Pursuing a happiness goal

When I started working at Stanford, I was immediately drawn to an initiative called Be Well. Be Well is a program that helps employees improve their overall wellness. The program starts with an online health assessment followed by a meeting with a Be Well consultant. After that, Stanford employees can complete various health and wellness activities— an exercise class, a healthy living class, consultations with personal trainers, etc.— and get money back in their paychecks for completing these activities.

To date, I have completed the wellness assessment, a fitness evaluation, a well visit with my doctor, and a healthy living class. I want to focus on the latter for a few minutes. The class I took was a 1-hour seminar on happiness. The speaker, casually sitting on the desk 80s-sitcom-cool-teacher-style, walked us through characteristics of happy people, visualization exercises, group chats, and more. Having gone into the the class with a somewhat snarky attitude, I was surprised how much resonated with me. From the talk, I took away a reminder to be intentional about happiness. Happy people are happy because they work at and are intentional about being happy. I was reminded of Dan Gilbert’s TED talk on synthetic happiness and how we can create synthetic happiness by being mindful of the human tendency to overestimate the positive or negative impact of possible futures. Here’s the video if you want to learn more about the fascinating research on synthetic happiness.

After I attended the workshop, the Be Well program sent me a follow-up email asking me to write a happiness goal about which they will check in with me weekly. I see this as the Be Well administrators’ attempt to help me synthesize happiness by reminding me to stay mindful of the ways in which I can choose to be happy.

So here is my happiness goal: Every day at lunch, take 5 minutes to close my eyes and list (aloud or in my head) things for which I am grateful.

The point of this exercise is two-fold: 1) to give me a few minutes to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and relax; and 2) to appreciate what I have. As the seminar speaker said, “Unhappy people want what they can’t have; happy people want what they have.”

Today was my first day to start this exercise and (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised) it did not go so well. I started to do the exercise, then I got distracted, the room was too bright, someone was talking outside my office…you get the point. Today’s failure made me realize that this goal will be harder to attain than I thought. I will need to be more deliberate, giving it space both in my brain and in my heart. I am also writing this blog post as an accountability measure so hold me accountable!

I bet you can’t guess the first thing I list anytime I think about what I am grateful for. A hint: he has red hair and is feisty, just like his mama! And even though he is in another state (which is a reason for me to feel sad), I am finding ways to synthesize happiness by appreciating online communication tools (yay Google video chat) and planning the fun things we will do when he moves to California.

Do you have a happiness goal? What do you do to synthesize happiness? How do you stay accountable for the things you do to synthesize happiness?

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