Spread the Happiness

June 14, 2013

We have all heard that smiles are contagious.  Is that really the case?

There have been numerous studies that show that not only does a smile physiologically change your own mood, but it can also alter the mood of those around you.

A smile causes a shift in our brain chemistry that assists us in extending our lifespan by managing stress, reducing pain, lowering our heart rate, reducing blood pressure and acting as a natural anti-depressant.

An article in Psychology Today examines the impact a smile has on our brain.

“Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well”

If this isn’t enough reason to flash those pearly whites, consider the impact a smile has on those around you.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia illustrates that “attractive faces produced activation of medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a region involved in representing stimulus-reward value.  Responses in this region were further enhanced by a smiling facial expression…”  In layman’s terms, when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded.

This was illustrated through a Swedish study where participants were presented with images that expressed emotions of joy, anger, fear and surprise. Researchers asked subjects to frown when looking at the smiling images.  What they found was that the participants’ initial reaction was to mimic the expression they were presented with. It took conscious effort to accommodate the researcher’s request to frown.  Very simply put, smiles are contagious.

It was renowned psychologist and author Daniel Goleman Ph.D. who identified why this is.

“A previously unknown class of neurons — mirror neurons — acts like a neural Wi-Fi system, monitoring everything the other person is saying and doing.   Mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly.”

If you want to positively impact those around you, it isn’t enough to simply crack a smirk. Other studies have also shown that individuals will mimic the type of smile they are presented with.

In our society, we often smile in an effort to be polite whereas genuine smiles happen spontaneously and is an indicator of pleasure.  Observational studies demonstrated that strangers, getting to know one another, would always match the type of smile they received.  Additionally, they responded more readily to a genuine smile versus a polite smile.

“Similarly, participants in a lab-based study learned key-press associations for genuinely smiling faces faster than those for politely smiling faces. Data from electrical sensors on participants’ faces revealed that they engaged smile-related muscles when they expected a genuine smile to appear but showed no such activity when expecting polite smiles.

The different responses suggest that genuine smiles are more valuable social rewards. Previous research shows that genuine smiles promote positive social interactions, so learning to anticipate them is likely to be a critical social skill.”

So what if you don’t feel like smiling?  Fake it until you make it.  Research has shown that the act of smiling alone, can stimulate physiological responses that will ultimately turn that forced grin into a genuine smile.

Howstuffworks.com talks about this phenomenon by sharing the work of Robert Zajonc on the emotional effects of smiling.

“His subjects repeated vowel sounds that forced their faces into various expressions. To mimic some of the characteristics of a smile, they made the long “e” sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward. Other vowel sounds were also tested, including the long “u,” which forces the mouth into a pouty expression. Subjects reported feeling good after making the long “e” sound, and feeling bad after the long “u.”

The key to happiness (yours and others) may be as simple as a smile.  Or as Louis Armstrong would sing: “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

P.S.There is research that suggests that getting Botox injections might actually make you happier since you can no longer frown. Hmmm….

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Spend Your 24 Hours Wisely

June 7, 2013

Time is a fixed commodity.  We all get to enjoy the same 24 hours a day as everyone else.  But for some, this is not enough to do everything they want.

Therefore, whenever I am on the road and I am deciding how to spend my time, I ask, “Is this something I can only do here and now?”

For example, I was recently in San Francisco.  In comparison to the temperatures in Boston, the weather was warm enough to enjoy the beach. Therefore I took advantage of this luxury and stayed in a hotel near the ocean.

Conversely, I was in New York City a few days later where the beach wasn’t an attractive option, but it offered other unique opportunities.

By focusing on the things I can only do here and now helps me decide what is the best way to use my time.

A lot of people enjoy activities like dancing at nightclubs. But I know I can go clubbing almost anywhere.  Many like to shop when they are on the road, but I can do that anywhere as well (unless it is to buy something unique from that area).

What are the things that you can’t do elsewhere; that you can only do where you are right now?

It might be taking advantage of the weather or your geographic location (unique food options, area-specific landmarks). It might be leveraging the time of year (e.g., special events at Christmas time in New York City). And don’t forget to take advantage of the people around you. (Ok, that last point didn’t sound exactly right, but you know what I mean.) I try to see my friends when on the road, because if I don’t, I won’t see them at all.

