Some of my most popular articles involve ways to be happier. Like the habits of remarkably happy people. And what happy people do more often. And things you should stop doing so you can be happier at work.. And the simple daily habits of exceptionally happy people.
Reducing stress is a common theme in many of the approaches to happiness. (It's hard to be content when you're anxious or feel under pressure.
Yet oddly enough, one great way to be happy is to consciously put stress and pressure on yourself.
According to research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, people who work hard at improving a skill or an ability definitely experience stress in the moment... but also feel greater happiness on a daily basis -- and over the long term.
According to Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University:
'No pain, no gain' is the rule when it comes to gaining happiness from increasing our competence at something. People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well. And what's striking is that you don't have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well-being.
Working to master a new skill or accomplish a huge goal definitely means more stress now.. But it also means more happiness later.
If you are willing to push through a bit of added stress in the short term, you can experience huge gains in happiness over the long term.
The research proves that point, but the premise also makes intuitive sense. Trying new things is stressful. Learning new things is stressful. Working towards a huge goal is stressful. It's hard.
And that's why, as I explain in my book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, many incredibly successful people set a huge goal... and then focus all their attention on the process necessary to achieve that goal.
The goal is most important, but once set, a goal's real importance is to inform the process created and followed to achieve that goal.
Then, once you have a process in place, put all your focus on what your process says you need to do today.
That's how you improve. But that's also how you find additional motivation -- and additional happiness.
When you accomplish what you need to do today, you feel good about it. You did what you set out to do.
That always feels good.
And of course that sense of accomplishment gives you the motivation you need to do what you need to do when tomorrow comes: Because success, even tiny, incremental success, is the best motivational tool of all.
When you savor the small victories, you get to feel good about yourself every day, because you no longer feel compelled to compare the distance between where you are and where you hope to someday be. And you don't have to wait for "someday" to feel good about yourself -- if you did what you planned to do today, you win.
Set a goal. Then create a process that helps you learn that new skill or tackle that big challenge. Sure, the effort will be stressful.
But think about the positives.
Every day you will get to feel good about yourself. Even if you never quite achieve everything you set out to achieve, you'll be happier.
As the researchers say:
"People who engage in behaviors that increase competency, for example at work, school or the gym, experience decreased happiness in the moment, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of momentary stress. Despite the negative effects felt on an hourly basis, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole. This surprising find suggests that in the process of becoming proficient at something, individuals may need to endure temporary stress to reap the happiness benefits associated with increased competency.
...what's striking is that you don't have to reach your goal to see the benefits to your happiness and well-being.
That means you get to feel better about yourself today -- and you get to feel better about yourself for years to come.
Can't beat that.