Last year I discovered a website called Creativelive.com and inside that website I discovered an online course called The Power of Happiness. Creative Live is packed with online courses on topics such as: photography, life and happiness, business, social interactions etc. Keep in mind that it can get pricey, the courses I considered ranged between $100 and $200. At the time I felt like investing in myself and I had been following Vanessa Van Edwards´ free content on other websites for a while, and truly enjoyed her philosophies and ways of teaching. I was intrigued by the good reviews and the amount interesting sections/modules her latest course had. Basically it is a course that teaches you techniques to maximize your happiness, starting today! Keep in mind that just watching the video course is not going to make you the happiest, it is implementing (the hardest step in anything) the techniques inside that will give you immediate results. I will cover many techniques described in the course that I will be implementing in my life (for the complete set of techniques I suggest you register for the course, or check out her free content online).
THE POWER OF HAPPINESS, COURSE REVIEW
She opens up the course by talking about how we are the ones holding us back from our goals, and from being happy in general. One of the main causes of this is the WHEN-THEN mindset (i.e when I lose 10 lbs THEN I will be happy). The problem with this mindset is that it implies that we are unhappy now and that we will remain that way until we achieve that particular goal, that is IF we achieve the goal. This is the reason why so many people rush into weight loss, they want to see fast results but end up under eating or over exercising to make up for a lack of proper nutrition and end up quitting early on, therefore remaining unhappy. And ironically, if you manage to get to that short term goal, something else will pop up that is missing in your life, and you will be unhappy again. To resolve this, practice being present, enjoying the little things and focus not only on the end, but also on the means. Be happy now, do not wait until later on.
Also another basic technique she discusses is to analyze what we do on a daily basis and weekly basis, the good and the bad, what makes us happy and what makes us upset. The idea is to add more of the activities that makes you happy to replace the negative feeling from those which make you upset. This might be hard if your job takes out most of your time, but finding ways to still include these happy activities might help you balance that weekly overall mood status.
In my case I realized that the things I enjoy the most are: watching a good horror or adventure or funny movie, play tennis, go through life improvement videos, books, podcasts, blogs etc. Also I do not know if listening to music makes me happy, but it certainly relaxes me and makes everything smoother, so I listen to it a lot. The course dictates that I should add more of these activities into my weekly schedule, that is step 1.
Another technique the course goes through is the concept of Mastery, which means using our greatest talents and skills to feel accomplished, powerful and capable. We feel like we are making progress and THAT gives us a sense of accomplishment and MOMENTUM that helps us power through other aspects of our lives that may be lacking. Vanessa advises that we should engage in activities in which we are good at (whether we turn this into our career path or just as hobbies like solving a Rubik´s Cube for time). She gives a list of skills and we must indicate which ones do we feel we are really good at. Some of the skills that I scored high in were: creativity, problem solving, being conscientious, personal development, quick learner (keep in mind this is relative to what you believe you are good at, so give it a good thought and do not just put whatever you want, keep it real), so I should focus on finding a job that allows me to implement these skills, or find a hobby which allows me to use these as well. It gets even better if we can do this on a daily basis. We must focus on finding our natural talents, just think about the last time you felt really proud of yourself and what do you, your family and friends think you are good at. You have to be able to measure progress and celebrate small wins.
Another technique that the course talks about, is to PLAY HARD. Work hard play even harder. Vanessa says it increases focus during actual working time, it makes you smarter and it helps with creativity at the same time! Now when I say play I do not mean just play video games or watch TV, I mean thinking out of the box and being creative about it. You could set creative experiments for yourself, sort of like fun engaging projects. Some of my examples of play experiments are:
– Create a project on Instagram to highlight my progress with this project
– Start making video blogs!