Think about each day, even when you were home. What are the things that you can only do right now? What are the things you can only do certain times of year? While this won’t give you more time, it may make the time that you have significantly more valuable.

P.S. This concept applies to innovation too. Many companies try to do everything, and as a result do nothing well. Focus your energies on things you do better than anyone else that create exceptional customer value. Stop doing everything else, and find partners others who can do it better than you.

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Appreciate, Don’t Accumulate (transcription)

February 12, 2013

Here is the transcription of yesterday’s video

This week I’m going to talk about ways that you can work a heck of a lot less, while having a much better life.

On Wednesday, I’m going to talk about a philosophy that I call the “20/80/80 principle.” It’s a way for extracting the greatest amount of value out of what you’re doing, with the least amount of effort, thus freeing you up to do other things.

Now, if you’re going to use this general mindset of freeing yourself up, you need to recognize that it’s not just about making more money. It’s also about freeing yourself up from the current burdens that you may have in terms of lifestyle, and some of the decisions you’ve made.

Back in 1999, I was living in New Jersey. I had a three-bedroom house. It was a gorgeous place. I had furniture. I had lots of great things. And then I moved to England. When I moved to England, I ended up moving into a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment. Because I was moving across the Atlantic, I didn’t want to bring a lot of things with me, so I really got rid of everything.

Everything that I owned literally fit into two boxes – my clothes, my belongings, anything that I needed. Now, of course, living in a furnished apartment was great, because I didn’t have to worry about furniture, dishes, and things of that nature. But I owned almost nothing.

I discovered back then, that there is this freedom, this liberation, that comes from not having a lot of things and from being able to actually live the simplest life possible. There’s less clutter around you, therefore, there are less things to worry about. And because you’re spending less money, you don’t have to worry about making as much money. It give you freedom.

We often hear the expression, necessity is the mother of invention. The reality is though, that when you work out of necessity, your invention is limited. When you come from a place of freedom where you’re able to start living the life as you want to live, you tap into true creativity.

Therefore, instead of accumulating, what you need to do is start appreciating.

What you want to do is simplify your life. You want to be able to look at how you spend your money. Look at your house. Look at your car.  And really ask yourself what would be the benefit of getting rid of them. Or downsizing to the point where you have less clutter and fewer financial obligations.

What you get out of that is more freedom. If you do this, it will then free you up to make completely different decisions with your life: how you choose to live your life and how you choose to work.

I know, for myself, having done this,that it is a liberating experience. By getting rid of things, you actually add to the positivity of your life and to the energy you’re able to create. Because you’re not innovating and creating from a place of need, desperation, or survival. Instead you are innovating from a perspective of freedom, pull, creativity, and passion.

So the first step to this is to really just take a hard look at your life and where you’re spending your money and what you have. And then ask yourself, “What do I really, truly need?” Once you do this, you can move onto the next step (which we’ll talk about Wednesday), which is a process and philosophy for being able to, not just free up your belongings, but free up your time.

When you free up your lifestyle and everything around you, and you free up your time, you then have this incredible freedom to truly create extraordinary things.

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Appreciate Don’t Accumulate

February 11, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie, shot in Las Vegas…

It is common for people to want more. We want a bigger house. A nicer car. Cooler furniture.

But sometimes the key to living a successful life is to want less; to focus on appreciation rather than accumulation.

The fewer things you have, the clearer your mind and the less you need to worry about money. This freedom enables you to be more innovative with your life.

Be sure to read Wednesday’s blog when I discuss the 20/80/80 principle for working less while making more.

Click here for a transcript of this video

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Podcast: Interview with Author of “The Antidote”

December 7, 2012

Today I am thrilled to share with you a 45 minute conversation between me and Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

I met Oliver several years ago. We got connected through a book review he did back in 2007 for the Guardian newspaper in England.

He opened his review by saying, “One of the most stress inducing books I’ve ever read is called GOALS!, by the management expert Brian Tracy.”  Reading this, given my contrarian perspective on goals-setting, I knew I was going to like this guy.

