Episode 422: 9 Ways to Be Happier

Episode Summary

In this episode, we go through nine ways to significantly impact your happiness levels; we learn about the effects of pursuing happiness and how that pursuit impacts our lives. Throughout our conversation, we debunk the belief that happiness is the absence of sadness, use three analogies to explain the happiness cycle in our lives, learn the importance of stop asking WHY things happen to us and start asking what we can learn from them, and more.

Rob Shallenberger: Welcome back to our “Becoming Your Best” podcast listeners. My name is Rob Shallenberger. I’m grateful that you’ve joined us for the podcast today. Now, this is going to be me on here; I’m going to share a few of what I consider to be very powerful tips on happiness. How do we find happiness, even amidst the noise and the chaos of the world? This is a big deal to a lot of people. This was really something I’ve been thinking about for several days. Because last week, I sat in a keynote by Hank Smith on happiness. It’s been on my mind for about a week since his keynote. He gave some great tips; some of which I’ll share in this podcast, some I’ll share on my own, and some from other research that I’ve found through the years. As we step back here, one thing that I invite you to do is really treat this like a conversation. Imagine that we’re in your car driving together, or that we’re sitting in the same room together, I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and I would love if we were able to actually sit down and have a one-on-one, in-depth conversation about this. I feel like this is a critically important topic in today’s world. It’s one of the things that I feel like people are searching for across the world. It’s one of the common denominators that bring us together. 

So, as you sit back—I would love to hear your definition—think about this: What is happiness to you? How would you define happiness? Because so many people are searching for it, yet, I’m not sure how many people in the world are truly happy. So, I feel it’s important to look in the right place and understand what happiness truly is. 

Now, I don’t know how you would define happiness, but if I were to ask you in this subjective measure, are you truly happy? In other words, if you really examine your own life, when you wake up in the morning, are you happy? Are you at peace with your life? I realize everyone’s battling a battle of some sort. Everybody has their challenges. So, it might seem like a loaded question to a degree, and I’ll explain why that might be the case. I believe, though, that it is possible to experience happiness as the overarching emotion even amidst the challenges and trials, and I’ll explain what I mean by that here shortly. 

Before I get into sharing these tips on how to be happy and how to find happiness, I want to acknowledge a couple of things. In other words, put this in context. It’s interesting to me, number one, how we can take, as humans, something so simple—happiness—and make it so complex. If you think about this, why is this such a big thing in our culture right now? I believe that a couple of the reasons, if not many, are that we have this instantaneous culture or this “have it now” culture. So, what we see on social media, and all of these different places, are these illusions of what happiness might be like, and they’re all around us. This can really be confusing. For example, is it a trip? Because that’s what you see on Facebook. “Hey, this person is in Italy, and they’re just having a great time.” So, is it a trip? Is it a new car that creates happiness? Is it that nice family that all seems to have it together? Is that what creates happiness? So, I think that one of the challenges that I want to acknowledge right up front is that we live in this “we have to have it now” society; it’s instantaneous. We’re surrounded by so much noise that it’s difficult to understand what happiness even is. The other part of this is that maybe it’s not understood so well because it’s partly an emotion.  

For example, can we feel sad while still feeling a general sense of happiness? Because I don’t want to convey in this podcast that feeling sad is wrong. For example, some of you may have heard in previous podcasts that my mother passed away three years ago from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Well, I wasn’t jumping up and down and sharing for joy when that happened. Certainly, I was sad. So, what I feel like is that these are emotions, and it’s okay to experience and live with different emotions. I can still feel periodically sad knowing that I can’t drive down the canyon of my parents’ home and give my mom a hug. I think that’s perfectly normal and reasonable. I loved her; I miss her. But at the same time, I’m also happy for her. I’m happy that I know that I’ll see her again in a much more beautiful state. So, emotions, by nature, can be complex. So, when I ask, “How can we take something so simple and make it so complex?” Well, I think emotions can be very complex. So, I do believe that we can experience moments of sadness in the context of general happiness. I hope that makes sense. 

