Hi everybody – in case you’re not able to get a kindle copy (maybe you don’t have a kindle) then please do have a read of this (it’s less than a quarter of the book but it’s still quite long – just skim it if you like) and leave me an honest review on either the US Kindle or UK Kindle pages. Many thanks in advance for any reviews!
Why write a book on happiness? Why read one?
The answer is “Why write or read a book on anything else?” Surely happiness is the most important subject of all? Surely all the books, and all the time spent thinking about and doing everything else, from Time Management to Making Money, from Philosophy to Gardening, are all aimed at us trying to be happier in our lives. We think that if we had more time, or more money, or knew more about things, or had a nicer garden, that we would be more happy. But would we?
This book is an attempt to get to the bottom of what makes people happy.
Some people think they know, and spend years going after it, only to find when they get it that it doesn’t really make much difference to their overall happiness in life. Others don’t even know what would make them happy, though they wish they did. Many are in denial about the whole subject, going to work, watching TV or having a drink on a Friday night, going on holiday once a year, and trying not to think about whether this is good enough – and is “good enough” good enough? Is it possible to achieve “really good”?
So – what makes people happy?
Maybe everyone is different and the question is too hard to find a single answer to. Certainly there isn’t one easy answer or we’d all know it and do it.
But what if there were basics that work for everyone, or nearly everyone? Or what if we all want a combination of the same basic things? What if there were some quite simple things that we could do that would make a difference to us? That’s what I’m going to explore in this book.
There are limited things you can do each day in order to increase the amount of happiness that you experience. These limited things break down into three main areas
- How you think
- How you spend your time
- How you spend your money
You have almost no control over everything else around you.
You can control your reaction to things (how you think) but to actually make things different it’s pretty much only time and money that you’ve got. So: what to do with them??
This book is designed to be browsed at random. Maybe try a page a day. Maybe work on the ideas with a friend or a group of friends.
Whatever works for you!
Complete list of the Contents (long!) – followed by parts of the book itself
Section 1: Understanding Happiness
6 lifestyles. page 7
Another way of thinking about yourself – your personality type. page 11
Barriers to happiness for each personality type. 12
Going back to the 6 lifestyles. 13
Suggested happiness actions for each personality type. 14
Your current happiness audit 17
Mixing present and future. 28
Section 2a: Inside your head – things to get rid of….
“Can I change myself?”. 33
Negative Emotions. 35
Being Selfish. 50
Breaking free of comparisons. 53
Section 2b: Inside your head – things to bring in….
Review your life – sum up the good. page 56
Observing and Daily Gratitude. 58
Choosing your mood. 59
Taking responsibility for everything. 62
Positive Self talk. 64
Scripts: you can choose your life. 68
The Present 73
Getting up. 84
Security at work. 90
Making the Chores Fun. 94
Combining happiness factors. 96
Section 3: Social
Family time. page 99
Friends – reduce. 100
Keeping in touch. 102
Group of friends. 104
Get Help. 106
Those old photos. 107
Being nice. 109
Help others. 112
A good boss. 116
Section 4: Your environment
The Power of Music. page 118
Section 5: Time.
Working Hours. page 133
Home Time vs Work Time. 134
Blurred edges of home and work. 136
Get organised. 137
Need to do. 139
Would like to do. 141
Simplifying and closing. 142
Time Buffer 144
Time Planning for Happiness. 145
Saying No. 146
Section 6: Growth and challenge.
Creativity. page 156
Comfort Zones – The balance between excitement and security. 160
When does challenge become stress?. 164
Control over the evolution of your job. 174
Section 7: Sense of Achievement
Progress towards Goals. 176
Mastermind group. 179
Enjoying the Price. 181
Competing isn’t the answer 182
Dabbling vs Excelling. 184
Section 8: Summing Up.
Overall balance. 193
Top 5 tips for Happiness at Work. 195
Summing up – My list of 87 actions. 198
Section 1: Understanding Happiness
This first happiness tip is a bit of a philosophical one – in fact it’s about the meaning of life! But don’t worry, I think I’ve worked out the answer, and certainly how you live your life will affect the amount of happiness you get, both in the short term and then in the long term.
I’ve been observing my friends for years now, and trying to work out who has got life sussed and who hasn’t. Some of them are putting all their effort into their careers so that they can be successful, or maybe build up a business and sell it one day for millions (maybe!), while others have gone for low-effort jobs which allow them to spend time with their family or on their spare-time activities. Others have almost dropped out – for example, I play in a band and some of the musicians I have met live amazing lives, in a way – they live completely for the present, with apparently no planning ahead or worrying about the future. I find that amazing – how can anyone live like that?? My natural inclination is to be organised and plan for the future, but actually, does that make me happier? Many of the great gurus say it’s all about living in the present – but then, is it possible to do that in our modern world, without running out of money or getting a future that is really not what we want?
So I’ve worked out a way of thinking about this, as follows. I think the two big objectives in life are to enjoy the present and to achieve things in the future, and I think that to do one to the exclusion of the other is a bad idea. If you think about it, all you have is the present and the future (the past is gone and there’s nothing you can do about it – though it can still contribute to our happiness in a small way, which I’ll return to later in this book), so Enjoy and Achieve, they relate to doing the things you want to do in the present and doing the things you might not want to do right now, for the good of the future. So those are the two outputs. And then there are two inputs – how efficient you are, and how clear your goals are. This is a bit like having a car, say it’s a Ferrari or something: it’s no good unless a) you look after it so it works well (this is efficiency) and b) you know where you want to go in it (this is equivalent to your goals in life). So ideally you have a great car and a clear destination, and that destination could be to have maximum fun in the present, or maximum achievement in the future, or a combination of both. If you look at this chart you can see that there are six possible combinations.
|yes||yes||yes||yes||The happy achiever|
First is the person who is efficient but doesn’t have goals – the “Efficient Anorak”. Inevitably they won’t achieve much because you can’t achieve something without knowing what it is; you don’t achieve things by accident. They probably won’t be brilliant on enjoyment either, because they’ll be planning and worrying, but be going around in a circle. Even enjoyment requires goals: what do you like doing, that you’d like to spend more time doing?
Second is the person who so nearly gets it right – they are efficient and they do have goals, and they achieve quite a bit, but in doing so they forget to have fun. I have called them the Career Worker. The one extra thing they need to do is to mix in some enjoyment goals with their success goals.
Third is the person who hasn’t thought about any of this – they don’t have goals, and they aren’t very good at time management either – they just plod through life, reacting to each problem that comes along, never really getting control. They probably don’t believe they CAN take control of their own life, and they often expect bad things to happen, and so they do. I have called them the Dissatisfied Plodder. I hope this one isn’t you, in fact the very fact you’re reading this book probably means it’s not you, but even if it IS you then don’t worry, help is at hand. Start with setting some goals, and then work on your time management so you can get better at making those goals happen.
Fourth is the Frustrated Dreamer: this person DOES have goals, but they are let down by their lack of personal effectiveness, they are too disorganised to make the goals happen. They might be an artist or creative type of person, or maybe just someone who has been unlucky not to learn about time management. If this is you then the good news is that you’ve done the hard bit, you’ve just got to learn and do the easier bit now!
Number five is the person who has no goals and no efficiency, but still manages to have fun. I’m thinking of my musician friends here, and I have called this one the Hedonist. I must admit I do envy their ability to have fun, to live in the now, to not worry about the consequences, but then I also think it’s not sustainable – when they get older they may look back and regret not planning ahead a bit more. At least I hope so! No, I’m just kidding, I wish them the best but I do fear for them. I just think it’s too risky to live only for the present. The only way you can get away with it is to have someone else (often a mug like me!) to look after you, to do the planning ahead for you and make sure your car is serviced and that you’ve got insurance, while you have fun. Anyway, that’s the Hedonist.
Finally the last combination is what I’m suggesting you do – have clear goals for both the things you want to achieve and the things you like doing and want to do more of, and then have efficient systems for making them happen – and then try to achieve a balance of fun in the present and achievement in the future. There will be more about the details of this later in this book, but this is the big picture that I want you to achieve. Maximum happiness in both the present and the future.
Why aren’t there more than six?
Well, looking at the combinations of inputs, there are only four possibilities.
The people who have neither goals nor efficiency fall into two types – the ones who are happy to achieve nothing (hedonists) and the ones who feel dissatisfied by lack of achievement (the plodders).
Of the others, you can see that it is impossible to achieve anything significant without having both goals and efficiency. Enjoyment is more tricky – perhaps the anorak could enjoy efficient whilst not achieving much, but really, without achievement, you are unlikely to have enjoyment unless you are a hedonist, and even they probably can’t sustain it.
Put another way, if you are efficient but don’t have a goal then you won’t achieve or enjoy.
If you have neither goals nor efficiency then you’ll probably get nowhere, though you could manage hedonism – enjoyable in the short term only!
Action plan: So in order to get started on this road, what I’d like you to think about now is: How is your current balance between enjoyment and achievement? Do you have clear goals, both for achieve and enjoy? How efficient and organised are you?
|To achieve at work….
|To enjoy at work…|
|To achieve outside work…
|To enjoy outside work…|
If you set goals for enjoyment and achievement in both your work and in your life outside work (so that’s all four combinations) and you are then efficient, the big picture of your life will be sorted. Then there’s just the detail to deal with!
