The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking

Categories HappinessPosted on

We all want to be happy and who better than to learn from scandinavians in particular, Denmark which particular tops all the time in happiness rankings. What makes danes happy is the country’s sense of community . 9 out of 10 danes are happy to pay taxes because they trust it will be for common good and they will be take care of , if they get sick or loose a job.

A sense of community starts of happiness, a 1967 article “Children Should have 100 parents” led to cohousing communities in Denmark and this has grown rapidly and reaped its rewards. Along with a sense of community being in the real world and disconnecting from the virtual world helps reduce loneliness and increase satisfaction.

Normally it is thought that wealthier countries tend to rank higher in happiness but it is untrue, South Korea is a case in e.g, very wealthy but has the highest rate of suicides per capita and ranked 55th on the World Happiness report.

Experience and anticipation of experiences keeps us happy. It is not the product purchase alone but the anticipation of making that purchase that makes us happy. We can then link a certain goal to a upcoming purchase and be more happy. Knowing that good times are round the corner keeps us more happy. In the same breadth comparison to what other people have spurs unhappiness.

Being fit, is another reason that makes danes happy.Cycling is the norm and bicycles are everywhere, more than 63% people bike to work,. That itself says it all, for the social effect of this one deed. So if you want to be happy start walking/biking more.

Trust, health, fairness and generous communities are recipe of a country’s happiness.One of the important aspects of happiness is freedom and this includes free time. Danes spend fewer hours at work than in the US/India. Parents have 52 weeks of paid leave divided between them. New parents are less happy than their peers who have no kids because of lack of support system to address this Denmark created the Bonus Grandparents program to connect senior citizens to the community. Parent get more free time and seniors get more activities in their life- this is a real win-win.

When we trust others more, we experience more happiness. If people trust that their dropped wallet will be returned, their are likely to feel better and secure. This starts with having empathy. Hence, it is important to develop social and emotional skills of children and improve sensitivities. This can be done by reading stories together. This is a common classroom activity in all Scandinavian countries.

Countries with more economic equality are places of more trust and happiness, since people feel secure and see others as cooperators , not competitors. Therefore social inequality rising has a beating on happiness. This has been proven in scientific experiments. As a analogy, researcher Katherine DeCelles of HBS has found that for cases of air rage, the worst contributor to the feeling of injustice is the first class section in aeroplanes. If we could have the economy section passengers walk through a seperate gate , passengers may feel lesser air rage.

When you do something nice, you get helpers high, It comes from nucleus accumbens that is also responsible for good feelings of eating and sex. In a way helping each other is an evolutionary key to our survival. Volunteering makes you happy. You may think people who volunteer are already happy but it is likely to be reverse that volunteers feel more grateful for what they know now, that is how fortunate they are and what it means to be poor. Further it boosts friendships and social relationships as well. 70% of danes volunteer and hence get helpers high.

So start a random act of kindness today, Be happy !

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The Happiness Of Pursuit Summary

Categories HappinessPosted on

The Happiness Of Pursuit is a call to take control of your own life by going on a quest, which will fill your life with meaning, purpose, and a whole lot of adventure.

Chris Guillebau is one inspiring dude. He’s written several books that help people break free from conventional jobs and conventional life overall.

The Happiness Of Pursuit was written after he completed visiting every country in the world, along the way of which he met plenty of other people out in the world to do great things. He calls these missions, which people are on to find purpose and meaning in their life, quests.

This book is all about helping you find yours.

The 3 things I learned about quests from this book are:

  • When the world calls out to you, listen.
  • Adjust your life to accommodate your quest.
  • Your quest will give you purpose, because it is a reward initself.

Okay, let’s take a closer look at what quests are all about!

Lesson 1: When the world calls out to you, listen to that call!

Chris says quests often arise from external events, which shake awake an inner calling we carry.

For example, you might have always wanted to be a race car driver (ahem), but you only realize it while sitting in the train to work one day, because it hits you that you never even drive any more.

Maybe you just feel like the king of the world when you find a new way to hack your blog’s HTML code, or suddenly realize your life might be shorter than you think.