Oliver concluded his article by saying…

“Contrast that with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book Goal-Free Living makes the case that you can have some kind of sense of direction to your life without obsessing about the specific destination. ‘Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,’ he says. ‘While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful opportunities.’ That sounds a lot more smart to me.”  (For those in the goal-setting world, you will appreciate his last point as being a poke at the SMART goals, advocated by many)

After reading this, I immediately wrote Oliver, and soon after we met up in a pub in London. I quickly discovered that he has a contrarian perspective on so many aspects of personal development. And he has a great (dry) sense of humor.  I knew we would get along great.

Fast forward 5 years (after several meetings in pubs on both sides of the “pond”), Oliver wrote The Antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read a book. And I was not disappointed.  After devouring it on my Kindle, I asked Oliver if he would do a podcast with me.  Fortunately he kindly agreed. We did not discuss anything in advance. He did not give me questions to ask and I didn’t prepare any.  It was a totally goal-free, in the moment interview. I think you will agree, he has some pretty incredible perspectives.

You have three ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

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  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)
  • Read the transcription

Please share this with your friends.  I am sure that after listening to this, you will agree that this interview can have a profound impact on anyone who is addicted to positive thinking.

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How Playing a Game Changed My Life

October 22, 2012

In my book, “Goal-Free Living,” I talk about the importance of Seeking Out Adventure.  Trying new things is one avenue for enhancing your creativity.  As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect. Dots being ideas or experiences.”  He claims that people who are more creative have had more experiences.  Well, my sister has decided to be proactive about seeking out adventure.  But for her, it is not just about becoming more creative.  It is about enhancing her life.  It is a form of self discovery.  I asked her to document and share her perspectives in a guest blog entry.  So, with great pleasure, I would like to give you Deborah Shapiro’s new game…

Stepping out of a relationship is challenging, at least for me.  And after the conclusion of my most recent relationship there was a debilitating void.   I began to realize that my life’s activities had revolved around the individuals I had been with. Once alone, I had no idea what to do with myself.  Our friends were the same.   Our activities revolved around what he liked to do and I was happy to accommodate as I cared more about who I was with than with what we were doing.

I was left with an existential crisis on my hands.  Who am I?  What are MY passions?  What are the things that bring ME joy and happiness?  Why do I feel so alone?   I had no idea how to answer these simple questions that someone at the age of 45 should have long discovered.

After much consideration what I saw was  that I needed to take different actions to have the life I so desired; actions that would disrupt a very predictable future reminiscent of my past.

So, I decided to play a game.

The Rules:  Since I didn’t know what I really enjoyed doing nor understood where my passions lie, a fitting game to create was to take on a new activity every day.  The intention was for me to experiment with a whole new set of actions or do those things that I hadn’t done in a while. I would create a running list of items as they surfaced and would tick them off at the appropriate moments.

One of the essential rules created was that I would suspend all judgment of whether I would like the activity or not.  How could I know if I liked something if I hadn’t ever done it?  Additionally, I am at a different point in my life.  If I had tried something previously with limited success, perhaps now would be a more fitting time.

The Results (so far): Although it has only been a month since I started this game, the results have been staggering.  Life altering, to be frank.

Look at all these friends!

Due to the nature of the game, I had to reach beyond my traditional circle of friends so that I could be amongst others who were willing to participate in those activities I had identified.  In doing so, my circle of friends has grown exponentially.  My once quiet phone is now ringing off the hook with amazing individuals.  And surprisingly, those that I had thought were “not my type” have ended up being some of my most cherished friends.

This realization created a new rule:   In addition to not filtering activities based on my preconceived notions, I will no longer limit who I will do them with.

I had always thought that, at my age, people would already be settled into having a set base of friends with little room for newcomers.  But what I have discovered is that there are many others out there as hungry as I to forge new friendships. I was feeling alone.  But, in the wake of this new game, I find it somewhat comical as to how anyone could feel alone amongst a population of close to 7 billion.  I was responsible my loneliness.

Look at all these things to do!

Equally as comical, is the fact that I had ever said, “I have nothing to do.”    Because of this game, I have been trained to listen for any activity that could present itself.   Ideas are literally EVERYWHERE.  You just need to listen for them.

I’ve gotten ideas from Facebook, the news, passing conversations with neighbors.  The best source?  My new friends.  They know of and are excited about my game and want to join in.  There has been a recent onslaught of emails and texts containing ideas from trapeze lessons to swing dancing, hot yoga to paddle boating.