More about goals later in this book…
In this section I want to have a quick look at four fallacies that people commonly believe when thinking about happiness and what to do about it:
… and the first one is that you can’t increase your total happiness. There’s a belief that it’s just how you are, and you can’t change yourself – some people are just happier than others. And this appears to be proved by the fact that big events give us a sudden boost in happiness (if we win the lottery) and a sudden drop when something bad happens – for example an accident where you lose a limb. But in both of these cases, amazingly, the people who win lotteries or lose limbs tend to return to their original level of happiness within a year. But does this show that happiness can’t be changed? No I don’t think so, I think it just shows that life isn’t about trying to win the lottery – maybe if you do this you’ll just lose your friends and be plunged into a world you’re not familiar with and can’t cope with, and also maybe friends and learning and succeeding at challenges are more important even than having all your limbs – which is an amazing thought isn’t it? So in this book I’m going to explain why winning the lottery ISN’T the answer to happiness, but that smaller simpler things ARE.
Linked to the first fallacy, that “there’s nothing you can do about it”, is the second fallacy which says that “you can’t be happy some of the time without also being unhappy some of the time to compare it with” – you NEED unhappiness to be able to appreciate the good things. I don’t agree with this one either! I certainly would agree that if you’ve had a very unhappy life then you’ll appreciate the good things more, but wherever you are at the moment you can get some more good things into your life without having to let in some bad things as well. As long as you know what unhappiness is like – and we all know that – then you know enough to build more and more happiness into your life. This 50/50 argument just doesn’t stack up at all when you think about it.
The third of my four fallacies is that “money will make you happy” – as I’ve already mentioned it’s been shown that big lottery wins only have a short-term effect, because people can’t cope with the sudden change – they find themselves in a world that they aren’t right for, it’s a lifestyle that they haven’t really earned, and so it doesn’t often end well. But what about just a BIT more money, we could cope with that! Well I’m going to deal with this later, I think it deserves its own section, but suffice to say that the research shows that if you’re really poor then money does indeed help. If you need food or the place where you live is too cold, or you worry about your financial security a lot, then clearly money affects your happiness. But for most of us who are doing OK the extra money does not in fact add to our happiness. That’s what the research says.
Why on earth would this be? Well, my personal belief is that the price you have to pay to earn the extra money outweighs the benefit you get from it – but I’ll explain more about this later. All you need to know now is that money isn’t the answer, and I think in a strange sort of way I’m pleased about that. It would be a simple answer, I agree, but not a very NICE answer.
My fourth and finally commonly held false belief is that if you chase happiness you can catch it. Of course, in a way this whole book is about chasing happiness, but generally we’ll be looking at setting up the right conditions so that it can happen – seeing your friends more, learning new skills, etc – these will be practical things you can do which then allow happiness to happen. But if you chase it too hard, you just might frighten it away.
So, don’t give up on being happier, you can certainly do it, but also don’t think that more money will make it happen, or that you can force it to happen. But there are many ways you can improve the environment for happiness to grow, and that’s what we’ll be exploring in this book.
As a test of the material to follow, and in order to get more from the book, please make a “bunch of grapes” drawing like the one below, and then take a few minutes to fill in the 4 boxes on the next page:
Action plan: Write in each grape something that has made you happy in the last few weeks.
Make the grape bigger if the amount of happiness was bigger.
When it’s finished, have a look at it. Is there a pattern?
Now complete the four boxes on the next page
|What I have or do at the moment that makes me happy
|Why do these things make me happy?|
|What would, I think, make me happier (even happier!) in my life
|Why would these things make me (even) happier?|
Did you find these boxes easy or hard to fill in? Because if you found it hard to do it means that you aren’t very clear in your own mind on what makes you happy, and clearly if you don’t really know what makes you happy then you’ll be less likely to manage to do these things.
So the happiness strategy here is to know what makes you happy, so you can make sure you do more of it.
Did you notice any patterns in the above lists?
Were they scary, challenging, achievement type things, or comfortable nice things?
Were they physical things (e.g. eating, playing sport, sitting in the sun) or mental things (interesting conversation, exciting film, meeting new person)? See if you can put them on this grid:
Patterns would be useful to spot, because if you know what makes you happy you can
- a) do more of the same
- b) find more variations of similar type
- c) make sure the other areas aren’t being neglected
Were they internal to your personality?
e.g. “I’d be happier if I experienced less guilt”, or “if I could relax more” – if so, see later sections!
or were they external, being more about “Have” and “Do”? (e.g. “I’d be happier if I had a nice car”, or “if I could spend more time riding my horse”)
And were they more about “Have” or more about “Do”? Research has shown that 80% of your happiness comes from relationships with others and only 20% comes from have. For example having a swimming pool will only make you happy if you have friends round and have fun in the pool.
Would they cost much money to achieve?
Why haven’t you already done them? (If your answer is to do with time, you will get the answer in future sections!)
In this section I want to have a closer look at whether money makes us happier. Certainly there are lots of things I want, and if I had a bit more money I could buy them, but will this make me happier in the end? I know that in the past when I’ve got a new iPad or a new car or whatever I have had a brief surge of happiness but then I rapidly get used to my new toy, and it becomes part of the furniture, and then after a while I want to upgrade again to the next level.
While I was thinking about the link between money and happiness I did two things: I looked at my various friends – are the richer ones happier? And also I looked at myself over time – the times in my life when I’ve been relatively richer, have I been happier? Let’s have a quick look at my friends first, and then what has happened to me so far – and while I do this I want you to think about whether you’re the same….
I’ve got three rich friends who spring to mind for this experiment. One of them lives in a massive house in London, mostly made of glass, but he works very long hours running his company, which he says he doesn’t enjoy at all, but he is hoping to sell it off at some point for millions. If he can successfully sell it at the top of the market and make enough to retire, will he then finally get to be happy? And will this happiness be worth the price of all the years of stress and hassle? Well, I can say a bit about this based on my second friend who did sell off his company, and he’s now got a few million in the bank – although he broke up with his wife during the process of building his company working crazy hours with lots of stress etc.
Just after the sell-off we were having a curry (which I still had to pay my half of, can I just say) and he was wondering what to do next, and I said that if it was me I would travel the world, see lots of countries, and have lots of fun – and that’s exactly what he did. He sent me annoying postcards of himself on beaches with beautiful girls etc. but now he’s back, and guess what he’s doing? Yes, he’s set up another company and he’s working really hard again. But he seems to love it. He said he got bored of being on permanent holiday, there was no mental challenge. I must say that right now I love the idea of a long holiday in the sunshine, but I do also find that after a week or two I’m ready to come home, to rainy old England and my rather smelly dog, so I can see what he means – you would get bored with endless travel and holidaying.
So, what I get from this is that building your company should be the FUN bit – if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy just to get the money at the end then there’s risk you won’t ever make it, and even if you do, you’ll then be bored. You have to enjoy the process.
I have another friend who doesn’t have his own company, he works for a bank, and he too plans to retire early. He too doesn’t really enjoy his job, and works very long hours, and he too thinks it’ll be worth it because retirement will be great. But will it? What will he do?? He’s forgotten how to have fun, with all these years of working so hard. He’s hardly seen his children while they’ve been growing up – he’s paid a high price for a few years of earlier retirement, if indeed he ever does get around to retiring. At the moment he’s delaying his retirement because he’s still got one child at an expensive school – there’s always a reason once you get hooked on higher expenditure – and I’m thinking he may carry on working – at least part time because the money’s good – and of course, if he DOES retire early, he might keel over and die the day after! Sorry, I’ve just remembered that this book is supposed to be about happiness, it’s all got rather depressing! But actually, it’s good news, because I’m saying that the answer isn’t retirement – you DON’T have to do something you hate for 70 hours a week in order to be happy later – it’s better to let go of the money obsession and do the work that you enjoy.
To sum up so far:
- Celebrities – often rich, often deeply unhappy
- People who win the lottery are often less happy afterwards (although we all think we would be different in this situation)
- A friend of mine who sold his company for four million pounds and then wondered what to do. After a bit of lazing around and then world travelling he got bored – he ended up starting up another company!
- A friend of mine who is very well paid but never at home, and when he is at home he has to spend lots of time and money keeping his house, garden, tennis court and swimming pool all working
- Yourself – when you’ve had pay rises in the past, has it made any difference, or did you forget about it quite quickly and then somehow spend the extra money without noticing?
Which takes us to what happened to ME…. Here’s a graph of my life so far, and you can see the stages I’ve been through – child, student, engineer, manager, university lecturer, and now self-employed. Let’s draw two lines on the graph – money, and happiness, and see what we get.
So the money line starts at virtually zero as a child, just a bit of pocket money. Then as a student it goes negative! Then I get a job and some reasonable pay as an engineer – can I just say that engineers are brilliant people, they have created everything that’s good in the world, but I wasn’t a very good one, not enough attention to detail, and so I went into management, which was better paid, and I got paid more and more as I gradually sold my soul to the devil – or that’s how it felt. So eventually I escaped out of management, when I used to run factories, into being a University Lecturer, which was brilliant fun but not very well paid – you can see how the graph plummets, I in fact took a cut that halved my pay, but I just had to get out of management, it just didn’t make me happy. Some people love it, and I do think it’s possible to be a great boss and you don’t HAVE to sell your soul to the devil, but in some of the places I worked it was hard not to join in with the politics and playing of games. Anyway, being a lecturer was great but badly paid, and so finally I had the good fortune to discover what I do now, which is to travel around doing training courses and talking to groups of people (and writing this book) – like a self-employed lecturer. So my pay now is quite variable – if I work hard I can earn quite a bit, but if I take more time off my pay drops.
