in my personal life – the start of the 8th month of pregnancy;
  • I had a few medical pregnancy-related appointments (soon it will be decided whether I will need to give birth earlier and how much earlier!).
  • On top of everything my 4-year-old was off sick
  • And I have to keep finding time to prepare things for the baby’s arrival (rooms arrangements, shopping, reading reviews of baby products, etc.).

I was trying to reconsider what are the most important bits and goals in my project, not for this year, but more narrowly for now – when I’m busy, about to give birth and still at work.

One of my goals was organising more outings with my daughter and spending more time with my family… however, when I thought about it more I decided it shouldn’t really be considered as a goal. It’s just a natural part of my life that matters and needs to be prioritised whenever I can. That’s it. It doesn’t have any deadlines and can’t be really specific enough or measured to classify it as a goal.

I wanted to improve my foreign-languages skills but really… that’s definitely not a priority right now. When I can I try to pay more attention to grammar or new foreign words (English and Portuguese) but that’s where my effort ends at the moment.

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I’ve decided to focus all my energy, time and attention mainly on writing and reading because that’s what’s really important to me right now in terms of my personal development.

I’ve also decided that monthly updates re: my Personal Growth project would be better than weekly ones. It will allow me to focus on my goals even more.

One of the most crucial tasks for the next week is to contact a few publishers with a book proposal and see what they think…

Well, fingers crossed!

 

Happiness & science. Live 9.4 years longer!

In 2000 a huge amount of data was analysed and, after talking about happiness to 1.1m people in 45 different countries, it was concluded that on average people feel quite happy. On a scale from 0 to 10 the average score for all these people was 6.75, which is quite surprising when we think of how much time and effort and money many people put into the pursuit of happiness, how many of us complain and worry unnecessarily every day, and how many life coaches or self-help and self-development books are published every year on selling tips and techniques for boosting well-being!

A score of 6.75 I think is pretty good! What do you think?

Surely the surveys were not too straightforward and consisted of a series of questions to cover various aspects of well-being rather than asking only one question directly – how happy are you?

And we know there are LOTS OF benefits of being HAPPIER – it can even protect us against colds! Also, according to research done by Danner (results published in 2001) happiness can increase our life by 9.4 years!

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What do you think your score would be?

I think if someone simply asked us only one question about happiness the answer would depend a lot on the time of day (we feel more tired and unmotivated in the afternoon rather than in the morning). The season of the year and the weather would also affect our answer, as would our feeling disappointed, stressed, in pain, or relaxed and contented at a particular time for some reason (maybe we just finished reading or writing a book or we are terrified because we are going to the dentist?!). We may focus more on the emotion we feel at particular time than on our general well-being. We probably wouldn’t score anywhere near the maximum number. However, we actually probably should give us a very high score when we think about it for longer and remind ourselves that actually maybe we have a great family, and food every day, and a roof over our head, and fairly good health; and maybe we can work full-time while some people due to ill health may not be able to… Or maybe we have a fantastic, trustworthy and reliable friend and there are some people out there in a toxic environment that leads them to depression and even suicide.

If we try to not take things for granted and be more grateful for what we have, our happiness level increases a lot. Actually, one of the most common exercises in positive psychology which can boost our well-being is to keep a diary where we write each day a few (3-5) things that we are grateful about that day. It is proven that this works and boosts our happiness level a lot.

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Productive Mondays! How many hours should we work, ideally?

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We often confuse productivity with being busy. What exactly does it even mean? We feel productive when we are very busy, when we have a lot of tasks and complete most of them. Usually the more hours we work, the more productive we feel.

HOWEVER

There has been plenty of research where findings show that if we work too many hours we decrease our productivity A LOT!

What’s more, if we work a lot of hours for a few weeks or more – that’s just a perfect recipe for depression, burnout and anxiety which may even lead to a nervous breakdown!

Labour Economics published an article by Collewet and Sauermann where the researchers outlined their study done on call-centre workers. Even with part-time employees, increasing their number of working hours created more fatigue than productivity! (more about this study here )

Too few hours = we won’t achieve much.

Too many hours = we are tired and our productivity decreases a lot.

What’s the golden rule? What’s the perfect solution, then?

Chris Bailey in his book The Productivity Project (available HERE) talks about an experiment that he did. Namely, he worked alternate weeks for a very different amount of hours. One week he worked 20 hours and another one 90 hours, and in this way he did several weeks.

An important lesson that he realised? That while working 90 hours he did only a bit more work than while working 20 hours!

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When he had only 20 hours to do his tasks, he felt a bit of pressure that his time was so limited so he focused on using his more valuable time (when he had most energy and attention) to do the most important, difficult and meaningful tasks. With that limited amount of time it was also easier not to procrastinate too much (and, apparently, it’s impossible to completely avoid procrastinating) because he had to focus on what must be done, on priorities! During the 20-hour-work week he had more time to recharge and restore his energy levels in various ways too (meditation, exercising, sleeping well, socialising, etc.).

When we work a lot, it’s hard to remember all the time what’s most important, what we should pay more attention to, what’s the bigger picture. Although we work more, we don’t have enough energy and focus to do planning or to do it properly, and to think of possible improvements and solutions to various problems.

Chris dug deep in his research to find out the ideal amount of hours that one should be working so as not to get too tired and to be able to complete a lot of tasks in a productive way. He found that although 46 hours felt like the best working week for him most studies indicate that 35-40 hours a week is perfect to get the job done with maximum productivity.