So, that’s one acknowledgment I want to make. The second is this, and I’m going to use three analogies: I don’t necessarily think it’s normal or healthy to feel like we can be in a constant state of happiness. When certain challenges come up—physical, mental, emotional, you lose a family member, financial—they can come in every variety. I realized that that can happen in life, and that makes it a lot more difficult to choose happiness, to be happy when you’re in the middle of those kinds of challenges. I know that if we haven’t experienced them yet, they will come at some point. I don’t know anyone that is exempt from that statement. 

Let me give you three quick analogies that I want to put these tips for happiness, or I should say that I want to use these tips for happiness in the context of these analogies and acknowledge that it’s not going to be on 100% of the time. For example, a common analogy we hear is “It’s a roller coaster.” Isn’t that true that life can have its highs and its lows? I think that’s perfectly normal. The hope is to have a lot more highs than lows. I don’t know anybody, like I mentioned, who is exempt from some form of a low. Another way to look at this, and this is really one that hits a lot closer to home with my own family members and some others, is life is kind of like seasons. Think about that. We have summer, fall, winter, and spring. There may be a handful of times in our lives when we feel like we’re in a winter: there’s not as much light, and it’s cold. It’s just a season. What happens after that? Eventually, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, we start to get into March, and we start to emerge from winter. Suddenly, the days start to become a little longer. The sun shines a little brighter because it’s higher up in the sky, and the warmth from the Sun is a little stronger. Instead of the sun going down, where I live at 4:30 or 05:00 in the afternoon, now it’s 07:00 or 7:30. So, you have these extended days, and you get these glimpses of spring. Now, that shift from season to season doesn’t happen instantaneously; it takes days, weeks, and even a couple of months. So, what happens? We hit this spell of warm weather, “Oh, it feels great,” and we are like, “Oh, spring is here.” And the next week, there may be one or two cold days where it snows. But the snow melts quicker, and the warmer days are more prevalent than the cooler days. Eventually, the summer arrives, where almost every day is hot, with the occasional cool or stormy-type day. I believe that’s a great life analogy. At some point, we’re all going to have our challenges or face what we might have or call our winters. If we can focus on these tips I’m going to share in this podcast, as well as others, eventually—and for some, it might take a couple of weeks, for some, it might be a few months, and for others, it might take years and a lot of patience—we will emerge from that winter. It’ll start to have more days that are warm than there are cold days. I love that season’s analogy. Ultimately, the winter will be a distant memory. 

The third one is the stock market. This is the analogy that I want to put all of these tips into context with. Think of the stock market over 40-50 years; it’s generally gone up. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t down days, months, or even years. But if you look at the stock market as a whole, it has trended up with these blips down. So, just like the seasons or just like the roller coaster, what we’re looking at in these tips and this podcast is how we generally keep our direction moving up and focusing on increasing our happiness with an occasional blip down. 

So, I want to acknowledge both of those: emotions can be complex, and number two, there are different seasons of life. This is focusing on that overall trend in the upward direction—how do we emerge from winter? So, the whole point in doing this podcast is to dispel a few myths and focus on things that are proven to increase our happiness, and maybe get some of this noise and these illusions out of our way and have a clearer picture of what might be happiness, so that we can emerge from these winter seasons when they show up in our lives. 

Now, we’re all going to be at different stages in our journey and in our learning. I want to give you one example that’s really made a difference in recent years for me, and this is just one example from my life. At this stage, at this point—and I’m always learning and growing, and I will be until the day I pass away—what brings me happiness is aligning my will with God’s will. It’s what I think about throughout the day. At this point in my life, I spend a little time on social media. Awards, accolades—I mean, that’s nice, but they no longer really matter to me. That’s not where I derive my happiness or satisfaction. My happiness is derived from aligning my will with His; it’s what brings me peace and happiness. Whether there’s a stormy regime around me or not, I trust Him. That has really been powerful for me. Now, that’s something I’ve been learning and continue to learn, as just one example. The point is that there are things that we can do that certainly impact and affect our happiness. 

So, let’s jump into some additional tips that will apply to every one of us. Now, a lot of people are on this quest for happiness. These are just a few tips; I’m not going to say that this is an all-inclusive list. As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to borrow some of these from Hank Smith, who gave a keynote last week. I’m going to share a few of my own, and I’ll share some from research that other people have done. The whole idea here is, how do we apply these tips to our lives? What I’m going to invite you to do is choose two or three of these that really apply to you and say, “Let me just focus on those two or three. Let me just take that bite of the pie rather than trying to eat the entire pie in one sitting.” As I share these different tips, that’s my invitation to you: choose one, two, maybe three max, that you feel like you can focus on, that would have a significant impact on your life. So, with that being said, let’s jump into these tips. 