So let’s finally add the happiness line to this graph….
You can see that as a child I was quite happy – ah the innocence of childhood! – and as a student I had a great time, (I won’t go into that here!). Then I got a job and my happiness decreased but being an engineer wasn’t at all bad. Then when I went into management I had to pay a price as I’ve already mentioned, and the more senior I got the more I had to work long hours, have more stress, get further away from the customers and the creativity and the real job – if someone offers you lots of money, and maybe even a car, you’ve got to ask yourself “WHY would they do that?” – it must be because it’s a job that other people don’t want to do, for some reason – nobody will do it unless they are paid lots of money to do it! Anyway, University Lecturer was badly paid but really fun, I loved it, and then now as self-employed my happiness varies depending on how hard I work – I enjoy the work but ideally I work a bit less, earn less but have more time for family and friends and dog.
So let’s have a look at the two graphs – and what do you see? They are complete symmetrical opposites aren’t they? As the money goes up the happiness goes down – every time!
Only being self-employed has managed to raise the total of the two – it has managed to get a better total deal of money and happiness, because I am more suited to it than I am to working for someone else. But within that slightly better world I’m still trading off between time and money in the same way as everyone else.
Now I know this is only me, it’s not statistically significant, and there could be other factors going on, but those graphs are SO opposite aren’t they? And it does figure that higher paid jobs must have some reason for the higher pay. Would you want to be the President of the USA, or the president of your company, for your current pay? I wouldn’t! I reckon he or she earns it!
If 10% of your happiness comes from material possessions and 90% comes from relationships with others (do you think this is true? I do) then the logical conclusion is that money is likely to improve the 10% but is probably going to reduce the 90% – not a good exchange!
Will money really reduce the 90% of your happiness that comes from relationships? Well, this is frequently the case in those who win the lottery, who lose their friends when they become rich. And certainly it seems to be a problem for celebrities. But what about just a little more money?
Clearly the money might allow you to afford to do some sociable/fun things, but there are disadvantages as well:
- Most relationships have nothing to do with money – wherever you are, whatever you can afford, the friendship is the same. The money has no effect; but…
- the time and stress involved in earning the extra money takes its toll on your social life
- higher paid jobs tend to be less secure
- you get “addicted” to the money and have to keep earning it in order to keep up the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed; maybe wanting “just a bit more” and never quite being satisfied, however much you have
- upkeep of your expensive lifestyle takes time and effort – a bigger garden, an extra car, more parts of your house to maintain and repair, it’s all more complicated
- will the extra money change you in some way that will adversely affect your relationship?
- jealousy or competitiveness – will the money change the way your friends see you in some way that will adversely affect your relationship?
So to sum all this up, my experience has been that extra money does make me a little happier, I can have a nicer car and nicer wine and nicer clothes, and go on nicer holidays and stay in nicer hotels, but the price I pay to get it (longer hours, more stress, unpleasant work) reduces my happiness by MORE. The benefits of the money are outweighed by the price you pay to earn it. You gain 10% of extra happiness from the money, but it costs you 30% off your happiness to earn that money.
Action plan: So, what can you do as a result of this? Well, first, let go of money. Certainly, make sure you can pay the rent, but don’t base your long-term plans on getting rich, and don’t base shorter term decisions on which option will earn you more money. Time is more important than money. Enjoyable work is more important than money. Friends are more important than money.
How does money – not enough / enough / lots – affect the main happiness areas? Here’s a table that summarises it all:
|Feeling of value||Money contributes to this, as a form of proof, though it needs to be accompanied by the right words: “You’re doing really well”|
|Self-fulfilment||Money will probably come from pursuing these – as a by-product rather than an end in itself|
|Sport||A certain amount of money is needed but you probably already have enough – it’s more about the time than the money|
|Fun / excitement|
|Food||More expensive food might make you happier in the short term, but once you get used to it you’ll be “addicted” – you can’t go back, and even expensive food will still have its faults (same for cars etc)|
|Health and fitness||Money might help you join a posh gymn, but you won’t have the time to go there because you’ll be too busy earning the money. Inverse correlation.|
|Comforts||Clearly a base level of income is needed for these, but beyond that, is there a gain? As described above you have to pay a price for the comforts, and security diminishes with income (unless you can save a few million, which is unlikely)|
|Friends and social||As we’ve already seen – inverse correlation|
|Control||More money should give you more control, but the price you have to pay (e.g. creeping to the boss) might cancel this out|
|Peace of mind||As we have seen earlier, earning more will probably give you more to worry about. Be that guru who lives in a cave!|
|Learning||Not necessarily linked to money|
Don’t assume that more money will fix things for you. Ask yourself WHY you want the money – what will you spend it on? Will this really make you happier? Will there be a down-side to whatever you want to get with the money? (e.g. big house needing more maintenance). How will it affect your relationships? What price will you need to pay in order to get the money, (e.g. longer working hours) and will it be worth paying?
Action plan: Consider working shorter hours, saying no to work-travel or things you don’t believe in, even if this means a little less money now or in the future.
Maybe you won’t miss the money, and you’ll be happier too.
Who was it who said you can buy me a diamond ring, but money can’t buy me love?
I mentioned at the start of this book (the 6 lifestyles) that it’s important to get the right mix of present and future, and not focus on one to the exclusion of the other – for example the Band who have lots of fun now but won’t have the future they want, or even the short-term achievements that they want – (the band would like to have an album out and be on the TV etc but they never seem to get their act together to make this happen) versus some of my successful business friends who are always planning for the future, forgetting to have any fun NOW, …..and will this future ever come?
Will they work hard all their lives and then keel over the day after they retire? – Sorry, this book is meant to be making you happier isn’t it!? …but anyway, I think the ‘Jam Tomorrow’ philosophy is quite risky because tomorrow may never come, or it might eventually arrive at great cost and be disappointing, – and even if it does come and it’s great, it might not outweigh all those years and years of working long hours on a job you don’t enjoy and not seeing your kids.
So, maybe the middle ground isn’t just a poor mixture of both, but could be the best of both – enjoying what you do, AND getting a feeling of achievement out of it. If the band were just a bit more efficient they could get that album made, and if my management friends eased off slightly they could have some fun outside of their work – and possibly even AT their work.
But the other factor in all this is that most people’s plan is to achieve at work Monday to Friday and then have fun outside of work, Saturday and Sunday. But of course if you want to maximise your happiness you’ll need to enjoy your work, where you spend 5 days a week of your life, and also it would be good to get a sense of achievement from the things you’re doing in your personal life. You don’t have to be famous, just whatever you want to achieve, maybe it’s to have 100 types of fuchsia growing in your greenhouse or to have stood on all the highest mountains in Scotland -whatever it is that you want to do.
Action plan: So I want you to think now about whether you are having enough fun at work, and at home, and also are you ACHIEVING enough at work, and outside work? And if not, set some goals, and actually write them down, for each of these four areas.
You spend 5 days a week at work, so maybe it would be good to get more happiness from it.
Find a job you love (never give up on the search).
Some thoughts about your work:
- Does your work benefit the lives of other people?
- Do you have a feeling of ownership – that you have control over how you do it, and that you are doing it for you?
- Do you enjoy most of your work?
- Is there an element of fun, either with the people you work with or in the work itself?
- Do you get a sense of achievement from it?
- Are you getting the chance to use your strengths in your work?
- Does your boss treat you well?
- Are you constantly learning in your work?
- Are your hours under control – not too long, and flexible if required?
- Are you reasonably secure in your job? This could come from a mixture of knowing what’s going on, the organisation being successful, and having skills that are in demand either inside or outside your organisation.
Action plan: If the answer is mostly No to the above, it’s time to look around!
The biggest source of happiness of all, bar none, is relationships with other people, so this HAS to be something that we become good at. And really it’s about TIME – having enough time to spend with the people we like or love, who make us happy.
If you had only six months left to live, or even just a week left to live, what would you do? When I ask people this they always say they’d spend time with their loved ones – which shows that THEY are the most important things in the world. And yet we get so caught up in the small stuff of life, all the urgent stuff, that it’s easy to forget to spend time with the people we love.
Did you know that the average American father only spends 24 minutes a week with his kids? That’s less than five minutes a day! I didn’t really believe this statistic until I started monitoring myself – I was often away travelling, working late, getting home stressed and hiding in my office or checking my emails, maybe taking just 5 minutes to say good night to the kids and tuck them up in bed, or maybe read a quick bedtime story. Now they are older they are away at college or working, so I often don’t see them for weeks on end. All I get is the occasional text from my son saying “Please send more money!” So maybe that figure of 5 minutes is right!
Do I regret it? Yes absolutely, I’d love to turn back the clock and spend ten or maybe even FIFTEEN minutes reading rabbit stories to my little daughter, but I can’t.