Whatever the event is that feels like the wold calling out to you, listen to that feeling!

The idea to go on a quest can arise for the most various reasons, whether that’s passion, discontent, or an awareness of mortality, but the important part is that you don’t play it down.

Trust your gut, because the worst cause of unhappiness is regret.

So you have a crazy idea, and the will to take action, but what now?

Lesson 2: If your quest seems too big, just adjust your life to make it fit.

Yeah, I know, you can’t become a race car driver tomorrow, but there is always something you can do.

For example you could spend 30 minutes a day learning everything there is to know about race cars, while saving up money in order to book a day at a race track where you can drive one.

Going on a quest will often require you to adjust your life, but that doesn’t make your quest any less meaningful.

Sasha Martin wanted to travel the world, but like most people, she didn’t have the money. Instead, she decided to cook a meal from every country in the world and thus, bring the world right into her home.

By documenting her journey she’s inspired thousands of people around the world, probably much more than she had if she had just gone to travel around on her own.

Chris himself had to live a very minimalist life for several years, in order to afford all his travels. After initially calculating, and seeing that a trip around the world would set him back $30,000, which wasn’t as bad as he had thought, he of course didn’t have that money just lying around.

So he decided to cut back on a lot of material possessions, travel lightly and stretch his travels over a few years and voila, he completed his quest.

For Four Minute Books, I had to make some adjustments as well. I’d love to read a book a day, but I have neither the money to buy so many books, nor the hours in the day.

But I can get a Blinkist subscription, read a summary every day, and then write about that.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Lesson 3: Your quest is a reward in itself, which will give your life a purpose.

Now I know what your next objection will be: If I have to play it small, will that really fulfill me?

Yes. A definite yes.

That’s because when you do something you love, doing the thing is a reward in itself. Most of us think we’ll only feel good when we finally reach our goal, but that’s not true.

True happiness comes from the struggle towards your goal, not the goal per se.

This really hit Chris when he listened to a TEDx talk by independent musician Stephen Kellogg. The following quote stuck with him:

It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of the one you don’t. – Stephen Kellogg

When you love your quest, it doesn’t matter how small the steps you take are. You’ll love it so much, you won’t want to let go and you’ll become positively obsessed with your work.

This is important, because not all days will be great. Do I have to drag myself to the computer some mornings at 5:40 AM, because I’d still rather sleep instead of write these summaries?


But once I press publish for the day, I always feel good.


And that’s all you need to be able to tell whether your quest is worth it.

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The Happiness Advantage Summary

Categories HappinessPosted on

The Happiness Advantage turns the tables on happiness, by proving it’s a tool for success, instead of the result of it, and gives you 7 actionable principles you can use to increase both.

Since it was the next suggested book after Happiness, and I told you yesterday that after reading that book you can go deeper into specific happiness tools and topics, The Happiness Advantage is a great next step.

Shawn Achor is one of the youngest happiness researchers out there, but his work in positive psychology spreads like wildfire. It’s no coincidence he talks about the butterfly effect, he’s living it – his TED talk is among the 20 most popular TED talks of all time.

Here are the 3 lessons I learned :

  • Happiness comes before success, not after it.
  • You can train yourself to be optimistic with “The TetrisEffect”.
  • Fall up instead of down.

There are 7 principles in the book in total, but these 3 stood out most to me. Let’s take a look.

Lesson 1: Happy people become successful, not the other way around.

This is the core message of the book. The book quotes a study done by Martin Seligman, the “father” of positive psychology, where the happiness of 272 employees was monitored over 18 months. Those who were happier before the study achieved more success later on.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Instead of trying to become successful, so you can finally be happy in the distant future, try to become happy right now, so you’ll be successful later.

Which sounds easier?

Making a million bucks, or increasing your serotonin levels a bit by watching a funny video, so you can score better on a math test later today, since serotonin also improves your memory?

Of course this is oversimplified, but being happy is really all about your mindset. You can’t always influence what happens to you, but you can change your attitude.

For example, research has shown that just anticipating something you’re looking forward to (like that funny video), can boost your endorphin levels by 27%.

