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How To Be Happy: 5 Secrets Backed By Research By Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Shahar

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There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. 

Tal Ben-Shahar taught the most popular class at Harvard University — and it was all about happiness. He’s also the bestselling author of a number of books including Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment.

Here’s what Tal had to say about how to be happy:

  • You need pleasure and meaning. Feeling good is important but we also need a purpose.
  • Map your life. Note where your time goes and ask if it’s making you happy. Then do more of the good stuff.
  • “No pain, no gain” is a myth. We’re happiest doing things where we enjoy the process, not just the results.
  • What would you do if no one would judge you? This question can point you in the right direction.
  • Doing beats knowing. Use rituals. Don’t just read these ideas. Make them into habits.

Maybe you don’t feel so great right now. Tal says that’s okay. Do you dream of a perfect life that’s all ups, no downs? Never gonna happen. And that’s alright.

Be compassionate with yourself. Life is rich and varied. Give yourself permission to be human. Every day won’t be great but we can make more of them better if we try. Here’s Tal:

First, the foundation of a happy life is what I’ve come to call giving ourselves the permission to be human. To experience the full gamut of human emotions. That’s what a happy life is about. It’s a life where we have difficulties and dark places and hardships, and where we celebrate and express gratitude and love.

Start making one of these things into a habit right now: send someone a bit of gratitude. Send a “thank you” text or email to that person who did something nice for you recently.

Gratitude is the best habit to start out with because it’s easy and it’s very efficient…

You actually make two people happy.

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5) Doing Beats Knowing – Use Rituals

Many people believe that if we know the right thing to do, we’ll do it. (These people have never been on a diet.)

Knowing is nice, but it’s doing that really matters. And here Tal says science can learn something from religion. Religions are big on rituals.

Believers know the prayers but it’s not enough to know them, you have to say them regularly. Anything we want to do to improve our life needs to be a ritual — a habit —  if it’s really going to create change.

So what rituals does Tal recommend for happiness?

1 – Exercise

It doesn’t just keep you healthy and attractive. Studies show it’s as effective as antidepressants in keeping you smiling. Here’s Tal:

The research coming out on physical exercise is mind-boggling. Not just for physical health, we know that, but also for mental health. It’s as powerful as our most powerful psychiatric medication — without the side effects. When it comes to dealing with anxiety or depression or attention-deficit disorder, really more and more psychologists are calling physical exercise the wonder drug. We don’t need to do a lot of it. Even as little as three 30-minute sessions a week of running or brisk walking can help.

2 – Spend Time With Friends

The number one predictor of happiness is how much quality time you spend with the people you love. Here’s Tal:

The number one predictor of happiness is quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. Unfortunately, a thousand friends on Facebook are no substitute for that one BFF. We need that real intimate connection.

3 – Express Gratitude

Say thanks. Send “thank you” texts and emails. Don’t take things for granted that you are very lucky to have. Here’s Tal:

Expressing gratitude to others with a gratitude letter, but also just expressing gratitude to ourselves, being grateful for what we have, is vital.

4 – Meditate

No, you don’t have to sit on a mountaintop and say a mantra. Meditation and mindfulness are simple things we can do every day. Here’s Tal:

Five minutes a day of just closing your eyes and breathing deeply or listening to your favorite music with your eyes closed, that can go a long way toward making you happier.

Don’t just read these things. Make them a habit. A daily ritual. As the poet John Dryden said:

We first make our habits and then our habits make us.

(To learn the 7 step morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

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