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creating happiness through the 80/20 principle

creating happiness through the 80/20 principle

The 80/20 rule is a useful concept and which can be applied to numerous contexts- including emotions.

It is the idea that 20% of causes result in 80% of effects, such as 20% of tasks taking up 80% of our time. I have always found it to be very accurate even before I found out the name of it.

I expect everyone has written an essay where a particular paragraph takes hours to write yet the remainder is a breeze or spent forever cleaning a small part of a room then minutes getting the rest done fast. I think that the 80/20 rule is also relevant to our moods and emotions- it could be said that 20% of what we do each day seems to generate 80% of our mood.

Take the example of last Friday. I got up at 6 am, took my 3.5-hour Film Studies final exam, spent four hours getting home as the trains weren't running and walked part of the journey in heavy rain. When I made it home I was drenched, exhausted and drained. Despite this, I noticed that my mood was astonishingly unaffected. I certainly had not enjoyed the day or derived some deep insights from it and still, my baseline level of calm had remained intact.

During the long journey I had been reading about the 80/20 rule and it struck me that the time I had taken for myself early in the day had put me in a positive frame of mind, meaning I did not react badly to the subsequent time. My day had followed the rules. 2 hours of self-care had lead to a good mood for the following 8.

That morning I had chosen not to opt for inefficient last minute cramming. Instead, I had drunk some tea in my garden,meditated, showered, eaten a couple of banana and peanut butter bagels, written down my anxieties and  employed all my trusted mood anchors.

Mathematics doesn't often apply to the human mind and there are countless situations in which the 80/20 rule is not relevant to how we feel. I am no mathematician or psychologist, but I do like the idea of quantifying something as complex and intangible as emotions. That does not mean diminishing them or becoming a robot. I just think that the fact that small things can have a tremendous impact on our mood is very significant. So many people complain of endless unhappiness as a result of work, school etc and think a huge change is required to shift that. It isn't always the case that quitting a job, drop out of college or move to become happier.

Happiness can begin with the small things which we all have the time and ability to do.

Things like ten minutes of meditation whilst on public transport. A bowl of fresh fruit eaten outside in the morning. Five minutes of jotting down your emotions before an exam. Buying a book you know you will value. Everyone has time to cultivate that 20% which will open up the rest of the day.

Our society places far too much emphasis on singular changes which claim to work in one go- a 20-minute video to discover your life purpose, a 7-day meditation challenge, a 3-week fitness program or whatever. There is too much focus on abstract future happiness and little mindful awareness of each day. Most people seem to spend the bulk of their time either bored or stressed.

I am not saying that it is possible to hope to be incessantly ecstatic. It is possible, though, to have a baseline level of contentedness which enables the evasion of boredom or stress. If the 80/20 rule becomes routine, think of how life changing it has the power to be. Big changes are not what is needed to make an impact.

The small things we do can be the most important ones. Learning how to construct the 20% changed everything for me.

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