Lesson 2: Train your brain to spot positives with “The Tetris Effect”.

I had no clue about this. Really cool.

The Tetris effect is what happens when you spend hours on end doing one particular activity. Your brain becomes so engaged, that the environment of the activity spills over to the rest of your life.

For example, people who played several hours of Tetris per day started seeing the blocks before sleeping, and imagining cereal boxes in the grocery store fall into place.

Shawn Achor says this can be positive or negative. In the case of Tetris, people started optimizing their environment, and became more efficient.

Similarly, you can train your brain to spot the positive things in your life, in order to become more optimistic.

For example you can start a gratitude ritual, where you write down 3 things you’re grateful for each day. I’ve done this for 3 years now and it puts a positive spin on your day, no matter what happened.

Lesson 3: Fall up instead of down, by using failures as a stepping stone.

After each failure, crisis or catastrophe, 3 possible things can happen:

Nothing changes.

You’re caught in a downward spiral, and more bad things follow.

You come back stronger than ever before.

Obviously, you have to shoot for scenario number 3 as often as possible. Speaking of scenarios: Following a bad event, your brain always makes up alternative scenarios. These are called counterfacts and this is where you get to take control.

You have to choose to believe the alternative scenario, that will lead to you working harder, instead of less.

Here’s an example:

When Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, he could have believed that if only he was taller, he’d have been picked.

But he can’t influence his height, so that would not have made him work harder.

Instead, he believed that if only he was better, he’d have been picked. This led him to practice like a madman the next summer and the rest is history.

Final thoughts

This was really cool. I didn’t expect the major insight here, which was that happiness must come before success. The idea is radical and eliminates the common excuses along the lines of “I’ll be happy if X happens”.

Some of the principles felt like additional tips for Learned Optimism, while others draw on the benefits of better habits or your perceived reality.

As a video game nerd, I loved “The Tetris Effect”, and falling up, Achor has a great way of using metaphors and images to make his point. A great follow-up read to falling up instead of down is The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday.

Buy this book

The Blue Zones Summary

Categories HappinessPosted on

The Blue Zones gives you advice on how to live to be 100 years and older by looking at five spots across the planet, where people live the longest, and drawing lessons about what they eat, drink, how they exercise and which habits most shape their lives.

How badly do you want to live forever? Seriously. I’m pretty sure 99.9% of all humans share this one thing: they don’t want to die.


The world is already working hard at pills that slow down the aging process, but nobody knows if they’ll live to see the day where average life expectancy crosses into the triple-digits. What we do know is that people already live to be over 100 years old and we sure can learn from them.

Dan Buettner has identified 5 so-called Blue Zones – areas where people live exceptionally long lives – and details what they do to become centenarians (a person who lives to be 100). While some are obvious, like not smoking or exercising regularly, others are far more subtle.

Here are 3 lessons from the book to help you up your life expectancy:

  • The right lifestyle can add a decade to your life.
  • Drink more, eat less.
  • Put your family first.

Prepared to get some extra time on this precious planet? Let’s increase your life expectancy!

Lesson 1: Age is not about genes, it’s about lifestyle – and the right one can add 10 years to your life.

Let me give you the bad news first. Right now, only 1 in 4,000 Americans lives to be 100 years old. That’s 0.025%. The good news is that centenarians are the fastest-growing demographic across the planet, especially in Western areas, like the USA or Europe.

So while living extremely long lives is far from common practice, we’re getting there. One of the first blue zones that was discovered is Sardinia, a small island off the coast of Italy. On average, 1 in 600 humans lives to be 100 or older there.

But is it just their genes? No. According to a Danish study, which looked at over 2,500 twins, genes only account for 25% of how old you become.

What really matters is your behavior. That’s because no matter how great your genes are, you age every single day. Living a long life is predicated on slowing down that aging process, instead of accelerating it – and that’s why your lifestyle has the most significant effect.

The Sardinians, for example, live a very natural life. They’re outside a lot, move and get around naturally (with their feet), and eat a very natural, Mediterranean diet. If you adjust your own lifestyle to be more natural and in line with how people in the blue zones live, you can easily add an extra 10 years to your life.

