The five percent rule to increase your happiness

What do you love to do the most? Positive psychology coach Lynda Wallace shows us how doing that five percent more of the time can make you significantly happier.


If volunteering is what you love, do more of it! (Photo by Masterfile)

If you ask Lynda Wallace how to be happier, she’ll likely recommend a number of things — from working on your relationships to exercising. She’ll also be sure to mention the five percent rule — a concept she came up with after years of studying positive psychology.

In her new book, A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life, the certified positive psychology coach offers a guide to increased happiness for you, and those you love. From reducing anxiety and setting personal goals, Wallace’s aim is to give you the tools to make your own life more positive. 

We recently spoke with the author, and here Wallace shares more of her thoughts on how we can become happier in our everyday lives.

Q: What are your top tips to becoming happier?
A: There are certain actions and habits that are almost guaranteed to make us happier:

  • Actively nurturing our relationships are one of the most important things. The biggest difference between the lives of people who are very happy and the lives of people who are only moderately happy really has to do with the quality of their relationships and how much time they spend nurturing those relationships and doing things with the people that they love.
  • Appreciating and focusing on what it is we have in our lives rather than guessing what our lives might look like. If we can begin by appreciating the good in our lives and ourselves, it gives us more energy and clarity to change the things that aren’t so good.
  • Engaging in meaningful work. We tend to think of work as the thing we have to do so we can have a good life. And to a very surprising degree, people who are engaged in work that they like, or work that they’ve found ways to enjoy —  either by making connections at work or finding ways to express themselves creatively at work — it has an enormous impact on the quality of our lives. So that’s either changing careers to jobs that we love or finding ways to make the jobs that we have more gratifying, that makes an enormous difference.
  • Having goals that really matter to us and finding ways to pursue those goals, whether it’s with a lot of our time or small but consistent ways so that we feel that we’re progressing towards our goals.
  • Getting regular exercise makes an enormous difference biochemically and emotionally. It makes a big difference in the quality of people’s emotional well being.

Q: Are there things that people should be doing more or less of to be happy?
A: Yes, and for each of us, it varies. It’s a good idea to sit down with a pencil and paper and ask: what is most important to me? And what do I enjoy the most? And think about how we can spend more time doing those things. When we think about what our priorities are, they’re usually very clear to us but life presses in so hard that we tend not to match our priorities with our time. What are the things that I can do to shift the balance of my time toward my life priorities?

Q: So how do we start right away?
A: I recommend listing what you really enjoy and what really matters to you the most and figure out: how can you spend five percent more of your time doing that? Five percent doesn’t sound like a lot. We can stick to that.

You’re looking for small changes that we’re more likely to stick to. And once we incorporate that, we add maybe another five percent to make a difference and over time it can really add up to make a difference in a much more sustainable way.

Tell us, if you could spend five percent more of your time doing something, what would it be? Let us know in the comment section below.

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