Did you know that we can rewire our brains for happiness? Research shows that while 60% of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40% is up to us.  Pastor Chuck Swindoll takes it a step further and says that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. Both statistics are extremely motivating, as they illustrate the keys to our happiness are no longer in someone else’s pocket, but in our own.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude and actions we will embrace for that day. And whether our natural bent is to view the world with the glass half full or half empty, the key is knowing that we can intentionally fill it up the glass! There is an unlimited reservoir right at our fingertips as we simply take our focus off the glass and become aware there is a pitcher of water sitting right next to it.

I love the pitcher illustration and it’s a crucial mindset shift to make. The truth is our reality is shaped by the lens in which we view the world. We can change our lens by taking our eyes off our challenges and refocusing on the strength we can gain from cultivating our spiritual life and deepening our relational world. This subtle shift gives us the ability to reshape our reality and expand our joy.

I first read this illustration from Harvard Professor, Shawn Achor who has made a career studying the science of happiness and has authored several books on the topic as well. His studies have shown that practicing simple strategies every day for three weeks can transform a pessimist into an optimist, and keep the hypothetical ‘pitcher’ completely full.  Wow!  When I read that I was intrigued by how huge his claim was and decided to give his five strategies a whirl for twenty-one days.

Here are “The Fab Five” that have become a few of my favorite habits of happiness…

  1. Expressing Gratitude – Grab a notebook or journal and write down 3 things you’re grateful for that occurred over the last 24 hours. They don’t have to be profound. It could be a great cup of tea, the warmth of a sunny day, or a hug from a friend. The practice of gratitude rewires our brain to scan the world for what is good –I love that!
  2. The Doubler – Take one positive experience from the past 24 hours and spend two minutes writing down every detail of the experience. As you remember it, the brain labels it as meaningful and deepens the imprint. How great to be able to relive our most positive experiences and boost our mood in the process.
  3. Random Acts of Kindness – Every day make a conscious choice to brighten someone’s day by sharing the love. These can be as small as an encouraging text or email or as thoughtful as paying for someone’s lunch. And the best part is it will not only make their day but yours as well.
  4. Prayer and Meditation – Start each day with a time of prayer, with the goal of offering an open and surrendered heart to God. It’s a great way to live out the verse from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” This new habit has for sure become the favorite part of my day.
  5. The Fun Fifteen – Do 15 minutes of an enjoyable cardio activity, which can be as simple as a hike with the dog (that’s mine!) or a walk on the beach (also mine!). The effects of daily cardio have been shown to be as effective as taking an antidepressant. Wow – this gives a whole new benefit of putting on my tennis shoes and getting out the door!

Well, I must say the experiment has beena huge success, so much so that I have continued with it for much of the last 6 months and am not ready to stop anytime soon! These habits have become building blocks that have fostered profound growth in my life.  And four of the habits take just two minutes or less to do, so the experiment is very doable and easy to integrate. It has become a very practical way for me to implement the truth of Philippines 4:6-8.

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

My favorite new habit has been the morning ritual of starting my day with prayer and meditation. I used to roll over and look at my email upon waking (ughhh – not the best way to start the day!). I have found that making a new goal to start each day by soaking up the goodness of God and opening my heart before Him has been incredibly life giving. It has become the highlight of my mornings and provides a great foundation to cultivate other spiritual practices throughout my day.

Another benefit of the experiment is that it fostered a curiosity of what other habits could be built into my life that would keep ‘my pitcher’ full, with the goal of not only filling my glass but being able to spill over into the lives of those around me. Since reading Achor’s research, I have branched out and explored additional habits of happiness. A few others I am enjoying are a consistent time in nature, intentional time with those I love, a complete ‘unplug’ from electronics, devouring cliff notes of inspirational books, and a focus on savoring the simple pleasures that abound (if I simply take the time to notice).

I hope my small explorations have encouraged you to look for creative ways to add replenishment to your life. Know that the entire Daniel Plan team’s hope and prayer is that you would be encouraged about cultivating your own favorite habits of happiness and that they become a source of deep encouragement in your life as you seek to honor God and serve those around you.

So, my question to you is which habits will you explore?  Let us know what you’ll be trying – as we’d love to be on this journey with you!