So – what can you do to spend more time with your children, and with your husband or wife or partner, and with your parents, and with your brothers and sisters and close friends? Maybe you could book in some time with them in your diary, or start a regular routine where you see them every evening, or once a week – Tuesday night you spend with your brother, or Date Night with your partner (I think Date Night a kind of weird idea but also a good one) or Saturday afternoon you go fishing with your son, or your dad, or BOTH!
Action plan: starting today, can are you going to spend more time with the people who are important?
Since relationships with people are the biggest source of happiness – way more important than material things for example – I’m going to spend a bit of time on the subject of your friends. In order to spend more happy time with your friends there are three main actions to be done – getting rid of friends who don’t make you happy any more, getting back in touch with friends you have neglected, and spending MORE time with the friends you do already spend SOME time with.
So to start with, let’s think about the question “Who should I spend less time with?” Maybe you have grown apart from some people? Maybe they have just become a bit boring, or too work-obsessed, or they talk about their kids the whole time! Maybe you feel that when you see them you are no longer learning anything new from talking with them?
I think the first thing is to make a list of everyone you can think of, and then, rather than just keep or dump, which IS pretty harsh, I’d recommend putting against each one how often you’re going to keep in touch with them, approximately. So the ones who you are not as keen on can be faded out to maybe once a year. Of course, if you want to put ‘never’ you certainly can! And don’t feel bad, …they probably feel the same!
Now something I’ve been doing which I think you’ll find interesting (I hope none of my friends read this bit!) is I’ve got an app on my phone called RepReminder which shows repeating tasks in order – you could use repeating tasks in outlook or google calendar if that’s easier, or even some actual cards in a box, with the next person at the front – anyway, I’ve put my various friends in there at whatever frequency I think, for each one. And what I’ve found is that I can’t keep up with the frequency. I’ve put Pete in there for 4 times a year, which doesn’t seem THAT often – he lives a couple of hours drive away but I do like going to see him – but that 3 months comes around mighty quickly. If he was my only friend then it would be easy, but with various other people on once a month and some on twice or once a year, I can’t keep up. So the system is telling me that I need to ditch a few, or make some of them less often, that’s the reality of it. So the system helps me to think scientifically about who I’m going to see a lot and who I’m going to see less often.
By the way the RepReminder app works really well because they appear in a time ordered list, and if you see someone early and click ‘done’ it puts them in for 3 months from the day you see them not the day they were due – and similarly if you see them late it also puts them in three months from the date you actually saw them, rather than when the next due date WOULD have been – if you see what I mean. You can use it for haircuts or backing up your computer or car maintenance or defrosting your freezer or anything that repeats, not just for keeping in touch with friends.
Action plan: make a list of all of your friends and decide for each one how often you are going to see them.
- Have some friends outlived the relationship but you are keeping them on because you are in a rut?
- Are your friends still making you think and learn?
- Are your friends mostly positive and uplifting?
- Would you get more total happiness from spending more time with fewer, but closer, friends?
- Could you thin some of them out in order to make room for new ones, or more time with the more important ones?
- Are you close enough to your best friends? Could you spend more time with them?
- Could you set up the situations so that you get more time to talk with them? – and I mean talking about important things, not the weather, house prices, schools and traffic jams!
- Perhaps phoning friends more often would be another way to increase the amount of enjoyable interactions in your day.
Maybe put it into a repeating diary and see how you get on….
In this section I’d like to talk about keeping in touch with friends. Friends are a huge source of happiness, particularly old friends because they make you feel young again as you regress to your childhood or your college days. There’s no substitute for that feeling of trust that’s built up over the years, and all those shared memories.
I remember when Friends Reunited first came out it was fascinating to see what had become of everyone, and I did get back in touch with some of them, and now with Facebook I keep in touch with lots of old friends. Some people say Facebook’s friends aren’t real friends, but I would say that they are just a different type of friend, it’s just another way to keep in touch with people. And then when you do get around to seeing them, because you’ve kept in contact on Facebook, it’s just great to see them, like they’ve never been away.
Christmas cards are another way to keep in touch, and again, I think it’s worth having a list that you use each year – because I’m a bit sad I have a spreadsheet and each year I start a new column and tick off who I’ve sent cards to. I can look at the columns and see who has dropped off, see if I want to reinstate them, and see which new people have appeared. I probably should keep a track of cards received against cards sent, but I haven’t gotten around to that I must confess! But my Christmas card spreadsheet does mean that I don’t forget those people who are living abroad or have been away, and even if a few years slip by it’s still great when I see them again.
In the last section I mentioned having a system where you get reminded about people you haven’t seen for a while – it could be an app on your phone, or repeating dates in your calendar, or just simple physical cards with people’s names on – and if you put each person to the back when you have met up with them you can then see who is at the front – this is the person you haven’t seen for the longest time, so maybe it’s time to contact them and suggest meeting up? – and if you find yourself sneakily putting that person to the back, maybe they should be taken out of the deck?
Action plan: (and I hope you’ll find it a fun one) – make a list of all of the people you like, and contact one of them now. And also to make a friends rotating file, either physical or on your computer, in order to maximise the number of friends you keep in touch with.
I find that quite often I have a great evening out with some friends and we all say “We MUST do this more often” and then we don’t get around to it again for ages. Now maybe we are all just lying in order to be polite, but no I don’t think it’s that, I think we just get too busy and nobody takes the lead and it just doesn’t get organised.
So I’d like to suggest that YOU be the one who organises the night out with your friends – and the advantage of this is that you can pick who you invite. You could even have a list of the various groupings of friends, the various combinations that meet up from time to time, and make sure you get each of them to happen.
And what would be the format? Well it could be a Boys night / Girls night out, or mixed, or with partners. And you could have a meal, either at a restaurant or at each other’s house (and it could always just be a takeaway if you don’t want to cook), or you could go night clubbing or dancing, whatever it’s called these days – but there’s no doubt that jumping around to loud music is a great source of happiness, (to me at least!) – or maybe you’d rather go and see a band, jazz or rock whatever you like, maybe even go to the theatre every now and then if you’re posh, or see a film together.
By the way, if your friends are inefficient like mine and don’t have their diaries with them on their phones, a good way to organise the next event is to use some sort of availability sharing software like doodle.com – where you just put the dates you can do and each person gets to see a table of who can do which dates, so it’s easy to find, and which date EVERYONE can make.
So you might have a Curry Club group, a film-watching group where you also meet up for food or drink afterwards and discuss it, or a band-watching group – or maybe a book group where you meet up and discuss what you’ve been reading recently, recommend books, or ideally all read the same one and then discuss it. Before having a drink and some food, obviously!
One final tip – it’s been shown that you get more happiness from paying double and then getting a free meal than you get from splitting the bill every time, so if it’s a small and regular group it’s best for one person to pay the whole bill each time – by all means keep a record, and you’ll find that whatever logic tells you about smoothing your cash flow and it working out the same in the end, it doesn’t feel much worse to pay a bigger bill when you do pay, and it really does feel good to get a ‘free’ meal most times!
Action plan: which groups of friends are you going to invite, and to what? Invite the first ones today!
Get a happiness buddy with whom you can plan and make sure you actually do these kinds of things.
Having someone to help you can multiply your willpower, for two reasons. One is that there will be willpower overlap: sometimes you’ll be in the mood and they won’t, sometimes the other way around. The other is that there is willpower transference: they don’t have to do it, they just have to make you do it, which is much easier.
For example – you know that getting up at 6.30 on Sunday mornings to go mountain-biking in the dawn makes you happy, but you need someone to either
- Come with you (even when you don’t entirely feel like it) or
- At least nag you into going!
Action plan: What could you do with some help on, and who will you get to help you with this?
I was saying earlier in this book that it’s a bad idea to get too obsessed with the past, either with negative emotions, like regrets, or with apparently positive emotions like nostalgia, because actually nostalgia isn’t entirely positive is it? There’s an element of “If only I could turn the clock back”, which you can’t, and an implication that you’re not as happy now as you once were. Comparing the present with times that MAY have been better – if you can believe your selective memory – is only going to make you less happy about the present, and the fact that you can’t go back – the past is the only place you can’t visit – and this is an additional sadness.
Maybe we can get SOME happiness from the past? Maybe going back over happy memories and reliving them can give us that happiness all over again? Especially if we could just go back and re-live the best bits, the happiest bits, THAT would surely be a good idea?
I suppose it depends on what sort of a relationship you have with the past. If you are positive about both the past and the present then why not have both? But if thinking about the past makes you feel unhappy then don’t do this next bit.
So I’d like to suggest that you go through your old photos and wallow in the fun you had back then. Maybe sit with a loved one on the sofa and flick through some old albums. Maybe sit with your children and go through their childhood pictures – or YOUR childhood pictures, which I expect your children will find pretty funny. I recently got my father to take me and my kids though HIS childhood pictures, and his early days in the Royal Navy, and we all learned a whole lot about what he did and also what he’s really like. Seeing his youth we got to see a whole other side of him, and what an impressive man he was – and still is. So family photo shows are great. You could even hook up to a big TV screen or projector and make a show of it – dim the lights, have some popcorn and get immersed in it.
Action plan: Who are you going to invite to your photo show, and which photos are you going to show them?
Also you could make a COLLECTION of all your favourite pictures. These could be printed out, or in a folder on your computer or tablet. Maybe get a photo frame and leave it rotating in your living room or kitchen where you’ll see it every day, or if you have an old PC or laptop you can use that instead of the photo-frame and save the cost. Or you could have it on your main computer as the desktop, rotating to a new picture every now and then.
