You've probably already seen the following video.
It got about seven gazillion views and for good reason — it's very funny.
It also sums up what the research says is the most powerful (and easy) way to become happier.
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Louis C.K.? Scientific research? Jokes about rotary phones? Huh? Buckle in, I'll explain.
"Everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy."
Louis C.K. says that, then he drives it home with this anecdote:
The world is changing quickly. To succeed in a world like this you need to adapt to all that change — and fast. The problem is that while "adaptation" is a good thing, it's also pretty much the same as "taking things for granted."
Taking things for granted is the opposite of gratitude. And gratitude is one of the few things that nearly all the research shows is part of how to live a happy life. You want evidence? I've got gratitude studies for days: It will make you happier. It will improve your relationships.
Louis C.K. knows this. And your grandparents know this. They tried to tell you. You didn't listen.
"When I was a kid we didn't have…"
Growing up you complained about something trivial and heard a version of this story from Grandpa:
All this story did was make you roll your eyes.
Grandpa's "we had to walk to school uphill, both ways" anecdote was a poor way of saying "show gratitude for what you have." Don't take it for granted.
And the research shows this is one of the reasons old people are happier.
Research shows taking time to feel gratitude can prevent you from taking things for granted:
So how do you work this into your busy life? It's frighteningly easy.
- Put a notepad and pen by the bed.
- Before you go to sleep each night, write down three things that happened that day which you're thankful for.
- Then write a sentence about why each happened.
That's it. Really. It takes a few minutes. And it works. This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman:
The military even teaches Seligman's gratitude techniques to soldiers. And it has worked for me.
I've tried it myself
Yes, it's kind of silly. (And before anyone goes in my bedroom you better believe I hide that notepad.) But after doing it for a few days it was obviously working. How did I know?
It's really the simplest thing in the world: I was devoting more time to thinking about things that make me happy. Yeah, you might do that occasionally too, but are you setting aside a time every day for it? Didn't think so. Research shows that savoring — really taking the time to appreciate good things — is one of the secrets of the happiest people.
Good things were just more accessible in my head because they were getting dedicated time every single night. It was like deliberate practice but for happiness. More importantly, I started to see patterns. Some things were always on the list, like seeing friends.
It was easy to take this list of good things from the past and make it a to-do list for things I should try to schedule for the future. I was basically teaching myself how to live a happy life.
Daniel Nettle jokingly refers to this as "Pleasant Activity Training" but research shows it works:
Again, it's stupidly simple. But as Jennifer Aaker explained in my interview with her, people just don't consistently do it on their own:
You need the list. And then you need to get it on the calendar:
Want to know how to live a happy life? Write down the three things every night. Give it a shot.
Here's more of the research on happiness, and for those of you who are really busy, here are seven things that can make you happier in seven seconds.
And keep listening to Louis. He knows what he's talking about. Show gratitude. Stop taking things for granted.
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