Can you improve your happiness simply by breathing for two minutes a day? Apparently so, says Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness researcher and New York Times best-selling author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage.
Achor--quite possibly the funniest and most entertaining scientist you will ever see on a TED Talk stage--has spent years studying happiness and says you can boost your happiness to new levels with a short exercise that has been shown to produce powerful results among participants in his studies.
In an interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, he shared the game-changing findings behind his research.
"Here's what we found: For two minutes, watching their breath go in and out--literally two minutes--it gave their brain a new pattern," he says. "[It went from] multitasking to single-task.... Their happiness levels improved, their stress dropped, and, amazingly, the stress of the people around them dropped as well. It starts to cause this chain reaction."
But first, a little context. Why do we need to change our brain patterns? What gives? Well, historically, most overachievers follow this formula for success: If I work harder, I'll be more successful. And if I'm more successful, then I'll be happier.
Achor says this is "scientifically broken and backwards" and not how the brain works. If happiness is on the opposite side of success, our brains will never get there.
For example, we get a good job, now we have to look for a better job with more pay; we hit our sales target, we'll now strive for a higher target. Every time our brain has a success, we change the goal post of what success looks like.
Achor says our brains work in the opposite order. "If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage. Your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral, or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise," he says.
In Achor's research, he found these outcomes from a happier and positive brain:
- Productivity rose by 31 percent
- Sales increased by 37 percent
- The likelihood of promotion rose by 40 percent
- In medicine, doctors were 19 percent faster, and more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive.
The five steps to train your brain to become more positive.
Achor's technique is so simple, a sixth-grader can do it. We can actually rewire our brain, allowing it to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. Here's the magic formula:
- Three acts of gratitude. Spend two minutes a day writing down three new things you are grateful for. Do this for 21 days in a row. (Note: The reason this is so powerful is you're training your mind to scan for positives, instead of threats. It's the fastest way of teaching optimism.)
- Journal one positive experience. For two minutes a day, write in detail about one positive experience you've had during the last 24 hours. (This allows your brain to relive it, and teaches your brain that the behavior matters.)
- Exercise. If you hate exercise, here's the good news: All it takes is just 15 minutes of fun cardio activity. (Achor says this is the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant for the first six months, but with a 30 percent lower relapse rate over the next two years. And the reason why exercise is valuable is it trains your brain to believe, "My behavior matters," which is optimism.)
- Breathe. Stop what you're doing, hands off the laptop. Now breathe and watch your breath go in and out for two minutes. Do this every day. This allows your brain to focus on one thing at a time. (Achor says it will "raise accuracy rates, improve levels of happiness, and drop stress levels.")
- Express kindness through a text or email. The most important of the five: For two minutes per day, write a positive email or text praising or thanking someone you know. And do it for a different person each day. (Achor says people who do this become known as positive leaders with strong social connections--the greatest predictor of long-term happiness.)
By doing these activities to train your brain, the brain releases dopamine and creates a positive mindset for the long term. It will literally reverse the formula for happiness and success. Watch Achor below at TEDxBloomington.