– Start watching a TV series from scratch (in my case Legion, 2017)
– Look for clubs or social organizations to join near your area (interest groups)
– Find new hobbies! (i.e solving speed cube)
– Practice darts for 100 days
– Learn an instrument in 100 days (I want to learn the banjo, do not know where to get one xD)
– Play non-mainstream video games (such as Nintendo 64 which brings me back memories)
– Watch a TED TALK or something else inspirational
– Start an online challenge ! (i.e The Art of Charm challenge)
– Play trivia to increase your knowledge so you are like that guy from Slumdog Millionaire
The idea is to avoid doing something that is part of your routine (watching TV) and do something that gets you out of the ordinary, that engages you and excites you. The more of these experiments you add in your month or in your week, the better. You do not have to go too big, think small wins.
The next topic she covers is staying in control of your life. This means kicking bad habits to the curve and making room for good habits. It comes down to this: what could I start doing TODAY to get me closer to my goals, and what should I stop doing TODAY to accelerate the process?¨
In my case, I must start: implementing social skills and talk to people, re-study my post-grad courses to feel better prepared for job interviews, start reading my weekly books, and so on.
I must stop: avoiding social interactions, procrastination, being manipulative, and so on.
You must recognize the bad habits you are having and identify whether you can control them or not, and what action steps you can take. For example, in my case I dislike when I do not improve my tennis game despite having weekly lessons (not really a bad habit, but still applicable), I cannot control my rivals´ skills, I can control my own skills and training effort, so my action step would be to take advantage and set goals for every single tennis class, to provide a sense of urgency to improve after every class. Another example of mine, the bad habit would be to binge on sugary snacks (which I no longer do), I cannot control sugar cravings, but I can control my eating times and strategies. My action step would be to use Intermittent Fasting to push most of my calories for the afternoon, so when the cravings come (usually at night time), I can stuff myself with actual food instead. Make a table with all of the bad habits that apply to you. Use logic instead of just feeling completely hopeless.
The next lesson is called WOW, one of my favorites. This one is all about savoring the moments that are worth savoring. This is about thinking like a kid as opposed to an adult, we adults are achievement oriented not feeling oriented. I remember one day, when I was about 10 years old, my father came into my room and told me we were going on a 1 week trip to Miami in two days and that I should start packing my bag. This was a total surprise for me, and I was joyful and jumping all week long. It didn’t matter what happened over the week, I had this trip set on my mind and it made everything else seem better. On our way to the airport, I was so excited, that some of that excitement started bouncing off me and into my surroundings. I looked at the houses on our way to the airport and I was excited about them, I pictured the people inside living their ordinary lives while I was about to go on a plane to Miami (a trip to Miami was a big thing for me, since it is one of the only places I traveled to as a kid). Once in the plane, I kept thinking I was going to go to sleep soon, and when I woke up, the best week of the year was going to begin!
According to Vanessa, the WOW phase has 5 stages:
1- Anticipate: before the event takes place, can be days, weeks or months before. In my case I am excited about a trip I will take with my parents to Europe on June this year (I have not traveled in over 3 years, so I am super excited). You must think about the event itself and how good it will make you feel (you picture all of the positive things about it, or remember them if you already lived them before), also you must say what you are looking forward to the most, and what you need to do before the event happens (i.e get in shape before trip) so you feel like you are on a mission, and the event is your ultimate prize. Try using the power of anticipation today (even with trivial things such as Pizza day). Try saying some things you are excited about that will take place somewhere inside the next 5 years. In my case, get in the best shape I have ever been, my brother and his wife are planning on having another baby this year, so I am looking forward to re-living those lovely experiences I had with my nephew Gabriel, I am planning on getting a car, my own apartment (which will take more time), tennis tournaments this year, etc.
