Here are 5 ways to effect lasting positive change in your life, outlined by Harvard professor Shawn Achor, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage. He outlines them only briefly in his hilarious TED talk and I had to read the research myself to get the specifics. Here’s exactly what you can do to effect lasting positive change in you life.
1. Practise “3 Gratitudes” a day
An earlier study (Emmons & McCullough 2003) found that people who wrote five things they were grateful for in the last week reported happiness levels that were 25% higher after ten weeks. Achor suggests that 3 gratitudes a day for 21 consecutive days is enough to effect lasting postive change. Note that your 3 Gratitudes should be new ones every day. By practising gratitude, we train our brains to scan the world for positives instead of negatives.
2. Journal about a positive experience in the last 24 hours
Borrowing from a study about relationship journalling (Slatcher & Pennebaker 2006), Achor notes that writing about a positive experience allows your brain to re-live it. This time the lasting positive change can be experienced after only 3 consecutive days.
3. Exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes
A study on depression (Babyak et all 2000) found that exercise and medication had comparable effects within a 4-month timeframe. But after 10 months those who exercised had significantly lower relapse rates than those on medication. These results were achieved at an effort level of 70% of maximum heart rate. So walking around the block yakking on your phone for half an hour doesn’t cut it!
4. Meditate for 20 minutes a day
Studies (Slagter et al, 2007) show that intense meditation for 10-12 hours a day can significantly alter the brain after only 3 months. Even meditating for 20 minutes a day can help us to focus better. By the way, meditation is also the secret of the happiest man in the world.
5. Perform 5 acts of kindness a week
Altruism has merit not just for its own sake, but because it directly increases our own well-being (Lyubomirsky 2005). College students who were asked to carry out 5 random acts of kindness every week reported higher levels of happiness after 6 weeks.
Small but lasting positive change
A good friend recently reminded me that it’s okay to take baby steps. If you can’t think of 3 gratitudes a day, one is better than none. Exercise once or twice a week if you’re too busy to do it three times. Meditating for one minute or even one breath is better than not doing it at all. And one act of kindness is good enough to make yourself a little happier and the world a little better.