July 9, 2020

Secrets of happy people I learned from Dr. David Niven

Happiness is a really interesting subject to me – it has many different forms and definitions and everybody thinks about happiness in different ways. The first time that I was exposed to Happiness as a form of study was The Happiness Project (a best seller by Gretchen Rubin) who took on the aforementioned Happiness Project to try to create more opportunities for happiness in her life. Although that book deserves a separate post, I really like that she conducted a significant amount of research for it by reading on what other books say about happiness first and then applying it to her life.

I was randomly searching for interesting books to read on happiness and I came across this interesting book from Dr. David Niven who wrote a book called “100 simple secrets of happy people”. David is a psychologist who has written a number of 100 simple secrets books on: happy people, successful people, great relationships, happy families, healthy people, becoming healthy, wealthy and wise, etc. The book is an easy read with a tip and a story on 1 or 2 pages and I thought that I would share a few of my favourite secrets so that you do not have to read the whole book (although I recommend it and it is not a long read).

Your goals should be aligned with one another

David talks about the analogy of the tires on a car – if the tires on the car are all aligned properly in the same direction, you’re going to get to where you want to go much faster than if the tires were not all aligned properly. Your goals have to be the same way. He shares the story about Jorge Ramos (but it could really be anyone) who was doing exceptionally well in his career as a journalist. As a journalist though, he was traveling all the time and would therefore not be there for his family. After some time, he realized that his goal to become a world class journalist and to be a family man were not aligned and therefore, he was not going to be happy unless his goals were more aligned.

I think we all have different goals but it’s a great way of thinking about what’s important to you and whether you can do all the important things in your life. If your family is important yet you also feel like your career is important and your career requires long hours or travel, you will have to figure out how to align the two better because currently the two do not align. Simultaneously, maybe you want to travel the world more but are currently in a job or relationship that does not let you travel as much as you want to.

Accept yourself – unconditionally

I did not realize this but there’s actually a new kind of New Year’s resolution occurring: a lot of people are resolving to accept themselves. Its a vastly different approach than what you would traditionally think is a new year’s resolution – to change a habit or improve an aspect of one’s life. Of course, I think it is important to balance this or at least remember to accept yourself on occasion and at the same time, remember that there are things that you can change but that it requires time and that in the mean time, you have to accept yourself as is. For instance, I used to want to look super fit and while I still try to exercise as much as I can, I accept that I won’t have washboard abs or be able to do single hand pushups (at least not currently or in the short term). Accepting this means that I don’t have to guilt myself into exercising all the time or eating right all the time.

Limit yourself to thinking about one subject as you lie down to sleep

Our minds are racing with thoughts all the time. This has only happened to me a few times but there have been times where I lay down to sleep at night and my mind is racing with all of these thoughts which keep me up for more than I want to – so I like this secret from David to really keep things simple. Think about one thing – it’ll help to reduce the stress in your life from thinking about so many things (things you have to do the next day, people you have to talk to, etc.)

Share with others how important they are to you

Relationships are based on mutual appreciation. Strangely enough, this was not something that I realized until a few years ago. I thought that to be a good friend, I would do lots of nice things for my friends and never accept anything in return. For years, I would act this way – paying for meals, giving gifts, doing nice things without taking any credit, etc. Many of my friends wanted to return the gesture and I simply refused to let them, sometimes going out of my way so that they couldn’t. I realized that this was not a friendship – a friendship is one where you let your friends pay for your tea sometimes because they want to show their appreciation (maybe next time?). Take every opportunity to share how much your friends and family mean to you – we have limited time on this planet and it is important to let them know now because you may not have the chance later.

Develop a household routine

Sometimes, it seems like there are an endless number of tasks to catch up on around the house. Clean the washrooms. Scrub the toilets. Sweep the floors. Cut the grass. Where do you begin? What do you do next? Rather than trying to go through the items one by one and triaging as you go, develop a household routine where you tackle one or two tasks each day. Cut the grass on Saturday mornings. Clean the washrooms on Friday nights. Cook your food for lunch on Sunday nights. Doing it this way makes things much easier to manage and you will feel less overwhelmed.

Busy is better than bored

Louis CK has a great bit on this – there are so many things that you can do these days, so much knowledge you can access in the palm of your hand, so much entertainment just a few clicks away that for anyone to say that they are bored is just a weird statement. David says that we often waste a few hours here and there just not doing anything productive – take that time and do something with it and although I think there’s a time and place for purposeful breaks and lazy Sunday mornings, make sure that you fill in other gaps in your time with things to do.

Smile

Do you know what’s a simple way to make yourself happy and a way to make others around you happy that costs nothing, requires only a few seconds and has an immediate impact? A smile. I used to go around all the time not smiling – it was maybe a weird way of keeping a poker face. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was thinking or feeling and so I kept a completely stoic face at all times. My friends found it intense. Strangers found it scary. I can honestly say that I smile more (though I do try to keep a blank face as well). Gretchen Rubin, one of my favourite authors who wrote The Happiness Project has a secret of adulthood that she found: if you want to make yourself happy, make others around you happy. If you want to make others around you happy, be happy yourself. Smiling is a great way to do both.


What are some of the things that you do to be happy? They could be little things, big things, free things or expensive things. For example, one of the ways that I like to throw a wrench into things is that I will do something completely unlike me every once in a while – it’ll throw off people who think they know me and it will help me experience something completely different sometimes. For example, I will go to campus recruiting events and tell students actively not to apply to consulting if they are working on something cool already like a startup or going to graduate school to do research on something really amazing. It sounds weird but I find that if the students get into consulting, they are not going to have time to do that amazing thing and I’d rather they work on something they are passionate about then to do something because others tell them its a good job to have (don’t tell my employer though). It makes me happy to know that some people will pursue their passion projects rather than apply to consulting and possibly have to abandon those projects that they have devoted a good part of their life to.

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