Lessons from Harvard’s Most Popular Course—How to Be Happy

Everyone wants to be happy, just ask Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, he’s an expert on the subject. Tal created the most popular courses in Harvard University’s history:  Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. Tal is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and speaker who currently works with groups and companies around the globe on a variety of topics.

As most of us know, it’s not always easy to stay in a happy state. Inevitably things will slow us down, and make us feel burdened or frustrated. Luckily, by using Tal’s tactics he taught to thousands at Harvard, we can maximize the positive and minimize the negative. Tal recently sat down with The Science of Success and unveiled five key tactics to improve your quality of life that he lives by each day.

#1 Awareness

“The best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior”, advises Tal. Think back to a time when you were truly leading a happy life engaged in meaningful experiences. What were you doing? Who were you doing it with? Using past reflection, identify what it was that caused these moments to be so great, then ask “How can I have more of it?” Cultivate an active willingness and desire to replicate these good experiences.

#2 Relationships

Can you guess which countries are the happiest in the world according to the UN? The answers are Denmark, Australia, Colombia, Israel, and Holland. While some of these you might expect, places such as Israel and Colombia may come as a surprise.

So why are these countries ranked as the happiest? Relationships. Tal explains that, “In each of these countries, there is a real importance, encouragement, and emphasis on establishing and cultivating intimate and healthy social networks.” It can come from various places, religious organizations, sports, clubs, yet in each study, it was found an emphasis on cultivating meaningful relationships had a direct link to happiness. Go in search of like-minded individuals who share your passions and hobbies and get involved.

#3 Physical Activity

Keeping your body moving is not only a great way to maintain physical health but mental health as well. Tal recommends, “Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times a week.” Which really, is not all that much. Aside from helping prevent chronic disease and improve physical health, exercise releases norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. These chemicals put your brain in a happy state and help you stay there longer, free of side effects! Dust off that bike and put on some tennis shoes, take that yoga class, and get your body moving at least 90 minutes a week. Your brain—and body—will thank you.

#4 Learn from Failure

Cultivate a growth mindset when it comes to failure. We all are unhappy when we fail notes Tal, “But there are two very different kinds of responses. One is, ‘This is awful. This is terrible. Now I’m never going to succeed and I’m a failure.’ Or, ‘Okay, I failed. It’s not pleasant, not fun, but what can I learn from it? How can I move forward? How can I go ahead wiser from this experience?’”

Everyone in life will fail now and again, and often our failures are the most enlightening experiences. Some of human history’s smartest and most successful people can attest to this. It’s the ability to emerge smarter and wiser from the experience that separates those who find success and those who bury themselves in negativity.

#5 Don’t Expect to Always Be Happy

As Tal likes to say, “There are only two kinds of people who do not experience painful emotions. The first is psychopaths, and the second is dead people.” If you expect to always be happy then you are saying it’s okay to punish yourself when you feel negative emotions. Paradoxically, by accepting these negative or painful emotions and accepting them, you are allowing yourself to let them pass. By fighting them, we only keep them in our focus longer. So embrace that you feel these emotions time and again. After all, that means you’re not a psychopath and that you’re alive!

You can learn more about Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and listen to his full hour-long interview and more here.

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