In this series of articles, we have been discussing about things that have been proven to make us happy and that we should pursue to do more of, but don’t. These are:
- Kindness, promoting it
- Social connections, increasing the opportunities to engage in them
- Time affluence, creating time for yourself
- Mind control- so as to stay in the here and now
- Healthy practices -like sleep and exercise
It is not that we do not want these things, it is that we very rarely prioritize them. Whilst, if we could switch the ratio of what we’re investing our time in, we could create new habits that will make us happier.
Τhe next logical question to ask is “how do we do that?” Because it is true that knowing what is good for us is not enough to put these things into daily practice.
Let’s discuss one simple strategy of how we can put these habits into practice- today.
Paying attention to the situation we are experiencing and once that is done, finding situations that support you in your efforts to change.
Situations that surround us are affecting us in lots of ways that we are not aware of. For example, think about it in the context of healthy eating or in the context of whether you want to stay off social media, or whether you want to exercise more, or have more social connections.
There are situational factors – that we don’t realize- that are affecting the extent to which we do this. For instance:
- if you are with a friend that is in his phone typing on social media, you would urge to go on social media as well.
- If you are in front of a jar of cookies, you would urge to eat a cookie
It is the presence of the situation that causes these behaviors. However, simple changes to the situation make these tempting bad behaviors go far away. Moreover, keeping the good behaviors that we want to encourage at the forefront, can change the way we interact, and can increase our good habits.
A researcher by the name of Brian Wansink, who has concentrated in studying eating habits, supports that, merely changing your situation can affect the extent to which you eat. He also supports that it can change the extent to which you engage in all kinds of habits – not just eating.
Thus, he is proposing changing the visibility of things that we don’t want to be doing.
One of his experiments was very simple: He gave to secretaries in an office a candy jar that was put either on their desk or less than a meter away. To note, these were people who were trying to eat healthier. He was examining whether the proximity of the candy was going to affect the secretaries behavior. And what he found is that yes, it did.
- Secretaries consume about 48 percent more candies when it was on their desk than when it was just a small distance away.
Thus, the proximity of your temptation to you is going to affect the extent to which you engage in it.
As a next experiment, he made the secretaries either keep their candy on their desk or at their desk, but just in the drawer. So they could not see it. And what he found is that, even though it was easy to reach for the candy which was just in the drawer, secretaries consumed them 25 percent less.
So, the claim is that both the visibility and the convenience with which you can engage in your habits actually matters.
And you can do this in negative ways like keeping the candy visible, but you can also do it in positive ways.
So, let’s examine your habits. Go now and have a look at your kitchen counter- and see what affect your healthiness and your weight. Scientific research shows that if you have cookies, chips, crackers, cereal or soda on your counter, you have in general the propensity to get a 10 kilogram increase in your weight- merely by having those things visible!
In contrast, if you buy healthy food and you make those visible, you can have the opposite effect. So, having visible fruits and vegetables can actually decrease your weight by five to ten kilos on average.
Thus, you can fix your bad environments, easily or with little effort. That is, you can shape your environment to have less of the bad cues that are causing you to value the wrong stuff. For instance:
- If you had the goal of getting off social media you can delete it from your phone. Or you can put your phone away when you’re trying to work. Or you can make phone free lunches so that you have more social connection. Or you can force yourself to keep your phone in a deep pocket or put it in the mute, at social gatherings, so it’s not visible or audible.
- If you’re not getting enough sleep and you’re feeling stress and anguish, you can shape your environment to have less of those cues about things that you’re worried about or less of those cues about workaholism or money or whatever it is. You can delete the e-mail messages that you do not need or you can stop watching the news that have a negative impact in your sleep or anxiety levels.
In addition and -I think- even more important, you can do small things to promote healthy environments merely by having stuff visible. The kitchen counter studies shows that just by having things that promote some specific habits visible, you’re going to do them more often.
- What about having on your desk your gratitude journal so that when you wake up in the morning it’s just sitting there?
- Or just having a little note that tells you that you should be remembering to meditate or exercise every morning, before you go to work?
Yes, I know, these kinds of notes and reminders, these simple things sound really dumb, but they capture our attention just like the candy bar on the counter and can make us do positive things. Phones are wonderful in helping us do it. You can set up reminders to literally remind yourself of whatever you want to try or do more of. And what you want becomes a positive habit that’s part of your environment.
So, I am going to leave you with this strategy, that I hope you will try on because it can really support you in raising your happiness levels, not only with small goals, but also with bigger goals. Please feel free to share with me the results you get at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will discuss more strategies next time.
To those seeking new levels of happiness!
Nicole Mantzikopoulou, August 2021