¨Planning a vacation peaked happiness more than the actual vacation (in a study)¨
-Vanessa Van Edwards
An example of me being excited for something trivial, was this Tuesday. Tuesday was pizza day for me, I like pizza so I acted excited about it, and the next thing you know I felt naturally excited about it. It might be silly, and I do not know if it is because of how good pizza tastes or because it took me out of my daily routine, but I was excited. I even made a little drawing in my whiteboard to remember that a productive morning would be rewarded:
2- Savoring: You remember that time when you were really thirsty, say after a long day at work, or after a good workout session. You finally get your hands on a coke can (I like cans more than the bottles for some reason), you take a zip and you go ¨aaaaahh hmmmmmm¨, that is savoring, enjoying those little moments of happiness. There is more to that, savoring is all about the MEANS, not the END. In this case the outcome of the activity is not important to us, it is the actual activity that fills up with joy (i.e take a nap, play a sport, play hide and seek with your friends, go on a trip, go on a hike, go for a walk in the park on an early Sunday morning etc). You can even make rituals for yourself, for when you need a moment of happiness to balance your day. Some examples of mine are:
– Going for a walk to the park in front of my house at 8AM on Sundays, to feel present in the moment and with nature
– Taking a shower after a good workout
– Playing tennis on my backyard (it relaxes me and I feel like I am practicing at the same time)
I am looking to implement more rituals, to have between 5-10.
3- Clarify: This one took me a while to really understand. Basically we have to take fun life experiences as they come, and use just one word to describe them, you label them, NO REPETITIONS ALLOWED. To start out you want to start remembering the fun experiences you had in the past which you remember clearly, and give one adjective to each. For example, in my case, I remember fragments of the couple of times I went to Disneyworld as a kid, I would put those fragments in a mental box and label it Adventure. Now whenever I think of the word adventure those images will pop out of the box for me to remember, and remind me what it felt like to be there, even if it is for a mere moment. We are creating mental snapshots to keep memories in our mental bank, says Vanessa. Some examples of words we can use are: adventurous, comfortable, pleasurable, strong, amazing, inspiring etc. Try not to repeat labels. I am still experimenting with this one, I will provide feedback further on after I implement all of these techniques, and let you know which ones worked best for me.
4- Capitalize: This one is all about sharing your experiences or good news with others. You are taking your happiness and transmitting it to someone else, your happiness is contagious. It can be something big (your upcoming trip to Europe) or something small (you found $10 on the floor). Some ways to share this are face to face, or through your social network: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest etc. Think of this as your happy communal. Also you want to archive your photos and stories (in photo albums and journals). Another exercise, you want to remind yourself of the happy moment frequently without any effort (i.e putting a funny pic of the experience in your desk, so whenever you look at it you remember, or putting a tiny Tiki doll you got on your trip in your desk, so the same thing happens).
5- Reminisce: This is thinking about the happy moment after it already happened, remember it. This is similar to the exercise mentioned above of reminding yourself of the happy moment, except you are now using this technique while you are doing something that could be seen as boring or stressful, such as waiting on a red light, waiting to board a plane, before sleep etc.
The next lesson is called G-spots. These are two simple techniques that will help you remain calm during times of stress, and will also make you feel helpful and significant.
The first technique is Gratitude, pretty self explanatory. The next time you are in a stressful situation, make a list of the things and people you are grateful for. You do not have to be stressed to do this, you can do it whenever you want, even when brushing your teeth. Vanessa recommends having a totem, or an object we can carry with us anywhere (or it can just sit in your desk) and that every time we see it, we must say one or two things we are really grateful for (and excited for, this one is my own modification). This has to come from the heart.
The second G-spot is Giving. Basically, this is all about giving money (to a charity), skills, company (be there for someone in need), activities (playing with kids or building houses) and mentalities (showing women that gentlemen still exist). If it is money you are giving, pick who you want to help: kids, entrepreneurs in need for money, environmental protectors etc. Ask yourself what are you passionate about, do the right research (so you can pick the right fund raiser), and make a PLEDGE (commit yourself and state very clearly how you will help the cause). Finally share it, not to brag but to set the example. The more of these 2 g-spots we do the happier we will feel.
The next lesson is called Sangha. This basically tells us that we should find a group of like-minded people who share our common interests. In my case I would join a group of people or friends who enjoy sports, outdoor hobbies, setting life goals, going on trips etc.
