Harvard professor Ellen Langer once gave houseplants to a randomly-selected group of nursing home patients. She told half the patients that they were responsible for taking care of their plant, and she told the other half of the patients that someone else will care for their houseplant.
Six months later, the patients who had control and responsibility for the houseplants were healthier, more active, and happier than the patients who lacked control and responsibility. More importantly, the patients who were responsible for the houseplants died at half the rate as the patients who lacked responsibility.
The lesson? People who feel “in control” of their lives are happier and live longer than those who lack control.
That’s one of the many happiness lessons in the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman. The book describes research about how to create happiness and success.
Want more examples?
The Franklin Effect
Giving a small gift to a loved one ($5 to $20) lights up the “caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens” in your brain, the same parts of your brain that get excited when you eat something delicious or receive a compliment. In other words, giving someone a small gift, sending a thank-you card, or donating blood can light up the “happiness” sections of your brain.
This may explain the “Franklin Effect.” Benjamin Franklin won the good graces of a stoic legislator by asking to borrow one of the legislator’s books. Franklin wrote that when someone else does you a small favor, they tend to like you more, because of the joy they’ve experienced in doing that favor for you.
A team of researchers asked three groups to keep diaries. One group was asked to keep a “gratitude” diary, listing things they appreciate such as the sunset. The second group was asked to keep an “annoyance” diary, in which they vent about frustrations like taxes and crying babies. A third group was asked to simply write about the day’s “events.”
At the end of the study, the group that wrote about gratitude had significantly lower stress and higher happiness levels than the other two groups.
Sit Up Straight
People who were asked to hold a pencil with their teeth — which forces the face to smile — reported higher happiness levels than people who had to hold a pencil with their lips, which forces a face to frown.
People who were asked to sit up straight, with good posture, reported higher happiness levels than those who slouched.
People who track how many calories they burn doing normal daily activities, like mowing the lawn, have lower stress levels and lower blood pressure than people who don’t. People who do anagrams make better decisions than those who don’t. People who pour drinks into a tall, narrow glass drink 30 percent less than those who drink from short, wide glasses.
The research he shares gives you sharper insight into WHY you feel and act the way you do. You’re more likely to donate money to a charity box that says “Every Penny Helps” than a charity box that says “Every Dollar Helps.” The word “penny” legitimizes your decision to throw a few coins in. The word “dollar” does not.
A zillion books have been written on self-improvement, but most of those books suggest time-consuming lessons, Wiseman says. His book is devoted to things you can do in less than one minute (hence the title “59 Seconds”) to lower stress, stick to your diet, improve your relationships, feel gratitude, increase happiness, resist temptation and overall improve your quality of life.
59 Seconds is part-information, part-workbook. Each chapter covers a different aspect of life, such as relationships, stress, decision-making, or your career. Wiseman describes research in these areas, and ends each chapter with fill-in-the-blank or follow-along exercises.
This Book Is For You If: You want to read a broad self-improvement book about a variety of life aspects: career, family, health — and you enjoy reading things that are grounded in research.
This Book Is NOT For You If: You don’t enjoy reading about research, or you want a book that’s specific to improving one particular aspect of life.
59 Seconds is $9 on Amazon. Read more reviews and check out an excerpt!
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