Number one: Happy people surround themselves with happy people. Additionally, happy people, by research, have been shown to have in-depth or deep, in-person conversations. Now, there’s a separate study that shows—Harvard did this—there are at least two or three books that I’m aware of written on this, identifying and studying blue zones around the world, and so on. Where this comes from, it’s the number one predictor of longevity, relationships, and having meaningful relationships. So, it’s not just casual, in passing, “Hey, how’s it going?” It’s having meaningful and strong connections with other people. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons that COVID was such a challenge for a lot of people because there was this automatic severing of relationships; you can’t go visit people anymore, and there was a real disconnect. So, this is one of those things that has been shown over and over to bring happiness to people’s lives: surround ourselves with other people who are happy and then have meaningful conversations and meaningful relationships with people. That is near the top of the list, as far as one of the things that will predict happiness. 

The second: Serve others. There was a study done—and I thought this was fascinating—Hank Smith shared this study. It was done at a university, and they grabbed people randomly, gave them a certain amount of money, and said, “We want you to go out in the next couple of hours. We want you to go out, buy something for someone else, and then come back and report back to us what it was that you got and who you got it for.” Now, they didn’t know why they were doing this little test, this experiment. All they knew was they were being instructed to go out and purchase something for someone else and then come back and report. Group number two; they were doing the exact same thing but with one variation. They gave them the same exact amount of money and the same exact amount of time. The difference was that they instructed them to go out and buy something for themselves and then come back and report on what they bought. So, as both of these groups came back, the group that bought something for someone else rated significantly higher in happiness versus the group that went out to buy something for themselves. Isn’t that interesting? Now, obviously, there are some biblical principles around this; it’s serving others and loving our neighbor. Well, there’s a power to that. 

So, if you’re feeling like you’re in a funk, one great thing that you can do is start saying, “Well, wait a second, what can I do to serve someone else?” That’s a whole different way to think when you’re in the middle of winter—of life, if you will. That’s one thing to consider, though, is how you can serve other people because there is joy and happiness that emerges when we start to serve others. 

Number three: Happy people laugh. Now, there was another study done. This one actually blew me away. I saw it several years ago and then forgot about it. They took an average four-year-old and found that the average four-year-old laughs about 350 times a day. And then they studied 40-year-olds. Now, before I give you the number, what do you think is the average number of times per day that a normal 40-year-old laughs? I asked this to a group last week, and all kinds of guesses—50, 100, two. Seven. Isn’t that interesting? Four-year-old: 350; 40-year-old: seven. What happens along the way? Did people beat down so much? Life happens? I don’t know. But there’s a huge gap there. So, this is something that, as I’ve examined my own life this last week, doesn’t just happen by accident. Laughing can be really intentional—looking for positive things, looking for reasons to laugh. That’s really a mindset. It’s an intentional thing for a lot of people. It certainly is in my case. So, happy people laugh. It actually releases certain chemicals in the body when we laugh, so there is a lot of science to back that up. 

Number four: The power of music. Numerous studies have shown the impact that classical music can have on the human brain. Likewise, there are other types of music that can really hurt or bring down the energy level in a person’s energy or brainwaves. So, music can be really powerful in our lives. Go look this up. If you’re curious about music or you’re skeptical in any way, go look up and research classical music and the effect it has on mood. So, happy people harness the power of music. 

Number five. This is a big deal. It’s actually the second predictor of longevity, right behind relationships. Relationships: number one predictor of longevity. Number two is to have a purpose. Happy people have a purpose. Here’s what’s interesting about this. I’ve been using this in our training now for years. It’s one of the whole points of “Do What Matters Most.” It’s Habit number one: helping people develop a vision for each of their key roles. Anybody who’s read our book, “Do What Matters Most,” knows that this is a big deal for us. Now, there was a study done that really corroborates this. They found the average lifespan after traditional retirement is what? What would you guess? When I say traditional retirement, I’m talking about someone who works a normal eight-to-four, nine-to-five-type job and then boom, they hit 35 years in that job, or 30 years, whatever it is, and they’re done. So, they go from working full-time to doing nothing. It’s just this line that is in the sand: working, then not working. The average lifespan for traditional retirement, as I just described, is three years. Isn’t that interesting? And you ask, “Well, what changes?” It’s a purpose. When people lose a purpose, there’s this blankness, the “where’s the will to live?” So, it really is having a purpose, and it’s the second predictor of longevity; people who are happier have a purpose. 

