For me, “happiness” is serious business.
There are some people who always seem happy and upbeat. In fact, I have frequently encountered these people this time of year. Strangers would pass me on my daily runs and wish me “Happy New Year” with great sincerity. I assumed they wanted me to reciprocate. I would just smile and nod.
You see, I haven’t always been in that group of always-happy people. It turns out, I was not alone. I did a great deal of research on happiness in connection with my next book, and only about one-third of Americans surveyed by Pew Research reported they were “very happy.”
Both through my research and personal experiences, I have found that the best way to achieve personal happiness has less to do with achieving financial success and more to do with placing a premium on activities that provide pleasure or develop a skill. This has been eye-opening for me.
I still have not completed my personal happiness journey. I don’t have all the answers. I do, however, have a good road map to follow:
Do something meaningful: My happiness increased exponentially when I started writing financial books. I received emails from readers telling me how I had positively affected their lives. They told me stories about giving my books to their children, friends and neighbors and how much less stress and anxiety they experienced with their investments. I felt a purpose in life, and with that purpose came contentment and gratitude. I learned that authors have one of the highest ratings for job happiness. I wasn’t surprised.
Make emotional connections: People who establish strong emotional connections with others are happier than those who don’t. I’m not talking only about relationships with friends and family, although those are very important. A kind gesture toward people you come in contact with every day (co-workers, the cashier at your grocery store, your restaurant server) can make not only their day but yours as well.
Practice empathy: Really understand the feelings of others. It’s critical to happiness. Empathy starts with listening skills. Genuine listening means being totally focused on what the other person is saying and feeling.
Give back: The evidence linking generosity to a happier life is overwhelming. Studies have shown that people involved in charitable activities have higher self-esteem, greater self-acceptance and higher overall satisfaction. Communities with high levels of volunteerism in England have less crime, better schools and happier, healthier residents. These effects apply with equal force to countries all over the world.
Pursue your passions: It doesn’t matter if your passion is gardening, fishing, tennis (my passion) or painting. People who allocate time to pursue their passion are generally happier than those who don’t.
Go outside: I spend a lot of time writing at my computer. There used to be days when I never ventured outdoors. People in industrialized countries spend 93 percent of their time indoors. In one study, 10,000 Canadians were challenged to spend 30 minutes a day outdoors for 30 consecutive days. Participants reported increases in their sense of well-being, increased vitality and energy, less stress and negativity, and a reduction in sleep disturbances. I changed my routine and get outdoors every day, even if I only have time for a short walk.
Make health a priority: Health and happiness are related. Did you know that up to 60 percent of cancer cases are related to poor diet? There’s ample evidence that heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, hip fractures and high blood pressure can be improved through diet and exercise.
Meditate: Of all the subjects I researched, the benefits of meditation were the most compelling. More than 600 studies demonstrate that those who meditate have more empathy, are in better health, have greater analytical abilities, are more creative, have less pain, and are much calmer and happier than those who don’t. I now meditate for 20 minutes a day. It has been transformative.
All of us at The BAM ALLIANCE wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. We know that just saying so isn’t enough.
We really mean it.
Dan Solin is a wealth advisor and the director of investor advocacy for the BAM ALLIANCE. He is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books.
The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the BAM ALLIANCE. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.
© 2013, The BAM ALLIANCE