Action plan: How are you going to view your collection of favourite photos?
So there we are, extra happiness from some family / social time as well as getting the maximum happiness out of the past.
This section is about increasing the happiness in your life by being nicer.
It has been said that 80% of your happiness comes from other people.
And you can’t just make them hand it over!
You reap what you sow, so if you can make them happy then they’ll make you happy (and of course you’ll get happiness from the very act of making them happy).
This could range from small random good deeds (take your chance when you see it) to acts of kindness to friends to huge life endeavours to make the world better.
You probably think from reading this book that I’m a nice person, but I’m not really, but I do make the effort, …when I remember to. There are certainly some people who are naturally nice, but for most of us I think it’s something we can work on, and which we will find rewarding if we can get better at it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that you do reap what you sow – I know people who never help anyone else, never make any effort, they’re just totally selfish, and so of course nobody helps them either – which they then complain about! And people who are unreliable also reap what they sow – other people don’t trust them so they gradually get excluded from anything important. And if you’re miserable then all you’ll see around you is other people not smiling, if you don’t listen to other people they won’t listen to you either, if you don’t thank people then they won’t do things for you, and if you don’t care about other people then they won’t care about you – you reap what you sow, and don’t reap what you don’t sow, in SO many ways.
So, what should a person do, or ‘sow’, in order to reap the maximum happiness? I was taught at school that you should never describe someone as ‘nice’ because it’s too imprecise – in what WAY are they nice? So rather than just say ‘be nice’ I’d like to suggest four things you can do which will give you happiness immediately as well as bring you more later:
First is to be a great listener – make an effort all this week to listen to other people, really listen to them, not just wait for your turn to tell a better story than theirs. And after they’ve told you something, instead of replying with something about yourself, ask them a question like “Tell me more about that?” or “And then what happened?” or “How did THAT make you feel? or “What SHOULD you have done, do you think?” Keep the chain going, keep them talking so you can go on listening. You’ll find that you’ll discover all sorts of interesting things, you’re learning from this – unlike when you’re talking about yourself, when you’re not learning anything. And you’re making THEM happier because they get to talk about their favourite subject, which is themselves! And you don’t need to worry about their talking getting out of control because YOU are the one controlling the conversation. You can always change course with something like “OK, so that was all a bit of a disaster – so have you been on any OTHER trips recently?” or “OK, the gold is going well, what else have you been spending your time on recently?” YOU have control, you’re learning, and they are happy – it’s win/win all round.
My second ‘Being Nice’ activity is offering to help people – just be aware of what people are doing and if they are short of time, or need ideas, or physical help, or knowledge help with a spreadsheet or something, just offer to help. It’s easy, doesn’t take much time, and even if they don’t need help you still look good for offering! This could be at work, at home, at the shops, in the street with a complete stranger – anywhere that you can help someone else will make you feel good, as well as being great for them.
My third niceness suggestion is to give people praise or compliments – take any opportunity, whenever you genuinely think something is good, tell the person. Ideally it would be based on a specific action, so rather than “I think you’re brilliant”, which would be verging on weird, you would say “I noticed how you dealt with that difficult customer just then, and I thought it was brilliant” – that would be much better. So it might be something they have done, it might be their office or car or house or clothes or watch or a holiday that they have been on that was risky or required great fitness, there are so many things to compliment. Clearly you should steer clear of anything too personal – increasingly it’s not appropriate to comment on someone’s appearance these days, although it might be appropriate if they have lost weight or got a different hair style, and if you know them quite well. But you can’t go wrong with complimenting someone’s work achievement, or their children’s achievements, or their nice new car.
My final idea for happiness-through-being-nice is to thank people as much as you can. This is subtly different to complimenting people because rather than admiring them you are saying that they have helped you, and that you’re grateful. Every time anyone does anything for you, make sure you thank them.
If you have people working for you, make sure that you know enough about what they are doing so that you can thank them at least once a week for something real that they have done. You would think that every boss would thank their people, after all it’s only good manners, but I find that when I ask people on training courses how often their boss thanks them, or when did they last get thanked, they often look at me blankly and say “well, never, really”.
When thanking people is free, and it makes such a difference, why would people not do it?
Maybe some people find it embarrassing to say thank you, or maybe they don’t have time, or maybe they think that other people aren’t bothered about being thanked – I don’t know, but whatever your reason to resist thanking people might be, I’d urge you to overcome it. Even if your partner has cooked you supper every day for 50 years, you should still thank them for it, every time. It’s just a little bit more happiness brought into your day, and theirs.
Action plan: Be a great listener, offer to help people, compliment them and thank them, and we all get happier. Which of the four are you going to focus on today, and WHO are you going to be nicer to?
A step beyond ‘being nice’ is to actually help other people, in a substantial way.
If you help other people then YOU get to feel good while you’re doing it, and you get satisfaction afterwards to see that you’ve made a difference, and there’s also a chance that they’ll return the favour and help YOU in some way at some point. Only good things can come from it, especially if you honestly do the best you can, with no thought of any reward.
So the question is who can you help, and how?
Well there are four levels of giving a bit back:
The first is to just send some money, and although it’s only my first level, it’s still a lot better than nothing. In a recent experiment it was discovered that people experience a greater increase in their happiness if they spend money on someone else than they do if they spend it on themselves – and the amount of happiness is not related to the AMOUNT you give. So giving a smallish amount quite often is the best way to maximise your happiness by this method. And I would add that if it becomes routine it probably doesn’t work as well, so maybe pick a different charity every time, or vary who you give to so that it’s a conscious decision every time.
The second level is to give some of your time, probably something quite basic, like serving soup to homeless people or sweeping the streets or picking up litter in your local area. These are all great things, and you will feel good about doing them, but in a way they are a waste of you – anyone can do these things – although most people don’t! – but you can do something that ADDS MORE VALUE if you have skills or knowledge that other people don’t have. So it’s good, but you can maybe do better.
So my third level is to do something that only you can do – to give some of your time for free instead of charging. This might be legal advice, financial advice, marketing advice, help with setting up a business, anything that you can give for free that people would normally have to pay quite a bit for. Providing you’re not fully booked and turning work away then you can give the time for free, and really make a difference to someone else, or perhaps to a group of people. Imagine if some business advice from you was able to change a young person’s life forever? So the giving of time is probably much better than giving money – although you can always do both, remember!
Finally there is my level four, which is to TEACH skills or knowledge to others. You’ve probably heard that saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, TEACH a man to fish and you get rid of him at weekends” – no sorry, it’s not that, it’s “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a DAY, teach a man to fish and feed him for LIFE.” So the question is “What can you teach someone that can be used by them for ever? What skill or knowledge could you pass on? It might be to show how to service a boiler, or set up a website, or make a healthy meal using cheap ingredients, or car maintenance, or financial budgeting, or anything really.
So – how to find people to help? I must admit I don’t have a brilliant answer for this, and there might be scope to set something up that does the job better than it’s being done at the moment, but there are bound to be local charities you can contact to offer your time. Or maybe the probation service, apprenticeship organisations, youth clubs, local councils, and of course churches. I googled Giving A Bit Back and found a few websites, and when I googled “Offering Free help Giving a bit back” I found a really good collection of sites.
And of course if you need moral support you could always agree with a friend that you’re both going to do it, and then go along there as a team and do whatever the work is that you are offering.
Action plan: I’d like you to think about what you could offer, what skills or knowledge you can give back, and also where you can do this – how will you find a way to contact the people who need your help?
In a previous section I was talking about spending time with the most important people, and in this one I’m going to go to the other extreme and see if I can persuade you to spend more time with people you don’t even know!
Since most happiness comes from our positive interactions with other people, the more of these we can have, the better, and the idea is to get as much happiness from EVERY person that you meet. Not that you TAKE it from them obviously, the great thing is that if YOU get it, so do they.
So for example, why not interact with strangers, – where safe to do so! – and when not too weird either – for example holding the door open for someone in the corridor if they are coming along behind you, or saying good morning when you get into a lift, or smiling and thanking the person at the supermarket checkout, or complimenting someone on their dog (people are always proud of their dogs. I’m positively insulted if everyone I pass DOESN’T compliment my dog).
Maybe someone you normally ignore at work like the cleaner or the security guard could be someone you could acknowledge today, say hello, or comment on the weather at least, or thank them for doing the cleaning or whatever. Maybe even ask them if they need a hand?
Then there are random acts of kindness – I don’t know if you’ve seen that great film Pay It Forward where a guy starts a chain of acts of kindness where each person is affected by what happens to THEM so they do something nice for the NEXT person. I think it may not be entirely legal but someone last week gave me a ticket for the car park which still had a couple of hours on it, and that was really nice. You could maybe even do something anonymous for a known person, like for example leave some chocolates for the cleaner with a thank-you note. There’s a person in England who is making knitted graffiti, and putting it on fences and trees in the middle of the night. We are assuming it’s a sixty-year old-woman, but we don’t really know, and whoever it is is making the world just a little bit nicer, a bit more fun, a bit more interesting – well done them!
So what I’m saying in this section is that it’s possible to get quite a bit of happiness from interacting in a friendly way with people you don’t even know, as you go about your business.