These activities have always been there, the difference is that I am now listening with intent.  But more importantly, I have a structure in place to fulfill on these events.  Without that structure, an idea would be just that…a nice idea.

Every day really IS a new day!

In searching for something new, I started to see what wasn’t.  My life.  I began to recognize that I had a pattern for doing virtually the same thing, the same way, every day.  I wake up.  Brush my teeth.  Make coffee.  Clean the house. Go to work.  Send emails. Make dinner.   Watch TV and then go to bed.    No wonder why people are dissatisfied with their lives.  In my case, I had unwittingly created routines that had me condemned to a life of ordinary.

So I started to look at how I could adjust some of these patterns.  How about tea instead of coffee?  Or taking a different route to work?  Maybe listening to a different genre of music or watching a new show on TV.    How about eating something exotic for dinner? Or writing a handwritten note to a friend instead of sending an email or text?

I have long complained that technology has made life impersonal.  I have just begun to see that I am the one making it impersonal, not technology.  Just because it is easier to send an email or text, doesn’t mean I have to.

By making these small adjustments, I saw that every day is truly my own creation!  My life was stagnant, because I was making it that way.  That is the good news – bad news.  However, seeing this now opens up the opportunity for me to create my days any way I desire.

Playing a game has changed my life

Why has playing a game been so effective for me?

In games, there is no right or wrong.  There is nowhere to get to.  YOU create the rules so you can change them at any time.  You can even stop playing if you want. (But why on earth would I want to?!)

And because I had no preconceived notions of how the game would go, I had no expectations for the results.  If I had established a specified outcome, a defined place to get to, I would have created a pressure for myself to achieve that goal, making the game feel more like a burden than a game.

This has me really wondering:  How much could life differ if we all lived it like a game?

It has only been three weeks. Imagine what I will discover over the next year or 5?  How will the rules change?  What new insights are in store?  Time will only tell.

Oh, you are probably wondering what passions I have discovered.  Only one thus far.  I am passionate about trying new things.  Come play!

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Expectation Creates Dissatisfaction (and what to do about it…)

May 15, 2012

While on vacation recently, I thought to myself, “This is perfect.”  The weather was nice.  We had a great hotel room.  The food was wonderful.

Was it really perfect? Were there nicer rooms, better food, and warmer climates?  Indeed. Comparatively speaking, it was not truly perfect.

But perfection in such matters is a state of mind.  A situation is perfect purely by declaring it so. There are no absolute measures of perfection for things like vacations.

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating what is, many look for the flaws.

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

Think about your life.  Where are you least happy?  My guess is that your dissatisfaction is often a result of comparison.

Where you are today compared to…

  • where you want to be in the future (aspirations and goals)
  • where you were in the past (reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”)
  • where you thought you would be already (your expectations and those of your family, society, and others)
  • where others are today (comparison; keeping up with the Joneses)

Let’s take money as an example. Studies show that it’s not the “absolute” amount of money you have that matters. It is how much money you have “relative” to what you want.  Your financial aspirations are driven by how much others have, how much you think you should have, how much others (e.g., a spouse) expect you to have, and more.  Even if you are successful in hitting your financial goals, the more you make, the more you adapt, and therefore more you want. Higher income levels provide only fleeting happiness, and is typically replaced by the desire for more.

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

Our expectations can be about anything:

  • How many twitter followers we have compared to others (or how many we think we should have).
  • How much publicity we get compared to others (or how much we wish we had or have received in the past).
  • How many accolades we receive compared to others.
  • How many prospects return our calls compared to our expectations or past successes.
  • How nice our hotel room is compared to our expectations, other available rooms, or what we think we deserve.
  • How much food we have compared to how hungry we are, what others have, or our subconscious desire to stuff our face. (eat blindfolded and be fed by someone else; you will have a deep appreciation for the quality and quantity of the food not matter what it is)
  • The type of work we do compared to what we think we want to do, what others are doing, what society says we should do, or what our families tell us they expect

And the list goes on and on.

Nearly every area of our life has subconscious beliefs and associated desires.  The issue arises when we subconsciously say to ourselves, “It shouldn’t be this way.”

…I should have more hair (in others words, I shouldn’t have as little hair as I do).
…I should weight less.
…I should make more money.
…I deserve to be treated better.
…I wish I had a different job.
…Why does everyone else have more than I do?