Worth changing a few habits, don’t you think?

Lesson 2: Drink more, eat less.

“You are what you eat.” You’ve heard that one, right? Of course what you eat and drink makes up a huge part of your health and therefore, your age, so let’s look at what centenarians do.

First, you should drink more. No, not beer and not vodka. Water. At least 5 to 6 glasses each day. That’s what the inhabitants of Loma Linda just outside Los Angeles do (the only American blue zone). Pair it with a bit of red wine each day (as consumed by almost all Sardinians daily) and you’re set.

Forget sodas, heavy alcohol or other, sugar-laden liquids. What you shouldn’t forget about is food.

Centenarians usually eat a low-calorie diet, which is mostly vegetarian, and in some cases, even vegan. Breakfast or lunch should be your main meal of the day, so you can keep dinner light and not fall asleep on a full stomach. A good rule the people of Okinawa (another blue zone in Japan) adopt is to eat only until you’re 80% full.

Lesson 3: Always put your family first, and let it be your life’s purpose.

Living long isn’t just about health, it’s also about your psyche. One of the best things you can do to make sure you stay around is to live a life of purpose. Guess when most healthy Americans die.

In their first year of retirement. Far more people die then than in their last year of work, simply, because they lose their life’s purpose once they stop working.

Centenarians never stop working. The trajectory of their life is as long as their life lasts. This doesn’t mean they slave away at a job until they drop dead, but rather continue building a meaningful life and not just stop at 60, 65 or 70. Most of them choose their families as the center of their lives, and choose to live with them, provide for them and spend lots of time with them.

95 out of 100 centenarians only live to be that old, because they have children or grandchildren who care for them and receive love and sometimes financial aid in return.

Focusing on building a happy and healthy family for the rest of your life also keeps you out of trouble, because you’re too busy to fight and stress about petty conflicts with your neighbors.

My personal take-aways

My roommate has this book and I’ve read several sections of it. It’s just fantastic. Not that anyone had to sell me on moving to Italy before (I’m a huge fan of pizza and all Italian food as is), but now I’m more game than ever.

The cool thing about this book is that the blue zones all lie in the most vastly different countries, which means there are a few lifestyle changes in there for everyone. No matter whether you like Asian food, Italian red wine or Californian sunshine, there are bound to be things in this book that you’ll want to adopt.

Highly recommended read – what better book to pass the time until science catches up on those anti-aging pills could there be?

The Art Of Happiness Summary

Categories Happiness, SpiritualPosted on

The Art Of Happiness is the result of a psychiatrist interviewing the Dalai Lama on how he personally achieved inner peace, calmness, and happiness.

Yesterday morning, at 7:00 AM, my uncle died. He went to the toilet, back to bed, fell asleep, and just never woke up again. He was 52 years old. Last year he had lost 60 lbs, and was in the best shape of his life.

Seneca said “Life is long, if you know how to use it.” But sometimes life truly is short. I think he used his life well. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever faced such pain in your own life, you know that you instantly start to search meaning in it.

My search led me to “The Art Of Happiness”, a book based on psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler interviewing the 14th Dalai Lama about happiness.

Here are the 3 things I learned:

  • You don’t have to be religious, to be spiritual.
  • The only constant thing is change.
  • Know your limits.

Let’s examine them a bit further.

Lesson 1: You don’t have to be religious, to be spiritual.

My uncle’s body will be cremated. Do you know how long the Wikipedia article for cremation is? It’s a widely spread, religious practice, used in many cultures, Western or Eastern.

I don’t know much about it. No one in my family is very religious, some of us are even atheists. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be spiritual.

The Dalai Lama says it doesn’t matter which religion you belong to, or whether you belong to any, for that matter.

He believes in basic spirituality, being compassionate, a good person, and caring for one another.

I spent a lot of time thinking yesterday. I took a long walk with my roommate, and we talked about life. My Mum called, and I spoke to my cousin as well.

We each have our own way of dealing with suffering, and none of them are right or wrong.

