Five things you can do to be happier right now

Professor Paul Dolan at the 2015 Hay Festival

This post by  appeared in the Telegraph on May 31, 2015

Earning more money; bagging the fabulous job you have always wanted or travelling the world might seem like the key to happiness.

But according to happiness expert Prof Paul Dolan, making simple changes are the key to bringing joy and purpose into your life.

Dolan, a professor at the London School of Economics and government advisor on how to make the population more contented, claims that many of the things people believe will make them happy are fleeting and can actually alter their lives in a negative way.

So although that coveted promotion may seem like the key happiness, it is likely to bring longer hours, more stress and a bigger commute. Likewise travelling the world will separate people from loved ones. And after a salary of £50,000, studies have shown nobody gets any happier with extra cash.

However he has identified five ways to be immediately happier. They are:

  1. Listening to a favourite piece of music
  2. Spending five more minutes with someone you like
  3. Going outdoors
  4. Helping someone else
  5. Having a new experience

Speaking at The Hay Festival, Prof Dolan said: “It’s important to change what you do, not how you think.

“You should listen to music that you like listening to. That has a substantial effect on your mood. Your brain literally lights up. There is no other stimulation like music to arouse the brain.

“You spend five minutes more with someone you like and go outdoors. And helping someone is important. Helping other people is a very selfish thing to do. It’s a great source of happiness for you. Just randomly help someone and see the difference.

“And having a new experience is really important. The great thing about new experiences is they actually slow time down. It’s why life feels so slow for children because they are experiencing new things all the time. So if you want to slow down time then have as many new experiences as you can.”

Prof Dolan also advocates the importance of ‘priming’ and suggests changing passwords to affirmations to help keep goals in the memory. So if someone wanted to stop spending money they could change their banking password to ‘stopspendingcash’.

Making public promises is also a good way at achieving goals, Prof Dolan recommends. So announcing a plan to lose weight, give up smoking or stop drinking so much on Twitter makes people more likely to keep it up.

He believes it is important to ‘design’ an environment which makes happiness goals more achievable, even it means cutting yourself off from friends who promote bad habits.

“Most things we do are made through habit and auto-pilot because the brain is forming habit-loops all the time to make us more efficient. It’s why you can’t remember if you have locked the house or switched the gas off.

“So it’s important to design an environment that makes happiness possible. Willpower won’t work. You need to make it easier to yourself. You need to think what makes you happy and work out how to change your environment to allow you do to that more easily.

“So if going to the pub with friends makes you happy then make it once a week on a Tuesday or once a month, because it’s far harder to opt out of something than to opt in.”

“Most things we think will make us happy won’t. We’re really always happier if we are focussing on the person we are with and the thing we are doing right now. So make that something you enjoy.”

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