It is no secret that successful people are happy. But how do we get to the success? And what about being happy even in the midst of struggle? Researchers all around the globe have studied how achievement works and its relationship to happiness. Today I will to share three different models for success and two practical exercises to bring more achievement into your life.
The Sustainable Happiness Model
We all know goals are good to have. But what kinds of goals are most effective?
Ever gotten a runner’s high? Professional or college cross country runners will tell you that the more a runner trains, the longer they have to run before the endorphins kick in. There are two psychological concepts that apply the same idea to the broader scope of our everyday lives. And appropriately, both are called “treadmills”:
- The satisfaction treadmill says that when you successfully improve your life circumstances, you encounter raised expectations and standards, and you start to take other positive aspects of your life for granted.
- The hedonic treadmill tells us that sometimes even when those standards aren’t increased, we still start to devalue the good things in life.
So what do we do about that? Just be more grateful? Sure, that’s one answer. Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests another. Her Sustainable Happiness Model (SHM) is composed of two hypotheses, one for each treadmill:
- Rather than having goals to change your life circumstances (e.g. health, income, the place you live), it is better to change your current activities (e.g. exercising regularly, accentuating the positive, trying to gain admission to a graduate program). These activities must require “a will and a proper way”. In other words, you have to be explicitly aware of what you hope to achieve and have a plausible way to achieve it.
- Create goals that sustain an inflow of rewarding experiences over time.
Let me tell you a little more about setting effective goals. Self-Determination Theory says that all humans have three basic needs in order to thrive. These are:
- Autonomy: needing to feel that one owns and agrees with one’s behavior.
- Competence: needing to feel that one can do things well or at least improve
- Relatedness: needing to feel meaningfully connected to other people.
Lyubomirsky and her colleagues conducted a six-month study to test the effectiveness of goals supporting autonomy, competence and relatedness. They compared three goal-setting groups to a control group which was directed to only change its circumstances. After two months, all three goal-achieving groups were happier overall in than the control group, as long as they achieved their goals. In other words, this works!
Hope Theory and Positive Psychology Exercises
Charles R. Snyder developed a unique perspective he called hope theory. He defined hope as “the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways”. A high-hope person pursuing a specific goal thinks of one plausible route and has a strong sense of confidence in this route. High-hope individuals often repeat mantras like “I can do this,” or “I cannot be stopped.”
How do we increase our hope and thus the level of accomplishment? Try one of these effective writing exercises:
- Count Your Blessings: Write about the many things in your life, both large and small, that you have to be grateful about. We sometimes believe that gratitude brings satisfaction and thus complacency, but it can actually bring an optimistic view of life and one’s future and thus be a great motivator.
- Visualize Your Best Possible Self: Imagine and write about yourself in the future as someone who has worked hard and accomplished all your life goals. This one is especially effective.
Repeat one of these exercises at least twice in two weeks, and the research says you be happier and more hopeful. In both of these exercises, you create your world simply by recognizing who you are and what you can become. This will give you renewed determination to turn this world into an even greater reality.
Sheldon, Kennon M.; Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2006). Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(1).
Sheldon, K. M., Abad, N., Ferguson, Y., Gunz, A., Houser-Marko, L., Nichols, C. P., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2010). Persistent pursuit of need-satisfying goals leads to increased happiness: A 6-month experimental longitudinal study. Motivation And Emotion, 39-48.
Synder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.