Surely the more you enjoy your job, the more you are able to work. However, breaks and time to rest are crucial for your creativity, maintaining an innovative and open-minded thinking and approach, and your efficiency.

How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any control over it? Can you improve this aspect in your life to become more productive?

Personal Growth project. When things don’t always go as they should.

What do you do and how do you feel if some days you can’t really do what you plan to do? Do you just ignore it, accept it and keep going or do you get frustrated? Life is unpredictable and it’s difficult to be prepared for everything. We may feel hopeless, but it’s important to remember that some aspects we CAN control and some others we won’t be able to. If we can’t control something – why waste time on worrying and getting stressed about it? If we can control something – again, why allow too many negative emotions to cross our mind? We can decide what to change and how so as to make our plans work.

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This week’s Personal Growth project update isn’t what I thought it would be because the third week of January has surprised me a lot…

Apparently the last two weeks have been the worst in England in terms of the amount of people suffering with flu. Most of my family is sick, including me. I’m actually recovering from tonsillitis, not flu, but that’s not that different really. A bad sore throat kept me awake for nearly three nights. I had to keep working full-time (a long story…) and when you are in your third trimester of pregnancy such a combination of circumstances is not much fun… I felt stressed, weak and unproductive. And as you can see I still feel a bit like complaining about everything ;). I really don’t like to feel this way.

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On the other hand, I try to focus on the positive whenever I can and I’m actually quite surprised that I did anything at all related to my project this week! I did a bit of writing, and  I uploaded some blog posts on time according to my new schedule (Productive Mondays, Happy Wednesdays and weekends with Personal Development). I was reading books and doing some research, and kept my social media related to my project mostly up to date. I should try not to get too frustrated that I haven’t done enough/much this week when there is a good reason for that and I think being ill is probably a good reason. 😉 haha

If your week wasn’t great then maybe you will stop for a moment to consider one of my favourite quotes which  always makes me feel better in such situations:

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What could that reason be this time? Maybe just a simple reminder to slow down once in a while, not to review your goals, but actually to forget about the goals for a few days and re-charge the batteries.

As I mentioned during the project prep time – a flexible approach is, and always will be, critical here (as long as I don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate! ;)). I think I should write the word FLEXIBILITY on a white board in my kitchen to keep this in mind all the time 😉 Without this attitude I’d probably already feel that I’ve failed. If you allow yourself some flexibility and try to get back to a positive mindset whenever you can then surely you won’t fail and you won’t disappoint yourself! 😉

And let me share one more favourite reminder which keeps me motivated in difficult moments:

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How has your week been going? How have you been doing with your goals?

HAPPY WEDNESDAYS! What can make us happier?

I’ve decided to create a cycle of blog posts on HAPPINESS that will always be published on Wednesdays. There are SO MANY interesting facts, data and anecdotes to share about happiness!

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I’ve noticed that in the last decade the definition of success has started to change from ‘rich and famous’ to ‘happy, healthy and with a meaningful life’. I think media and the Internet are largely responsible for this shift because we’ve learnt that celebrities’ lives are not as perfect as we used to think and that rich does not mean happy. For example, it is such a rarity to see a famous person in a successful relationship for most of their life. Like everyone else, despite all the money and success in the world, they also get sick and suffer.

Studies show that money can make you a little bit happier in some circumstances (more about this in a future blog post) but in the long-term it doesn’t mean HAPPY. For example, moving to a sunnier climate or getting nearly $10,000 more a year would make you very excited and enthusiastic for some period of time, a few weeks or months, but then it goes back nearly to its usual level giving you only approximately a 1-2% boost in your happiness level! (more info in – Christakis and Fowler’s book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (available here).

The article What makes a life good? (in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1998) stressed nearly 2 decades ago that happiness seems to be more valuable to people than:

Pursuit of money

Moral goodness

Or going to heaven

In general most of scholars agree that 3 things/aspects can make us happier...

Before you read further try to guess what these three things are (and write in the comment if your ideas were different from what’s under the picture – let’s make the comments section an interesting place!)

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These three things are:

  1. Meaningful relationships: spending time with people who support you
  2. Finding your passion(s): doing what you love as often as you can
  3. Personal growth: it was found that grit, which by the way is believed to be more important than talent and IQ (Angela Duckworth’s book GRIT, available here), delayed gratification and emotional control can accelerate your development! (You can find out more about delayed gratification and the Stanford marshmallow experiment here: https://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification )

I think there are still people out there who would criticise this current trend towards individualisation, towards the pursuit for a meaningful life, towards looking for and thinking about our passions, and taking care of and investing more in personal growth than ever before, because focusing on own well-being and happiness can be perceived as selfish, egocentric and more of a luxury than a necessity to some people.

However, I’m sure (or I hope…) that most of us realise that the more we focus on our passions and invest in our personal development (without going to extremes and forgetting the world around us naturally!), the more content we will be with our own life:

  • the happier relationships we will be able to create and maintain
  • the more successful we can be in different aspects of our life, such as at work or being a parent
  • and people enjoy hanging out more with happy folks, not the ones who are frustrated, angry, unsatisfied with themselves, their life and the world, right?

Actually, there was some research done by Christakis and Fowler which stressed that people can boost their happiness levels a lot by simply spending time with happy people.

And where do we find a lot of HAPPY PEOPLE? 🙂

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