Make a club with these people so you meet to engage in this fun activities, and also to work on improving yourself. It is a support group who has fun in the process. To start, pick a common interest of yours (i.e tennis) and reach out to ONE person. This is because we are social creatures, we function better when in interaction with others. If you are socially anxious and have not experienced the feeling of friendship, you are truly missing out. I have had that feeling in the past on some occasions, and I let them slip by, I stopped being in touch with people who were once important to me, I expected them to do all the work instead of reaching out myself. I know better now.
The next lesson is called Lucky Jack. I will not get into details about this one, but I believe the most important points are: think of the last time you actually got lucky, start witting those times as they happen to you as well. Being lucky makes us feel good, like it was FINALLY our turn to get lucky. It gives us a sense that good things can happen to us as well, even if we did not worked our assess off for them. She also says that we should have a growth mentality and be progress driven. Having a growth mentality means to constantly look to grow, to not settle with a normal ordinary and limited life, to get back on the horse whenever we fall. Being progress driven means always look for progress (being able to measure progress is crucial here), and be able to celebrate small wins (i.e losing 2 lbs, or starting a conversation with 1 stranger). Also we should keep a journal to keep record of these achievements. I am trying to get back to using Day One for Mac, to journal a couple of days a week. I already have a weekly review in which I include a success list, so it might get repetitive for me.
She also covers the topic of Health. She basically says that there are 3 components of health: sleep, movement and nutrition. According to Vanessa, as long as 2 of these are being met, you are allowed to lack on the other one. This particular advise might work for people who find it hard to workout, eat nutritious food in moderate amounts and/or sleep enough (i.e people who are out of shape), but in my opinion it is a very limiting strategy. The 5 minute approach I use has made wonders for me so I am sticking with that, also I am not eating a lot of nutritious food. I eat healthy real food for lunch, but my breakfast, afternoon snack and dinner might not always be considered healthy. I have a mentality of calories in calories out, so as long as I am burning more than I consume and I try to not over do the junk food, I am good. Like I said this is still good advise for people who need to ease into a healthier lifestyle.
The final lesson, is called Assertivism. Vanessa says that the opposite of happiness is not unhappiness, it is INDIFFERENCE, or simply not caring. People are happiest when left to make their own choices. Work hard, play hard.
She recommends we list 5 things we regret right now, in my case:
1- I wish I had made more friends during college
2- I wish I had worked harder on finding a job in the USA while in college
3- I wish I had stayed in touch with the friends I made in college here in Peru
4- I wish I had asked more girls on dates
5- I wish I had cut the bad influences out of my life earlier
6- I wish I would have gotten into more life experiences in the past 5 years
The purpose of this is to feel urgency to change. Now think of the regrets you might have right before you are going to die. Thinking about these short term regrets made me feel bad about myself, imagine living a life full of regrets and growing old alone, that would be much worse. The last step is to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and then to set ourselves on a fun life quest! This is what I like to call Happy Experiments. It has to be something fun, meaningful to you, and measurable: i.e learn to cook every dish in a random food recipe book by December, start an Instagram account and post 1 picture per day for a year, play darts everyday for the next year, do meditation everyday for the next month, read a number of books, do one week of extreme honesty, or one week of gratefulness and so on. This is very similar to the PLAY HARD technique, except the play hard technique can be short-term oriented (i.e go on a 1 week trip to Miami) while the life quest has a longer time frame (i.e learn a new language and become fluent in the next 5 years).
The quest has to have a drive (something that excites you), a mission (the actual goal involved, what you want to achieve and how) and your pursuit (how much time and money you will need, what is the first thing you must do now to begin, who can help you?).
This was a long summary of the techniques that I will be implementing in my life, which I learned from Vanessa Van Edwards in her amazing course called The Power Of Happiness. I suggest you register for the course if you can, if not, check out her free content. The next step is to just start, today. Start your quest, your happy experiment, your sangha, start maximizing happy activities and minimizing the stressful ones, indicate who you will help, which fund raiser. Start making savoring rituals, choose your gratitude and excitement totem, get really excited about things, and get into new adventures that will make you look forward to every year, and make you happy throughout life.