To me, being spiritual means seeing the bigger picture, understanding that there is a meaning behind everything, and learning from both good and bad events.

Only then can I take what I learned and use it for both my own and the greater good.

Ask yourself: What does being spiritual mean to you?

And then don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong.

Lesson 2: The only constant thing is change.

When asked about suffering, the Dalai Lama shares a big mistake we “Westerners” make: thinking it’s unnatural.

Suffering is a part of life, he says, but by rejecting that we make ourselves into victims and start assigning blame, when there really is none to be assigned.

The only constant thing is change.

As contradictory as it may sound, it means we have to learn to let go.

Resistance to change leads to suffering. As a matter of fact, it is the root cause of suffering.

Once you accept the change, you can openly address it, find the meaning in it, and learn from it.

You can bitch and moan about slamming your car door and hurting your hand, yell at the cashier for being too slow, or cry for hours after a loved one dies.

But the second you accept the change, that’s when progress happens. It’s when you calm down and turn the situation around. And that’s the path to happiness.

Lesson 3: Know your limits.

There are a lot of different approaches to building confidence, most of them based on challenging yourself (including mine).

The Dalai Lama has a great alternative point of view here. He says to know your limits.

Be honest with yourself and others about what you can and cannot do. If you’re okay with not knowing everything, then you can openly admit it, and won’t feel like a fraud.

So rather than building confidence from the outside, build confidence from the inside, by allowing yourself to be honest.

And if you don’t understand something, try this. Say “I don’t understand.” People will explain again.

Being okay with your limits, however, means knowing what they are in advance, and that requires self-awareness.

So do an audit on yourself. What are you really good at? What do you suck at?

Go all in on those strengths, and be honest with yourself and the world around you.

My personal take-aways

It takes a while to process when a loved one dies. I know I haven’t fully grasped it yet. But I’m not going to fight it.

Instead, I’m taking 2 major lessons from my uncle’s premature death:

Stop doing shit you hate. There is no reason to do work you don’t like. None.

Spend time with family and friends, because you never know how much you’re gonna get.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he stopped by our house the day before he died and talked with my Mum about not doing things we don’t like.

If anything, it’s a confirmation for me to keep writing, coaching, freelancing, and doing work I enjoy, until everything comes together in the big picture.

I’m really grateful for this lesson, and for the Dalai Lama’s wisdom. 

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy Summary

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If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy walks you through the seven deadly sins of unhappiness, which will show you how small the correlation between success and happiness truly is and help you avoid chasing the wrong things in your short time here on earth.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy Summary

Coursera is one of the biggest online learning platforms in the world. With over 24 million users and 2,000 courses provided by some of the world’s best universities, it is a great place to get an education from a top school for free. You can even pay to attain certain certificates and verify your skills on your resumé.

In 2015, the most popular course wasn’t one about business, though. It was one about happiness. The creator of that course is Dr. Rajagopal Raghunathan and last year, he synthesized some of his lessons from that into his first book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy. 15 years after completing his MBA, he noticed his friends’ career and academic success seemed to be very unrelated.

What was even less related to both of those was their “life success” as Raj calls it and so he embarked on a research quest to find out why smart people are often so unhappy. He discovered what he calls the “seven deadly sins of unhappiness.”

Here are the three I’d like to share with you:

The first step on the path to happiness is not devaluing it.

Don’t be desperate in your quest for love and strong relationships.

Happiness is knowing what you want, yet being okay with not getting it for a while.

I know you’re smart, but are you happy? Let’s take care of some of the roadblocks on our way!

Lesson 1: Find the emotions you connect to happiness and make room for experiencing them.

Let’s start with the very first of the seven deadly sins: devaluing happiness. Quite frankly, it’s impossible to make progress in something you don’t prioritize – and happiness is one of the things we most commonly put on the back-burner.

Why? Well, it’s a hard-to-grasp concept, so prioritizing things like money, success and fame feels like a more concrete step. After all, these are proxies to happiness to some extent.