Number six: Our exercise and food intake make a difference. In other words, we can’t get away with drinking five Monster drinks a day, not exercising, sitting on the couch, and then expecting to be happy. Food makes a difference—absolutely proven over and over, and countless books have written on that—as does exercise. There was a study done on this one, and you can look this one up as well: exercise is a greater antidepressant than an actual antidepressant. Isn’t that interesting? So, one of the things that you might consider in your life is what does your food intake look like? What type of food are you eating? My brother-in-law talks about On Target Living; the closer we are to the source, the better. The more ingredients added, probably the worse it is for us. So, for example, something that comes straight out of the ground—that’s the source: onions, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, etc. Your standard bag of Doritos? Not so much the source. So, our exercise and our food intake can have a huge impact. 

Number seven: Spend time outside. So, it goes right along with exercise, but happier people spend time outside. Now, what’s interesting about this is that the average human, the average adult—now, this may vary by season and where you live—how much would you guess they spend outside per day? How many minutes? Well, the average person spends seven minutes a day outside. Isn’t that interesting? Driving in your car doesn’t count. So, you think about it. If you get in your car, it’s in a garage, you drive to Walmart, you walk inside Walmart, that’s a 30-second walk into the store. Well, now, that’s one minute outside. Happier people spend at least 20 minutes a day outside. There’s something about being in the sun and being outside that is directly correlated to happiness. So, happier people spend time outside. 

Number eight: Get enough sleep. Proven over and over. So, a lot of these might seem basic, but it’s amazing how many people are not harnessing the power of sleep. Seven to nine hours is the mark. There’s a previous podcast, and if you’d like to go back and listen to it, you can go to, look at the resources tab, and then click on podcasts, and you can search for any topic. Search for Dr. Joe Ojile, a dear friend, and owns a sleep clinic in Missouri. We did a podcast on sleep; so much research and great information about the importance of sleep. So, if you think you might have sleep apnea, there’s a lot that can be done to solve that. It’s critical that you do it. Cognitive health and so many other things that I’ve experienced and seen in my own life and family. So, sleep is critical. Makes it a lot easier to be happy if we get the right amount of sleep. 

Number nine, and this one, for me, would actually probably be number one on the list. If I had to rank these, this would be right ahead of relationships; that would be number two if I was putting these by order of priority for me, and that is to connect with God. Now, this may or may not rub you the wrong way, but there’s this movement in our world right now where people are saying, “Live your truth.” And I think that whole phrase, right there, inherently is a lie. In other words, when we say, “Live your truth,” I get the thought behind it. But that makes it sound like truth is subjective. In other words, “I live my truth.” Well, that may or may not even be in line with the actual truth. So, I believe that statement is really misleading and not helpful to our culture. Because “live your truth” makes it sound like there is no truth. An actual example here: If I were to say, “Hey, my truth is that there’s no gravity.” Well, it doesn’t really matter what Rob’s opinion is—my truth—because it flies right in the face of the fact that there is gravity. It doesn’t matter what my opinion is on it; the fact is that there is gravity. So, there are certain things where there is truth or there’s no truth. 

That leads to the question, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. This is not a religious podcast, although I would love to talk about it because it’s one of the most important topics in my life. When I say connect with God, the question then is, is He real? Or is He not? And it doesn’t really matter what our truth or our opinion is on that topic; He either is real or He’s not real. That is left up to every one of us to find out and figure out. I would say, in my experience, this is the primary driver in my life right now. I wake up in the morning, I go throughout the day thinking about it, and I go to bed thinking about it. Connection with God is powerful. It’s right now where I derive my happiness and my peace, and I trust Him. It really doesn’t matter what comes our way, I trust Him that all things will work out for our good, and I have a personal relationship with Him. I would invite you, wherever you’re at in your life, to think about that. Some people might be listening to this and say, “Well, I don’t believe in Him.” Maybe try praying, address Him, and ask if He’s there.  