Action plan: It’s hard to plan, it’s more a question of taking the opportunities when they come up. But I think it’s still worth taking a couple of minutes now to think about WHO you know who could do with some appreciation, and which SITUATIONS – the train, the bus stop, the lift, the lunch queue, the airport, etc – where you could make an effort to interact with others in a more positive way.
A bad boss can massively reduce the happiness in your overall life.
Your options if you have a bad boss (and there are plenty of bad bosses out there!)
- join the “Oh sod it” club and cease to care about your work (BAD IDEA!)
- leave and look for another job (this is better than the first option, which consists of giving up on 5/7ths of your life, but needs a bit of planning. Maybe quietly start looking for other jobs before you resign!)
- try to change your bosses habits (it’s best to try this first – you’ve still got the previous option in reserve if this one doesn’t work out)
So the first thing to try is to ask your boss ‘to help you to perform better’, by asking them to communicate more with you (“Please could we have a five-minute meeting every Monday morning so I can be brought up to date with what’s going on”) and to involve you more in decisions – and maybe even to thank you occasionally: you could call this ‘giving you more feedback on performance, including the positive side of things.’
This won’t always be easy, but it’s important enough to be essential. And remember if you don’t succeed in changing how your boss behaves it’s much better to leave than to do the job without caring.
Action plan: what are you going to do about improving the relationship you have with your boss, or the way your boss behaves towards you, starting today?
Is there some way you could get the ratio of days off to days worked from 2-5 to 3-4, or even 4-3? That change in ratio would make a huge difference to the time you spend with friends, and therefore your overall happiness.
This could be by working part time for less money, or working longer days, both of which have a price, but maybe it would be worth paying this price?
Also, flexibility of hours might make the work more enjoyable. To have some long days where you work late in order to deal with a crisis, and then some short days where you go home early, is a much better mix than just the same every day.
Action plan: what can you do to increase the flexibility in your hours?
How much time do you get for yourself in the evenings after work? Maybe an hour or two?
Let’s say you get one hour, in between cooking your dinner, doing some housework, and bedtime.
This means that if you stay on late at work for just half an hour you have HALVED your free time in the evening. Or if you could leave work an hour earlier you’d have doubled your free time that day.
So a small increase in working hours means a big decrease in time at home, and it’s therefore really important to push back against longer working hours if you’re going to maximize your happiness. However good work is, and I hope it IS good, you need that time outside work, if only to recharge your batteries for the next day at work.
Of course sometimes you’ll need to stay on late at work to finish something or to deal with a lump in the workload, and that’s fine – essential in fact, if you have any loyalty at all to your employment.
But if you regularly work long hours then a) there’s something wrong – you’re not coping, and b) you actually won’t achieve any more, you won’t get more done, you’ll just be pacing yourself to work a longer, less efficient day. People who work longer hours don’t achieve any more!
But what if you feel under pressure to work longer hours than you want to, longer hours than is good for you?
- Make sure you are measured by results rather than by hours worked – this may require you suggesting that things are made measurable, which I know may sound scary but it’s for the best.
- Get everything done in the allotted time by saying no to some things, negotiating over resources and deadlines and who does what, delegating more, having more organised systems, and being less of a perfectionist on the unimportant things. Some combination of these five choices is almost certainly the answer for you.
- If your boss is checking on you: vary your hours so you’re hard to track, vary the location of your work so you’re hard to track, vary where you park your car, leave your jacket on your chair, arrive and leave at odd hours, so you’re hard to track.
- Be assertive – say you’re going at 5 today because you are going to your daughter’s dancing show, or whatever – tell them why you’re going which gives you an excuse to casually mention that you ARE going at 5.
- If necessary confront your boss and ask if your performance is OK and that you would rather be measured on performance than hours. The way you want to work is to work really hard and productively but not into the evenings and weekends. Be prepared to look for another job if necessary – your life is too important!
Finally, did you know that every half hour you commute to work each day reduces your happiness by 10%? So if you drive an hour each way to work that’s a 20% reduction in our happiness, and two hours each way is 40%! This is presumably because of the reduced time you get at home with your loved ones and doing what you want to do, as well as the stress and the boredom.
So if you are commuting more than an hour your really should think about changing either where you work or where you live!
Some people compartmentalise their home and work because they don’t want to think about work when they are not at work. But this worries me. Is their work really so awful?
Besides, with increasing technology we will be working at home some of the time. You may well be on call much of the time with mobiles etc, working flexible hours, maybe doing several part-time, self-employed jobs, and the borders will inevitably be blurred between work and non-work.
My personal view is “blur the edges” and be happy with a life that’s a mixture of “work” and “play”. Why can’t work be play? Why can’t play earn money or contribute to “work” in some way? If I take a call from a customer when I’m in my beach hut, am I working when I should be enjoying the beach, or am I enjoying the beach while I work? You are what you do, so why not just be one person and combine it all, and be happy with that?
But I do want to stress that blurring the edges is completely different to letting work take over your personal life. It’s very important to keep the time you spend on work under control (see previous section).
Being organised is the foundation that you build your happiness on, it’s a pre-requirement of happiness along with health and security – and being disorganised certainly can be annoying for both other people and yourself, as you forget things you wanted to do, and you waste time that could have been spent on things that give you more happiness.
If your happiness is going to come largely from a mix of enjoyment and achievement then you will need to find time now for the things you enjoy doing, and time and organisation to do the work now for the achievements later.
Action plan: Being organised means having the following:
- Master list of things you need to do, at some point
- List of big goals that you would like to do
- Daily ‘jobs to do’ list, for all the small stuff
- Diary for all time-fixed appointments and tasks
- Tidy working environment
- Efficient systems for the “poo of life” – all the boring admin and hassle that has to be done.
- a place for everything and everything in its place – no more looking for scissors or screenwash, socks or a spoon, your car keys or a pen
- systems for repeating jobs – no wasted time composing standard letters, no more running out of printer ink and you don’t have a spare cartridge
- problems fixed at source so they are not allowed to repeat – no more cars that sometimes don’t start, or customers complaining about quality
- checklists – no more forgetting to pack something or running out of toilet rolls
- and consider delegating everything that is boring or routine or a waste of your abilities – why cut your own hedge when it takes all day and someone can do it for £35?? Unless you enjoy doing it of course!
Basically all this comes under Time Management, which is a big separate subject. There are many excellent books on it. But do the above and you’ll have made a great start.
Happiness is linked to feeling in control, and in this modern world there are so MANY things going on that it’s hard to feel in control. There is more multi-tasking than ever, and multi-channels of information – there are emails coming in at the same time as texts, phone calls, and the occasional bit of paper. Not to mention facebook, instagram, twitter, linked in, eBay etc…
And our lives are getting more complicated too – many people have more than one part-time job, are running little business in their spare time, and are commuting further, or working remotely some of the time – maybe working remotely on several projects at once.
So the result is that we are juggling lots of half-finished projects and our jobs-to-do lists are getting longer, on multiple fronts. I’m feeling stressed just thinking about it!
So for mental peace of mind a great starting point is to make a master list of everything – all the things that you need to do, at some point. This will give you a nice feeling of control, since you can then see how much there is, and can start to plan when you’ll do it.
What would this list look like? Well, a piece of paper would be pretty good, or a Word document, or you could use one of many apps on your smart phone or tablet. Or you could put them all into Outlook if that’s what you use, or, if you’re a bit more OCD like me, you could put them into an Excel spreadsheet, and you could even have columns for when they are due, how important they are, and which project they are part of. Then you could keep an eye on things that are getting urgent, remembering also to do some important things rather than just urgent ones, and also make sure that you don’t neglect any one area in favour of others.
By the way, I don’t do ANY of those! But I DO have a master list. Mine is in the form of a mind map on a whiteboard on my wall at home. I do admit that it’s a bit odd to have a whiteboard on the wall of my home, but it’s REALLY useful. I also like mind maps on the iPad, where you can move things around with your finger, but I find that if it’s on a computer or tablet I sometimes forget about it, I forget to look at it, whereas if it’s on my wall I can see it there all the time. So my mindmap has branches for work, the house, holidays, and the band I’m in, and then within, say, work, there are e-learning courses I’m writing, articles I’m writing, people I’m coaching, e-learning ideas that I’m working on, etc – and you can imagine what might be the sub-branches within those.
It’s my raw material for planning my time – which job shall I do next?
Of course I might even decide to put most of it off for ages, but at least I know that it’s on my list and I’m not going to forget it.
Sometimes I look at it and think “Good grief, I’ll never get all this done!” but mainly I look at it and think “Yup, all the plates are spinning OK, although that one over there needs a bit of attention this week, I’ll put a note in my diary”. So it gives me a feeling of control, and I can make sure that, say, holidays, don’t get squeezed out by work, which could easily happen if I didn’t deliberately make sure it didn’t.
Action plan: Make a master list of everything you’re doing – mind map or list, computer or paper, whatever you prefer. You’ll find that it only takes ten minutes, and it feels good to capture everything. And then once you’ve got it, it takes minimal effort to keep it up to date, and it feels good to be in control of your life, now that you can see the big picture. And of course you can make sure that some happiness-generating activities are on the list, and that they get done. They might be FUN things like holidays, or ACHIEVEMENT things like projects, but either way this master list will help get a bit more happiness into your life. Write it today!