When Raj and several other researchers did a study, in which participants should name their three hypothetical wishes to an all-powerful genie, the respondents asked for money, success and great relationships. But when they evaluated peoples’ true goals, happiness was the most important one. Everyone could’ve asked the genie for happiness directly, but most of us don’t prioritize happiness enough and so we end up chasing the wrong things.

Here’s one way to combat that: Ask yourself what emotions you connect to happiness. One way I do this is by answering the question “When did I feel happy today?” every day. Is it love? Inspiration? Excitement?

Only once you what state you’re happy in can you start making time for the activities that will get you into that state. And it doesn’t even take a genie to do that.

Lesson 2: Neither needy nor avoidant: Find the middle ground of love by being generous.

In the 1970s and 80s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth started a series of longitudinal studies on children who lacked parental care and affection while growing up. As you would expect, these children turned into adults who landed on the extreme ends of the spectrum of love: they were either extremely needy or totally avoidant.

This is the next of the deadly sins: desperately seeking or avoiding love. The avoidant part is explained quickly: If you run at even the thought of intimacy, you’ll have a tough time experiencing its wonderfulness. The needy side is a bit more complex, you’d think needy people are at least very caring, if overbearing. However, like in economics, lots of supply drives down demand and so people who always make themselves available are less interesting to us.

But relationships are a crucial part of happiness, so what’s a good way to deal with this? Simple: Be generous. The sense of accomplishment we get from helping others shows us we can spread happiness from within and improves our self-image.

Both of these are a lot more conducive to happiness than avoiding love or texting your last date 17 times a day (never send more than two) to check if they want to see you again.

Lesson 3: Be dispassionate in your pursuit of passion to stay flexible and patient.

This last sin is one I personally struggle with quite often: being either too passionate or too distant about what goes on in your life. When I have a fallout with an old friend, I quickly go into “I-don’t-care-mode” and write it off as not important enough to warrant my attention or energy, which it actually might be. On the other hand, I’m sometimes overly obsessed with work and not present enough when I’m with friends and family.

When you’re too passionate, you outsource your happiness to your goals and if you don’t reach them, you’re miserable. When you’re not passionate enough, you don’t care and end up in a place you don’t want to be.

The middle road Raj suggests is the dispassionate pursuit of passion: Be passionate about your life and its events, but approach it in an objective, non-judgmental way.

That way, you always have something you’re striving for, but are patient and flexible when things don’t go your way immediately. You’ll learn to see that the obstacle is the way and that within our biggest challenges, happiness resides.

My personal take-aways

What a cool way to structure a book! It’s very straightforward and practical. “Here’s what makes you happy. Here’s what isn’t. This is how to avoid the bad stuff and do more of the good stuff.” I like the reminder to consciously prioritize happiness and have already started thinking the situations in which I’m most happy. One of them is obvious: writing summaries like this one 🙂

Buy this book

Hardwiring Happiness Summary

Categories HappinessPosted on

 Hardwiring Happiness tells you what you can do to overcome your negativity bias of focusing on and exaggerating negative events by relishing, extending and prioritizing the good things in your life to become happier.

Rick Hanson is impressive. I don’t know why, but that word comes to mind, in spite of his very modest, calm and rather introverted nature. He’s not a showman, but there’s something profound about the things he talks about and how he talks about them, which I can’t help but to admit has left a bigger impact on me than I thought it would.

The second darts idea from one of his earlier books, Buddha’s Brain is one of the best practices to control your reactions to bad events I know of. That book was about accepting the things you can’t change. This one, Hardwiring Happiness, is about how to proactively battle negativity and overcome your tendency to exaggerate the negative.

It explains why we obsess about the bad stuff and what we can do to change that.

Here are three lessons to help you kick your negativity bias to the curb:

  • The reason you react stronger to bad things is that you(might) have a “sad amygdala.”
  • Start a “Good Year Box” to remind yourself of positiveevents all the time.
  • Create an infinite stream of positivity from your memories,small details and being generous.

Ready to hardwire happiness into your brain? Let’s do it!

Lesson 1: If you have a “sad amygdala” you react stronger to negative events.

There’s a scene in How I Met Your Mother when Ted sees his ratings as a professor on a website. The words fly across the screen, all compliments across the board – “knowledgeable”, “fun”, “cool guy” – and then it hits “BORING.”

