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Happiness: Reversing the Formula

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We grow up being taught to believe external things will bring happiness. Many of us learn to equate our own happiness with the level of success we achieve and the external things that come with the achievement. If we meet the right person, if we have the perfect job with the perfect title, if we buy the big home, if we travel the world, if we continue to get richer... then we will be happy. We believe the external rewards will fulfill and fuel our internal world. It is only when we reach some of these pinnacles of success that we learn the truth: happiness comes from the inside. The reality is happiness isn't about external accomplishments. True happiness is about developing from within.

Can we increase our level of happiness and, in doing so, change the way we experience our life story? I am exploring this concept in my next book "Change Your Story, Change Your Life." I have done a lot of research on the subject of positive psychology and the idea of what we have the power to change. I am excited to share with you this discovery: If we reverse the formula, we can change our happiness and fix what isn't working.

Many of us believe we are either born happy or we are not. My mom has always told me that I was born joyful; she says I came out of the womb happy. This story definitely has affected the way I've seen my life and my experience of happiness. I've approached my life doing everything I could to grow my happiness. This included educational achievement, job achievement, marriage, etc. When I hit the pinnacles that I believed were connected with true happiness in each realm, I discovered something. The work still had to be done from an internal place; the external accomplishments did not equate to my inner fulfillment. I remember one specific life moment that illustrated this to me.

Before opening my own company, the president of the last company I worked for asked me one day, "Are you happy doing what you're doing?" At the time I was vice president. For 13 years I had worked for that title. And I had held on to the belief that when I was VP, I would be happy. So I remember this question knocking me completely off balance. My first response was a bit defensive. I recall thinking, "Of course I am happy, can't you see it?" What I didn't realize then was that I wasn't really happy. The reason for this was I had attached too much to the external experience. The external title alone wasn't enough. And in going after this achievement, somewhere along the way, I had lost a sense of my authentic self.

It wasn't until I opened my own company and created a brand that reflected my true values -- e.g., focusing on work that brings me true joy, helping others achieve their goals -- that I began to see the real truth about happiness; it comes from the inside.

Recently, I came across a TED.com talk by Positive Psychology Expert Shawn Achor called, "The Happy Secret to Better Work." This inspired me to read his book, The Happiness Advantage. Both his lecture and his book led me to see that our society's conventional formula for happiness is broken. In the video Shawn says, "If I know everything about your external world, I could only predict 10 percent of your long term happiness. 90 percent of your happiness is predicted not by the external world but by the way your brain processes the world. If we change our formula for happiness and success, then we can change our form of reality." I love this concept.

Shawn goes on to voice our faulty thinking: "If I work harder, I'll be more successful and if I am more successful, I'll be happier." He describes this model as broken and backwards. True inner happiness fuels success, not the other way around. Shawn claims, "If you raise someone's positivity in the present then we perform what we call the happiness advantage. When your brain is positive, it performs significantly better than it does when it is negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy level rises, and in fact, what they found is every business outcome improves when the brain is positive. We can reverse the formula if we start with the positive."

How do we reverse the conventional happiness formula so that we're not attaching the incorrect model to the outcome of happiness? Shawn gives us five easy steps we can take to start promoting positive feelings on a daily basis: Write down three things we give gratitude for at the end of each day, journaling for five minutes a day, exercise, meditation, and doing a daily random act of kindness.

I have transcended and awakened to the idea that the external world is not the answer for happiness. I have put Shawn's five steps into practice and have created more positive feelings and inner happiness; as a result, I have generated more success in my life. It is amazing what a difference these daily practices can make in anyone's life. They are small actions that have such a huge impact. By developing from within, you can reverse the happiness formula and change your reality. You can create greater happiness. It's all about paying attention to your internal experience.