Action plan: Make a big list of everything that you would LIKE to do at some point. This will be fun to write!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to do any of it yet, but the main thing is that you’ve got it captured.
Then, when ready, you can put bits of some of these things into your diary; or just the first step towards some of them.
This next happiness idea is a little bit Zen-like – it’s to Simplify your life.
It’s harder to relax and to be creative and to be happy if there are choices, and decisions to make – and half-finished projects sitting around putting us under stress.
So this section is about clearing the decks, and getting to a point where there’s nothing hassling you, it’s all neat and tidy in your head, no loose ends.
I’m not talking about THINGS in your working or living environment, that’s the subject of a different part of this book. No I’m talking about psychological loose ends, parts of your life that are messy, problems that need to be solved, and projects that are not finished. Where are we going to go on holiday this summer? Should we replace the car or not, it’s starting to get unreliable? Helping with the kids’ club that’s not really any fun any more but you can’t quite bring yourself to quit, even though you want to. The three books you’re half way through and don’t really want to finish any of them, so you’re about to start another one. That half-finished boat that you’re restoring that’s been parked on the drive for a year now and you haven’t worked on it AT ALL for the last three months.
It would feel great to clear all this mental clutter, to just be working on one thing. Someone recently told me that multi-tasking is really multi-failing, and I really like that. Certainly the human brain seems to work best when it’s focussing on one thing, uncluttered by anything else, and being in a state of flow where we are totally engrossed in just one thing is highly correlated with happiness.
So, the options for the half-finished things are:
First, make a list of all of them so you can do some planning. Next, decide if any of them can be ditched – throw those half-read books away, clearly you’re not enjoying them or you’d have finished them by now. Maybe the kids’ club can also be ditched – overcome your procrastination, be assertive, and tell them you’re going to have to quit, perhaps giving them a few weeks to find a replacement. Next, can they be delegated – can you pay someone to fix that boat up for you? I know it’s money, but it’ll be worth it for the pleasure you’ll have from it once it’s done, and the resale value will maybe pay it back.
Next, can the small ones be tackled right away – let’s spend an hour this evening picking a holiday destination, and then it’s done. We won’t book it for a month in case we think of somewhere better, but we’ll decide where we are going to go, and then the decision is made, and if inertia means we don’t think of anywhere better within a month then fine, it’s decided.
Next is to diarise an action if you can’t do it right away – plan to phone someone about the boat on Monday, plan to confront the Kids’ Club leader on Tuesday evening, and put in your diary to book the holiday in a month’s time. So now you know that you DON’T have to think about it NOW, and it won’t get forgotten – you can put it out of your mind.
Finally, if it’s big, at least make a plan for how you’re going to do it. This is project management really – break it down into tasks and put them into your diary (don’t worry I probably wouldn’t go as far as a Gantt chart, although maybe….. and check me out on YouTube if you don’t know what one of those is!) but the point is that once you’ve got a plan broken down and spread through your diary then it’s probably going to happen, and you can relax about it, you can get it out of your mind so it’s no longer clogging up your thought processes. You can visit the car dealer on Saturday to look at options, google eBay on Sunday to find out about prices, work out the costs of the various options on a great big spreadsheet on Wednesday evening, ask Dave for his opinion at work on Friday, go for some test drives the weekend after… so that’s the car problem sorted.
Action plan: What are the loose ends that you’ve got in your life, that are clogging up your brain, and which of the above options are you going to use to get rid of them?
I used to think Time Management was all about arriving just one minute before the meeting, and that getting there earlier was wasted time. But actually, it’s much better to be 15 minutes early to appointments, and if you’re driving then allow maybe even 45 minutes extra – because then you have no stress at all. And it’s not just about stress – the time you have when you get there early isn’t wasted, in fact you might find it’s the best bit of your day, …talking to people you wouldn’t normally talk to, or going for a walk and thinking, maybe enjoying a few minutes of sunshine, or looking at the view. Or if the people and the view are both boring – heaven forbid – you can at least do some emails on your phone and get ahead of the game a little. So arriving early gives you a great feeling of control, almost peace in your life
…and it took me years to realise this!
By the way, arriving early is SO important that if you get waylaid – let’s say you are walking through the offices to get to the meeting early, and someone stops you, saying “Hey Chris, can I just ask your opinion on this?” – it’s really tempting to say “No problem, I’m ahead of schedule, I’ve got 5 minutes – (which will turn into TEN by the way)” – but No! Don’t do that! Remember that if you hadn’t happened to be passing they wouldn’t have had this conversation with you, so it’s not really that vital, so you should say to them “Sorry Dave, I’m just on my way to a meeting, but shall I call you in the afternoon and we can talk about it then?” Keep that time buffer – you MUST get to the meeting early, not exactly on time.
Action plan: What’s your next appointment, and how can you make sure that you get there nice and early?
Holidays are enjoyable partly because we have the time to do the things we really enjoy.
So maybe you could get more time in your normal non-holiday life by getting rid of the filler and the bad stuff – see the next few pages.
Action plan: Plan some chunks of time in your diary to do the things you really like doing.
You may need to make a list of these things you enjoy.
Then spread them through the coming months while your diary is still fairly empty, and then fill it up round them, keeping them in there.
This next happiness suggestion is one that you can easily do, and it could really change your life because it’ll help you to set your goals and then work on achieving them.
It’s to set up a Mastermind Group – this is a group of like-minded positive people, who meet perhaps once a month, to discuss their situations and make plans, to help each other to solve problems and come up with ideas, to vet each other’s ideas – are they feasible really? – and then to hold each other to account: Did you do what you said you were going to do? You were going to reduce your TV watching or help out at a charity or start going to the gym – but did you?
The objective is to build each other up, and help each other to do great things, rather than drag each other down by criticising. It’s got to be supportive and encouraging – how can each person in the group be great, what do they want to do with their lives and how can the others help them to do it? What’s their direction, what are the steps to get there, how can they overcome the barriers, what help do they need?
So at the start you decide who you want to invite – only positive people are allowed, no cynics or critics or pessimists or victims – and at the start you declare the purpose of the group and agree the ground rules.
Will people think you’re weird inviting them? Probably! But who cares, it’ll be great. Do you need to keep minutes? Yes, I think so, just some notes so that you can see if people have done what they said they would do. Does it need a chair person to run it? Yes I think so, but this could perhaps be someone different each time.
Where should you meet? Well it could be at someone’s house, that would probably be best, though you don’t want young children distracting you. I have a millionaire’s curry club that I’ve started, where we meet at an Indian Restaurant every now and then and help each other with problems and questions, to do with work or just our lives generally. Anyone can bring a problem to the table. I have invited all the people I know that are a) rich and b) that I like. I’m the only one who isn’t a millionaire, and I’m hoping some of their thinking and attitude will rub off on me! So far it’s been fascinating, as well as great fun.
Action plan: Make a list of the positive, successful people that you could invite, and then invite them all to your house or to a restaurant. Maybe once they are all there you can reveal why you’ve invited them, and see if they are up for it. At the very worst you can all just have a meal and a good laugh, but just possibly this could be the start of a really life-changing regular event.
In order to achieve any goal you will have to pay a price. For example, to win a race you might have to train every day, getting up early in the morning to go for a run, whatever the weather.
If you let the price get too big in your mind you’ll lose sight of the goal
and then you’ll stop paying the price, and so you won’t achieve the goal.
Also, you spend 99% of your time on the price and only 1% at the goal – for example 99% of your time climbing the mountain and only 1% admiring the view from the summit. So you’ve got to enjoy the price.
Action plan: Here are four ways to make the price easier to pay:
- Make it a game, make it fun in some way
- Find a way to do it more efficiently or more easily
- Keep the goal in sight at all times – it’s your main source of motivation
- Tell yourself that you enjoy it. Don’t grumble internally. If you can’t enjoy it, don’t do it, but get a different or better goal.
A few years ago I read a great book by Tim Gallwey called The Inner Game of Tennis. In fact just before I finished writing this I checked on amazon and you can get it second hand for 1p in the UK and 15 cents in the US, which is a total bargain. Anyway, something I read in this little book changed my life, and I want to share it with you.
In the book he explains that there are only three reasons to play tennis, …or to do anything really, – and two of them are false!
The first reason to do something, and to try to become GOOD at something, is Competition – to beat other people. You might want to get better at tennis in order to beat other people. And it DOES feel good to win a match, so you might think that THAT is a route to increasing your happiness. But you’d be wrong, because you’ll never beat everyone – and if you win only 50% of your matches you might well come out with an overall feeling of UNhappiness. Hmm.. Unless you pick on WEAK opponents, then you could win ALL your matches…. but then where’s the achievement? It’s like kids cheating to win, what’s the point? You’ll know in your heart of hearts that it’s not really an achievement at all. So – trying to beat other people is a road to nowhere, and I’m saying don’t even start going down that road, just enjoy whacking the ball around, enjoy those few good shots, and enjoy having fun. Enjoy an excitingly close match, whoever wins. Forget competition, in tennis, squash, houses, second houses, kids, cookery, lawnmowers, cars, earnings, languages you speak, holidays you go on, whatever – believe me, it’s a road to nowhere and there’s no point in even going down it.