His world is shattered, the day ruined. For the remainder of the episode, he ends up chasing better reviews, trying way too hard, until he eventually realizes it’s stupid to obsess over one bad review in 50 great ones.

I’m sure you know the feeling. Think of the moments in school you remember the most. Are they happy ones? Or the times when you got bullied, when you were hurt, when you got your first F?

The tendency to disproportionately focus on the negative is built into us. It’s a remnant from times when most negative things could kill you. Today most “threats” won’t, but your brain doesn’t know that.

However, there are still differences among us. The fear center of your brain, the amygdala comes in two variants.

A “happy amygdala” will stimulate your nucleus accumbens the goal-fulfilling part of your brain that sparks motivation, ambition and optimism.

A “sad amygdala” will instead base your actions more on fear by releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress-inducing hormones, making you feel rather anxious and worried.

Most of us have a “sad amygdala,” but luckily, it’s not set in stone.

Lesson 2: Keep reminding yourself of positive events with a “Good Year Box.”

Your brain never stops growing, which means it’s never too late to change its structure. By exposing it to more positive experiences and making a conscious effort to do so on a regular basis, you can tone down your sad amygdala and even turn it into a happy one.

A great way to start this practice is to simply remind yourself of the good things in your life more often, for example by starting to use what Rick Hanson calls a “Good Year Box.”

Here’s how it works: Keep a shoe box or other storage container in your bedroom. At the end of each day, before you go to bed, go through everything you’ve done and experienced again, and pull out at least one positive thing that happened. Write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the box.

This way, you’ll acknowledge good things in your life as they happen, while simultaneously training your brain to recognize those things more.

Lesson 3: Create an infinite stream of positivity from your memories, small details and being generous.

Honestly, the supply of happiness you can experience is endless. Just look at these three ways of eliciting positive experiences and I’m sure you’ll agree with me:

Spend some time in a happy memory.

Notice a small, positive detail right in front of you.

Be generous in helping others.

Even if you’re just 15 years old, you already have a lifetime worth of happy memories. Rewiring your brain can be as simple as digging out one of them – a fun afternoon playing in the sand, a beautiful movie, a tasty pizza, a great date or awesome fireworks – and taking a few minutes to dwell in it in your mind.

The laptop I’m typing these words on is nothing short of a miracle. It’s the equivalent of an entire company 50 years ago. How can I not be grateful for it? The beautiful quality of images on the screen. The soft touch of the keys. The magnetic charger that safely unplugs, even if I stumble over the cable. What breathtaking mini miracle can you be grateful for that’s right in front of you this very second?

Lastly, your brain’s reward centers will fire more often if you’re generous. Don’t be cheap. Give awesome gifts. Not just when they’re “required” like on Christmas, but any time of the year. Donate every once in a while. Offer to help your neighbor in the garden. Being generous always leads to a shared moment of happiness. And there’s no limit to how generous you can be.

My personal take-aways

Just reading about this stuff makes me happier already. That’s what I meant by saying Rick Hanson is impressive. He creates an impression that lasts. This book reinforced that. I highly recommend his work.

Habits Of A Happy Brain Summary

Categories HappinessPosted on

 Habits Of A Happy Brain explains the four neurotransmitters in your brain that create happiness, why you can’t be happy all the time, and how you can rewire your brain by taking responsibility for your own hormones and thus, happiness.

When you read books about self-improvement topics, like love, productivity or happiness, you’re bound to bump into chemistry at some point. The most diligent researchers are all eventually led deep into the wirings of the human mind, and many of them have uncovered how some of the key chemicals inside our brain work for or against us.

As I kept reading about happiness, I stumbled across the hormones connected with it one by one and over time. For example, I learned about endorphins in school, while James Altucher taught me about oxytocin. Later I found out that dopamine is another happiness hormone, and most recently that serotonin completed the set.

Since these are the four major chemicals in determining our happiness, I was surprised that no one had written a book about all of them yet. Well, this is that book. Loretta Breuning is a former professor from California State University East Bay, writer, researcher and guide at the Oakland Zoo, showing people how to manage their own inner mammal based on social behavior among animals.