Some people have an “I” problem (thanks Terry Brock for that expression).

And some people want to save the world, and that causes dissatisfaction.

…We shouldn’t have war.
…We shouldn’t have poverty.
…Why can’t we all just get along?

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

A Reflection of Perfection

Each year on New Year’s Eve, I choose a theme.  It is a one-word mantra that drives everything I do during the year.

The word for 2012 is “perfect.”  That is, everything is perfect by declaration rather than as defined by some arbitrary criteria.

I am absolutely convinced that anyone can, in any moment, consciously declare that everything is perfect.  It is exactly as it should be.  It can take conscious effort to have things feel perfect; it is not always easy.  But it is possible.  It is having a deep appreciation for what is rather than what we want.

Perfection is NOT positive thinking.  It is exactly the opposite.  Positive thinking is not about acknowledging what is in the moment.  Positive thinking is about replacing your true feelings with an artificial thought.

Perfection is the acknowledgement of what is now.  If you feel sad, that is perfect.  If you are in a difficult situation, that is perfect.  This present moment cannot be any different than it is.  So why try to change it?  It is futile. And why try to feel positively about it if you don’t?  Embrace the situation – and your feelings about the situation – exactly as they are.

There have been many moments over the past 6 months when I paused and brought conscious thought to how perfect a situation is, even when it didn’t seem so.

I don’t like arguments…at all.  They make me uncomfortable.  As a result, I have very few.  But sometimes they happen.  I remember one such situation a few months ago.  Although at first I wanted the “conversation” to end, I paused and thought to myself, “this is perfect.”  I then listened to what the other person had to say from the perspective of contribution. I learned a lot about the other person and myself, and it brought the two of us closer together.  It turned out perfectly.

Adversarial conversations can be perfect.  They are only problematic when they “shouldn’t be this way.”

Of course a gap between the current state and our desired future state does not always cause dissatisfaction.  Sometimes they can be a source of motivation.  But even in those situations, our future aspirations can be a distraction that causes us to miss the beauty of the here and now.  We get so focused on where we are going that we speed past where we are.

Creativity happens in the present moment.  People who are more aware of “now” are more creative.

Perfection (and the associated creativity) today leads to perfection (and more creativity) tomorrow.  And eventually you have one long streak of perfection.

And to me, this sounds perfect.

P.S. One of my favorite songs right now (I discovered it after I declared my theme, which makes the song even more perfect) is Perfect by Jami Lula.  I highly recommend it! 

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How to Listen Better

March 5, 2012

Friday evening, on JetBlue flight #1696 from Orlando to Boston, we had a bit of a problem.

About an hour outside of Boston, the pilot got on the intercom and told us that the main braking system was not working.  Although the back-up system would probably work just fine, they were preparing us for the worst.

The pilot and flight attendants described the emergency procedures.  They were similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard 1,000 times before, with a few additions (e.g,, brace positions, etc).  But this time, as they walked us through what would happen, you could hear a pin drop on the plane.  Everyone was paying attention.

I was in seat 11F – the emergency exit row, window seat.  As such, I was designated as the person in charge of opening the emergency door if it was needed.  The flight attendant gave me instructions on how to open the door.  She also gave me the code word that the pilot would use if he wanted us to open the emergency exits.

Needless to say, I was listening very carefully.  I studied the charts on how to open the door several times.

Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before.  The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.

This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?

  • Am I really hearing what others are saying?  Or am I only passively listening?
  • Am I focused on their words?  Or am I thinking about what I will say next?
  • Am I putting myself in the shoes of the other?  Or am I only interested in meeting my objectives?
  • Am I hearing what they are really saying?  Or am I too colored by my own perceptions and judgments?
  • Do I ask a lot of questions?  Or am I the one doing all of the talking?

These are simple, yet useful questions to assess how well I am indeed listening.  And guess what, I (like most people) could be doing a much better job.

Our plane did not crash.  The back-up system worked perfectly.  When we landed the entire plane broke out into thunderous applause.

I am sure that everyone who was on that plane will be listening more intently the next time the emergency procedures are read during take-off.  And maybe they will also listen to friends, colleagues, and family members just a bit more carefully.  Maybe.