We can look at the research side of it, and that’s great because numerous research studies show that people who believe in God and make that a significant part of their lives are much happier. So, there’s research roundup, but it’s not about our truth; it’s the actual truth. Is He there? Or is He not there? I believe one of the keys to happiness because we all will experience these winters in our lives, those lows on the roller coaster, or those dips in the stock market analogy from earlier. It is so much easier to make it through those when we have that connection with Him when we trust Him, that these challenges will end up working out for our good. So, I believe that having a connection with God is a significant part of being happy. For me, again, I would put that right at the top of the list—number one, the most important thing to find happiness. 

I’ll just maybe go down a very quick tangent here, a side trail. I realize there are a lot of challenges that we don’t maybe have the answer for why that might have happened. I’m not sure asking “why” is the right question. I believe, philosophically, that we’re looking through the lens of a soda straw. If you were to look around your surroundings, just with a soda straw view of things, what would you see and describe? I look out my window right now, and I see an array of mountains with a blue sky, beautiful white clouds, and a layer of white snow across the ground in the mountains. It’s beautiful. Now, if I were to look at that through the lens of just a little soda straw and describe to someone around me, “What do you see?” There’s no way I could do justice to what I’m seeing, because I don’t see even but a small glimpse of the big picture. I feel like life is similar. So, I’m not sure that asking “why” in certain cases things are happening to us is the right question, rathe “What can I learn from this?” And to be happy, to me, that might be a more important question: “What can I learn from this experience and this challenge that we’re going through?” And then trust God that all things will work out for our good because I believe they indeed will.  

So, here were nine tips that I believe can have a significant impact on happiness. Again, we have different seasons; we have the roller coaster of ups and downs that’s like the stock market. My hope is that we think about these and focus on the general direction is up. We know that we’re going to have blips on the radar. We know that things are going to come up where we’re going into spring or summer, and there might be a couple of cool days. How do we focus on overall happiness? So, I’ll briefly go through these again: 

  1. Happy people surround themselves with happy people and have deep, in-depth personal conversations.
  2. Serve others.
  3. Happier people laugh.
  4. Harness the power of music.
  5. Have a purpose. If you haven’t done that already, I encourage you to read “Do What Matters Most” and go through those chapters on developing a written personal vision. That will help you find a purpose if you haven’t already done that.
  6. Exercise and food intake.
  7. Spend time outside.
  8. Get enough sleep.
  9. Connect with God.


So, the whole point in sharing this is, regardless of where you’re at on your journey, I hope that as you identify one or two of those tips that you feel would be helpful or pertinent to you at this stage in life, these will help you in your journey of happiness. 

I will end with this additional and final thought: Let me tell you where happiness is not found. And this is one of the great illusions that is out there. A lot of people think, “When I have that next big thing, I’ll be happy. When I have this amount of money, a million dollars, I’ll be happy.” No, that’s not the case. The account checks over a million dollars for the first time and you’re like, “Okay.” There’s no fanfare, there’s no parade, and nobody’s out there cheering you on. And you’re like, “Oh, today’s the same as yesterday.” Those are illusions. Now, I will acknowledge, and there’s been a study done on this, to have our basic needs met is critical. And if we don’t, that can be a real detriment to happiness. So, as long as we have food, shelter, warmth, and the basic protections that we need to live and survive—from that layer and above, money is not a great predictor of happiness. Things like that certainly can make life more comfortable, no question about that, but it’s not the source of happiness. So, when we say, “It was that next big thing. When I get that boat, I’m going to be happy. When I get that cabin, oh, we’ll be happy. When I can take that trip to Italy, then I’ll be truly happy.” No, those might be fun, and they might be cool experiences, but those will not lead to overarching and lasting happiness. Those are some of the illusions or temporary happiness triggers. What I’m focused on in this podcast in sharing is how we find lasting happiness. 

So, thank you for joining the podcast. We sure appreciate every one of you. If you feel like there’s someone who would benefit from this, like always, please share it with someone else. They may not ever get it unless you share it. So, thank you for joining. We’ll see you next week. 

Rob Shallenberger

CEO, Becoming Your Best

Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father

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