Here are 3 lessons from Habits Of A Happy Brain:

  • Unhappy chemicals are just as important as happy ones.
  • Nothing will make you happy forever.
  • To live means to choose constantly, so it’s important that you do.

Want to learn more about the biology of happiness? You’ve come to the right place, let’s go!

Lesson 1: The chemicals that make you unhappy are equally as important as the happy ones.

The four chemicals of happiness serve different purposes, like rewarding you for being social (oxytocin), going after a reward (dopamine) or pushing through physical pain (endorphins) at different times. Naturally, we spend a lot of our waking lives chasing after them in one way or another, whether we’re aware of it or not.

However, in our quest for happiness, we tend to forget that the other side of the coin is equally as important: unhappy chemicals protect us from harm by warning us of potential threats.

For example, when you’re hungry, cortisol is released, a stress hormone which makes you feel uncomfortable and gets you to find food. The reason we often think of these unhappy chemicals as problematic lies not in the basic system that they’re a part of, but in the way our modern brain, the neocortex, breaks that system.

Cortisol is what gives you that “do something” feeling when you feel threatened, but since your neocortex constantly analyzes your surroundings rationally and sees risk around every corner (because true, life-threatening risks have become so rare), you’re in “do something” mode a lot more than is good for you – and that’s why we eat out of boredom, for example.

Lesson 2: There is nothing in this world that will keep making you happy forever.

But even if we could get our hormone system to work perfectly in sync with our rational thinking, that wouldn’t make us permanently happy. Permanent happiness, a continuous state of bliss, is nothing more than a myth.

That’s why constantly chasing happiness is a useless game – even if you won $10 million, that would not be the end of your happiness journey.


Because of a process called habituation. Every time your happiness chemicals are released, your brain makes a note about the strategy that led you there and files it away under “this makes me happy.” This way, your brain can default to the same strategy next time, but sadly, it won’t bring the same result, due to habituation. An experience makes you most happy when it’s new, so when you go to the same, awesome restaurant the second time, it won’t live up to your high expectations and not be as much fun.

We get used to everything, which is the reason someone who’s paralyzed is as happy as someone who wins the lottery, one year later.

You might think habituation sucks, but it’s what helped us survive. Sitting around and enjoying the stuff we have doesn’t help us grow or get better, and habituation is what gets us up and exploring, instead of falling into a vicious cycle of high expectations and disappointments.

Lesson 3: Life is a series of constant choices, so it’s important to not let others choose for you.

Our brains have become very complex, and because there are so few real risks left out there, it keeps coming up with its own, overblown sense of what’s truly risky and what’s not.

However, being alive means constantly choosing whether it’s worth to give up one thing in favor of another. Right this second, I’m choosing to write this, and postponing going home to cook dinner with my roommate. Every single choice you make comes with some risk and some opportunity cost – so you might as well get used to it.

The only real mistake you can make is to not choose at all. Sure, when you let your boss, your wife, your friends, your parents decide for you, you’ll never have to take any blame and can always point to someone else, who’s at fault.

But out of all decisions, that’s the only one that’ll truly make you unhappy, because you gain a lot from knowing you’re in control, no matter whether the outcome of any given choice you made was a release of happy chemicals, or unhappy ones.

My personal take-aways

This book went deep and at the same time managed to explain everything in a way I could understand – which is rare. Also, since it’s the only book I could find (so far) on all four happiness hormones simultaneously, it really makes it a one-stop-shop for learning about the biology of happiness. Highly recommended!

Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert

Categories HappinessPosted on

What makes humans different from every other animal is that we think about the future. However, our brains fall victim to a wide range of biases that cause our predictions of the future (and our memories of the past) to be inaccurate. Because of these mental errors it is remarkably difficult to predict what will make us feel happy.

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A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

Categories HappinessPosted on

The only thing you have that nobody else has is control of your life. The hardest thing of all is to learn to love the journey, not the destination. Get a real life rather than frantically chasing the next level of success.

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