P.S. Less than 24 hours after the landing, JetBlue issued a $100 travel credit to everyone who was on that flight.  JetBlue is a class act. 

P.P.S. No, the picture was NOT our flight.  

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Be Your Own Fan

February 6, 2012

It is the Monday after the Superbowl.  While scanning the TV stations and flipping through the radio channels this morning, it seemed as though everyone was discussing and analyzing (and analyzing and analyzing…) the football game.  Everyone is a Monday morning quarterback.

Come on, get a life!  Stop living your life through someone else.

Tom Brady does not care about your life.  Why should you invest so much emotional energy in studying his?

Instead of being a fan of someone else’s life, be a fan of your own life.

Be a Monday morning quarterback on what worked and what didn’t work last week…for your business.  Study your statistics to decide if you are moving in the right direction.  Invest in you and your greatness.

I invest my money in me: my education, the development of my business, the hiring of the right talent, personal development, etc.  I rarely invest my money in what others are doing.  In fact, I almost never buy stocks.  If I invest in me and my business, I am confident that in the long run I will have a higher return on my investment.

Start investing time, money and emotional energy in you and your business.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy watching the New England Patriots (even when they lose).  It is entertaining and inspiring.  Their drive and determination always jazzes me up and has me perform better in my life.

But I would not call myself a fan of any sports team.

I prefer to be fanatical about my life; doing what I can to make it as amazing as possible.

[end of rant]

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Goals Are Stupid

February 1, 2012

NOTE: This article is on the American Express OPEN Forum with the title “How to Make Goal-Setting Work for You.”  But the title I really wanted was “Goals Are Stupid.”  I’ll let you decide if they are or not.

We are a society obsessed with goals. Nearly everyone sets them. In fact, we just finished the most popular goal-setting day of the year: New Year’s Eve. This is when we establish our annual objectives, called resolutions.

Even though goal-setting is in vogue, is it good for us? Maybe, but not necessarily.

After studying goals for nearly 10 years, I have seen that for many, this ritual can lead to both failure and disappointment. Why? Goal-gurus often use words like “achievement,” “success” and “potential.” They position these concepts in a way that sounds appealing. “Get a better job.” “Make more money.” “Find the perfect partner.” Although our culture has placed a high value on success, money, status and fame, none of these are what we really want. I believe the ultimate goal for human beings is “happiness.”

So, what is it that makes people happy?

A few years ago, I commissioned a statistically valid study that uncovered some startling figures:

  • 58 percent of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. This means that over half of all goal-setters believe that happiness only exists in the future when they achieve their goals.
  • Sadly, according to the same study, 92 percent of people fail to achieve their annual goal—their New Year’s resolution. And it appears that this failure rate applies to all goal-setting.

But what about the 8 percent who achieved their goals? Clearly they must be happy with the results. But surprisingly, 41 percent of those who achieved their goals found that the accomplishment did little to improve their happiness. In fact, they were left disillusioned, dissatisfied and worse afterwards. Why? Many realized they inadvertently set the “wrong” goal. What’s the response? Set yet another goal, and allow the vicious cycle to continue.

If you do the math, this means that only about 5 percent of goal-setters both achieve their goals and are happy as a result. And many of those “successful” 5 percent become acclimated to the fruits of their labor and the happiness wears off. The more money you make, the more money you want. The bigger your house, the more space you desire. The more successes you obtain, the more success you want.

This acclimation perspective is supported by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, in an interview in the January/February 2012 Harvard Business Review. He says:

“A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.”

He contends that happiness is not linked to achievement. In fact, he provides striking examples of people who had experienced “horrible” circumstances yet were ultimately happier in the long run. Apparently, we are good at finding the “silver lining.” On a lighter note, he quotes Pete Best, the drummer in the Beatles who was replaced by Ringo Starr before the band became big. He is now a session drummer and said, “I am happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”

Achievement does not necessarily drive happiness—nor does having “more” or “less.” To be clear, I am not advocating that people sit idly while eating bonbons and watching Jerry Springer. A life like this is neither juicy nor exciting and will most likely lead to hedonistic tendencies and a feeling of being lost. You still need to have something pulling you forward; something that gets you energized.

So here is what I am suggesting…

Read my four counterintuitive tips for goal-setting and the #1 fallacy of goal-setting on the American Express OPEN Forum

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