The second reason for doing something, for trying to get better at something, is Mastery – to try to master it. But if you play tennis with the intention of mastering it then you’ll never be happy, because however many lessons you have you’ll never succeed in mastering it. Even Roger Federer, probably the greatest player of all time, hasn’t completely mastered tennis – sorry Roger, but you know it’s true. There’s always one more shot to learn, one more angle that’s slightly more difficult. He works every day on improving, but he still can’t do every shot, and he never will. Is he unhappy about the shots he can’t reliably achieve? I hope not! It’s tricky, because he does need to have the urge to improve in order to be the best, but he mustn’t let it make him feel unhappy, to the point where he no longer enjoys the game. I suppose in the case of Federer, if he doesn’t enjoy tennis any more but still makes lots of money then you might think that’s OK, but in the case of you or me I think we MUST enjoy it, otherwise what’s the point? And I do hope that Roger does still enjoy playing – he doesn’t need the money, and he’s certainly proved himself, so I’d like to think he’s having some fun now. It seems much more important to enjoy doing it, than how good you are at it.
And the third reason to play tennis, or the sax, or to do anything in life, is to Enjoy the shots, to enjoy hitting the right note on the sax, even if you only get a great one once in a match or once in a gig, that great moment makes it all worth it. I sometimes only manage one good shot in a whole match of tennis, but that one shot makes it worth it!
So the conclusion of all of this is to let go of competitiveness and let go of mastery – do things because you enjoy them, and focus on the good bits and savour those.
So I’d like you to ask yourself: Am I too obsessive about trying to master anything? Because you never will!
Action plan: Ask yourself: Am I too competitive about anything? Because you’ll never beat everyone.
What would it be like to let go of competing and mastering, and just play for the fun of it? Paint for the fun of it? Play music for the fun of it? Sell for the fun of it? Run for the fun of it. Run a company for the fun of it? THAT would be interesting. And quite possibly you’d end up being more successful than you expected, because you were starting from the right point.
I once met Eddie Lockjaw Davis, one of the greatest tenor sax players ever and one of my idols, famous for his rasping tone and the fact that he plays all his solos with his eyes open, and he told me he prefers playing SNOOKER to playing the sax! He said he was BORED with the sax, he just plays it because people want him to, and I thought that was really sad. But he’s getting lots of enjoyment, happiness really, from his snooker. Why would this be? Could it be that he’s not learning anything new on the sax now? He’s pretty much mastered it or at least the improvements are getting smaller and smaller now, whereas his improvements at snooker are moving on really fast. An hour on the sax or an hour on the snooker table – if learning is what drives you then the snooker will give you more happiness if you’re Eddie. As I mentioned in the previous section, don’t learn snooker in order to beat other people, or to master it 100%, but enjoy the process of learning about it, and being able to make enjoyable shots.
Leaving aside the fact that Eddie Lockjaw Davis brings much more happiness to ME by playing the sax for me than he does playing snooker, if HE wants to maximise his happiness he should dabble in snooker as well as the sax. Play the sax occasionally, sure, and enjoy making the crowd happy, but also dabble in lots of things you’re not very good at. Even if you get more happiness from being good at something, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, there are diminishing returns – getting up from 80% to 90% takes a lot of effort, during which you could be messing around at 30% on something else and pulling in a whole lot more happiness. You might improve from 30% to 50%, or you might just stay at 30% but enjoy it – either way it’s better than trying to get to that elusive 100% on the thing that you’re best at.
My son was saying to me the other day that he regrets not playing tennis more seriously at school – he’s 25 now and looking back and thinking that he could have been really pretty good if he’d applied himself. But I’m thinking, he probably wouldn’t have been world champion, yes he might have been the best player in the club, maybe, or certainly a player who could be proud of how good he was, but at what cost? The opportunity cost of missing out on all that time he spent on the beach with his friends, and chatting up girls in bars, and going mountain-biking with me. In that alternative universe where he focussed on tennis, would he have been happier? We’ll never know, but I certainly don’t think he should regret a thing.
I never got very good at tennis either, but I did get reasonably good at squash, and what I found was that…
- a) it was harder to find someone to play with
- b) the games were more and more competitive
- c) I didn’t win any more often (I just played against better opponents)
- d) I still cursed myself for missing important shots
- e) Squash was squeezing out some of the other activities in my life
- f) It just wasn’t fun any more
I found that I actually enjoyed it less as I got better at it!
The good news is that you can start enjoying the game pretty early on (there probably has to be an initial stage where you learn to hit the ball).
Even if the enjoyment didn’t drop off with skill, there is still a diminishing return to be gained from getting really good at something because of the opportunity cost – the time which you could have used on other (fun) things.
And even if getting better at something increases the enjoyment you get from it, the time you need to get really good will mean that you can do less of the other things you enjoy.
Your overall happiness will be reduced.
Here’s an example:
|Option 1: Attempted mastery|
|time allocated to:||amount of happiness|
|even more tennis|
|Option 2: Dabbling butterfly|
|time allocated to:||amount of happiness|
I know I’ll never be the best saxophone player in the world, or better than Eddie Lockjaw Davis – or even be better than my friend Dave.
And I know I’ll never master the instrument.
But who cares? I can still enjoy making a noise, and enjoy those moments when I manage to play something that feels just right.
And this is a pleasure that I wouldn’t have had at all if I was obsessively trying to get to the top of the squash league.
So the perhaps surprising conclusion of this section is that you’ll get more happiness by dabbling in lots of things rather than spending all your time getting really good at one thing. Whack a tennis ball around, go and blow a sax, and then paint a painting – that’s much better than having loads of tennis lessons to the exclusion of everything else, and still not being able to beat everyone. Get onto some training courses on photography or recording your own music, or learn about art or meditation or futures dealing, or maybe painting, dancing, badminton, pottery, sculpture, singing, poetry writing – whatever you fancy, and enjoy the feeling of learning about lots of things.
Action plan: What are you already good enough at, and then what else could you take up, and dabble in?
Summary of the 87 actions
- Get some thinking time each day.
- Let go of the past (brooding, regretting, or wishing you were there again).
- Avoid dwelling on negative possibilities: if you think about them enough, they’ll probably happen!
- Reduce your TV watching – read instead, or have one no-TV night per week. Or a rule that says “No TV after a certain time of night” – if good programmes are on after that then you can always record them.
- Keep your working hours under control. Don’t work long hours on a regular basis (although occasionally is OK). Be assertive about working hours– say you’re going at 5 today because you are going to your daughter’s dancing show, or whatever
- Show your boss a list of what you believe your job to be, in priority order, with your own favourites at the top, and hope that they agree with it or don’t make too many changes to your order. Consider being open with your boss about the direction you want to go in, and ask for more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
- At work: make sure you are measured by results rather than by hours worked
- Commuting: did you know that every half hour you commute to work each day reduces your happiness by 10%? If you are commuting more than an hour your really should think about changing either where you work or where you live!
- Set up efficient systems for the “poo of life” – all the boring admin and hassle that has to be done.
- a place for everything and everything in its place – no more looking for scissors or screenwash, socks or a spoon, your car keys or a pen
- systems for repeating jobs – no wasted time composing standard letters, no more running out of printer ink and you don’t have a spare cartridge
- problems fixed at source so they are not allowed to repeat – no more cars that sometimes don’t start, or customers complaining about quality
- checklists – no more forgetting to pack something or running out of toilet rolls
- Consider delegating anything that is boring or routine or a waste of your abilities – in your personal life this could mean paying people to do the chores.
- Make a master list of everything you’re doing – mind map or list, computer or paper, whatever you prefer. This is a list of everything you HAVE to do – everything that you have promised you’ll do. You don’t know when, but you WILL do it.
- Also, different to the above, make a big list of everything that you would LIKE to do at some point. This will be fun to write!
- Tackle your small jobs to do right away – let’s spend an hour this evening getting rid of most of them
- Write into your diary any actions that you can’t do right away – so you know that you DON’T have to think about them NOW, and they won’t get forgotten – you can put them out of your mind.
- If something is big and weighing on your mind, at least make a plan for how you’re going to do it. This is project management really – break it down into tasks and put them into your diary – you can relax about it, you can get it out of your mind so it’s no longer clogging up your thought processes.
- What are the loose ends that you’ve got in your life, that are clogging up your brain, and how are you going to use to get rid of them?
- Plan some chunks of time in your diary to do the things you really like doing. Spread them through the coming months, in the future where your diary is still fairly empty
- Every day write a jobs-to-do list: ideally this would be written the evening before, this helps you commit yourself to doing the task, and reminds you to use any spare time on jobs on the list rather than wasting it.
- Start the day with a tough one: rather than thinking about an unpleasant task all day, get it over with, and feel smug. Make this a habit: one tough job at the start of each day.
- Novelty: try some things that are easy but different to what you normally do. Eat at a different restaurant. Walk the dog in a new place. Accept that offer of your friends to go cycling or on a boat trip. Or plan a barbeque in the woods at midnight….
- Have a review of your personal life and your work – are they both exciting enough, and is at least one of them a challenge? Make sure that at least one of your personal goals is a challenge that will take you out of your personal comfort zone.
- Think of a challenge you’d like to set yourself. Promise yourself (or someone else!) that you’re going to do it. Arrange to do it WITH someone else so it’s harder to back out. Or at least make a small step towards it – buy the trainers for your marathon. Or book your place in the marathon….