Wealth AND Happiness in 2007, Part 2

“In between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed.” – Sid Caesar

On Friday, I told you that it’s possible to be both wealthy AND happy. And I outlined seven steps you can take this year to increase your wealth. Today, I’d like to give you a quick plan for being happier in 2007 than you were last year … and happier next year than you will be this year.

At one time, it was thought that our moods were dictated by the “humors” in our bloodstream, and that the cure for sadness could be had by letting bile out of the body or bringing some other substance in. In modern times, this physiological explanation was replaced with psychology. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the dominant Western view was that our feelings were caused by emotionally charged experiences, and that the cure for sadness could be had through introspection and/or therapy.

Most recently, studies have shown that our moods are both physiological and psychological. Sadness and happiness have electro-chemical correspondences in the brain, and yet they can be controlled and even altered by other chemicals or – in a more natural way – by food, exercise, or even thought.

I’ve written about these subjects in the past, so I won’t go into much detail here. But these are the basics for defeating sadness:

1. Recognize that you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to external events.

A small example: Somebody bumps into you on the street and you sprain your ankle. You have a choice. You can be angry at that person and upset with your fate because you will be limping around for a few weeks and won’t be able to do your regular workout routine. Or you can forgive the person, feel good about doing it, and see the recuperation period as a gift – the chance to do some new form of exercise or start a new project. Having a good attitude about your injury will also make it easier for you to give the sprain the time it needs to heal and, therefore, you will heal more quickly.

So, one way to be happier this year, is to resolve that you will consciously recognize your response to unfortunate situations and control the way you think about them.

2. Much of the sadness we experience in life comes from having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.

Instead of being upset in 2007 by your spouse’s habit of (fill in the blank), resolve to accept the fact that they won’t be changing and find a way to forgive them and even love them for their frailty.

3. Eat healthy.

Eating too many carbohydrates will make you crazy, cranky, and tired. To have more consistent energy all day, use food like fuel. Eat six smallish meals a day, avoiding junk food, favoring organics, etc.

For specific advice on how to create a healthful diet all year, keep reading articles by Dr. Al Sears, Jon Herring, and other health experts in ETR.

4. Sleep and rest adequately.

For me, adequate sleep is the number one contributor to feeling good. Studies show that people who get seven good hours of sleep a day live longer, suffer from fewer illnesses, and achieve more in every sphere of life because they have more energy. If you get tired during the day, take a short nap.

5. Exercise hard and soft.

There are two kinds of exercises that invigorate me: longish, meditative walks and challenging, 30-minute exercises followed by a 10-minute stretch. Find what works for you and stick to it.

If you practice the above five habits this year, I’m sure you will be a happier person by January 2008.

How much happier? Use this simple method to find out:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “suicidal” and 10 being “euphoric,” give yourself an overall happiness score. (I gave myself a 7.)
  • Now ask three people who know you well to rate you. (I asked K, Number Two Son, and V, my sister-in-law, to rate me. K gave me a 6. NTS gave me a 5. And V gave me a 6.)
  • Add all four scores and divide by 4. (In my case, the sum was 24 and the quotient was 6.)

That’s your happiness score for 2006. Make a note on your calendar to rate your happiness again next January. Your goal is to increase your happiness score by at least one digit.

Note to skeptics: Attempting to quantify happiness may seem ridiculous because of the subjectivity involved. But for our purposes – measuring the happiness we feel now versus the happiness we will feel at the end of the year – it can (and should) be done. (Please don’t write to tell me that my method for doing this is simplistic and that the human emotional system is complex. I know that.)

[Ed. Note: You can get wealthier this year. You can become happier, too. Read Friday’s ETR to find out how to take the next step and make both of these goals more meaningful.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]